Interview With Dr. David DeWitt - PASS Summit 2012 Special

Last week, when I saw the announcement on the PASS Summit Keynote Page that Dr. David DeWitt was coming to the PASS Summit 2012, my first thought was “cool” and then my second thought was “it would be really cool if I did an interview with him”.  If you are interested in seeing him present, then check out his Spotlight Session on “Big Data Meets SQL Server”.

The following interview with Technical Fellow and past Keynote speaker, Dr. David DeWitt is my special treat for the SQL Community!

Tell us about yourself

After finishing my PhD degree in 1976, I spent 32 years as a computer science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison teaching database courses and conducting a research program in the database area. I supervised 35 Ph.D. students over the course of my career as a professor. I spent 5 years as department chair.

In March 2008, I retired from academia and started a small research and advanced development facility for Microsoft in Madison which, organizationally, is part of the SQL Server product team. In addition to 8 full time employees, the lab also houses 8 graduate students as well as a couple of faculty members as consultants. The URL for our site is www.graysystemslab.com.

Tell us your favorite thing about your PASS session(s)

I love the enthusiasm and energy at the keynote talks I have given over the past 5 years. While the talks always take a long time to prepare (sometimes dismaying my bosses about the amount of time I spend on them) it is always worth the effort. The audience is truly amazing. Having seen the tweets, a couple of years ago my wife decided she had to come see me in person. Not only did she find a math error on one of my slides, she decided that I was not as good a speaker as the tweets might indicate.

While I was disappointed that I was not asked to do another keynote this year, I am very pleased to be able to give a spotlight talk.

Tell us about your first time presenting at PASS Summit

The first time I gave a keynote at PASS was in 2008. I had only been a Microsoft employee for about 6 months at the time and I decided to talk about parallel database systems, an area I had been working on for more than 30 years. Only after Bill Graziano rode a motorcycle across the stage did I fully understand how different PASS is than the typical academic conference I had attended as a professor. I had never spoken to more than 500 people. I was truly terrified to find myself in front of more than 2000 people. But the audience was incredibly gracious in their comments and I found the entire experience very satisfying - forcing me to up my game at every successive keynote.

As a previous keynote speaker, you know what it takes to present to a PASS audience. What advice can you give to new, current and future PASS speakers?

Prepare, prepare, prepare. I typically start on a talk at least a couple of months in advance and strive to have a complete initial draft of the talk a month in advance. I fine tune every single slide repeatedly, striving for maximum understanding by the entire audience. Having taught undergraduate and graduate classes for many years I have developed a pretty good sense of how to communicate complicated ideas as simply as possible, but I still find that every talk requires a large amount of work on my part.

Do you have any general advice for the professionals who are trying to increase their in-depth knowledge of SQL Server?

There is no better place to do this than by attending PASS. It is an incredible community of individuals willing to share their expertise with their peers.

Do you have any general advice or words of encouragement for the SQL Server Community?

This is an amazing time to be involved in the database field. The amount and types of data being accumulated by every business and organization is simply incredible. The move to the cloud opens many new opportunities that we are only beginning to appreciate.

 

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