Gianni Ciolli

Tags:   postgresql    2ndquadrant    edb    prato   
Category:   Interviews   
Interview conducted by: Andreas Scherbaum

PostgreSQL is the World’s most advanced Open Source Relational Database. The interview series “PostgreSQL Person of the Week” presents the people who make the project what it is today. Read all interviews here.

Please tell us about yourself, and where you are from.

I was born in 1973 in Prato, an Italian city in Tuscany which is quite important for the history of PostgreSQL. I lived around there for a long time, and then I spent some years in Rome. Now I live in London with my teenage son.

I worked many years at 2ndQuadrant; in 2020 it was acquired by EDB, where I now work as the Vice President of Solutions Architecture, leading a team who helps our customers implement Bi-Directional Replication (BDR) for PostgreSQL.

Gianni Ciolli

Gianni Ciolli

Why was Prato important for PostgreSQL?

Together with a good group of friends, in 2001 we founded the Prato Linux User Group, a non-profit organization which was supported by the city administration.

We organized the Linux Day every year, and many other events related to free and open source software. We even did a couple of events on GNU/Linux audio distributions, in cooperation with a prestigious centre for contemporary music from Florence!

In 2005 I moved to Rome for family reasons, but the other volunteers continued their hard work and in 2007 they organized the very first PGDay, which was attended by several well known members of the PostgreSQL community.

After that event, Prato has been a popular location for many editions of the Italian PGDay. It also hosted the very first European PGDay in 2008!

How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies?

Our lives have changed so much in the past couple of years. I have tried to continue doing what I like, applying all those changes that are needed to follow the rules and stay safe, including getting vaccinated as soon as I was offered.

For instance, I still like cooking for my friends; but nowadays I invite them to the local park, and hope for good weather while I prepare the picnic boxes.

I play the piano, and try to keep fit with some sports, mainly athletics in the local club. My highest sport achievement has been to complete a Decathlon in the 2014 British championship.

My Erdős-Bacon number is 7.

Any Social Media channels of yours we should be aware of?

Last book you read? Or a book you want to recommend to readers?

Most readers will appreciate if I limit myself to books available in English.

I just finished reading Edward Dent’s biography of Ferruccio Busoni; the Italian translation was published last year, and includes some extra content.

For those who prefer novels, the last novel by Sandro Veronesi has now been translated as “The Hummingbird”. In 2020 it won the main literary award in Italy.

Any favorite movie, or show?

There are too many… I guess “Interstellar” is one of the most widely known. I took a selfie with TARS when visiting the Deutsche Kinematek in Berlin.

What does your ideal weekend look like?

Swim in the sea and then lie on a towel under the sun, reading a book. At least that’s what I miss right now.

What is the best advice you ever got?

The Scientific Method, from Galileo Galilei.

It is a way to establish facts reliably, and hence a common tool in my previous career of research in Mathematics and in the current career of working with database architectures: you carefully observe what happens, make a hypothesis, and then verify the hypothesis with an experiment.

I keep feeling the same emotion of discovery every time a theory is verified.

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

The first time I used PostgreSQL I was still working at the university. I had written a software that did some Algebraic Geometry computations and then recorded the results in a file, and I studied PostgreSQL to understand if I could rewrite it on top of PostgreSQL itself.

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

It was either 8.2 or 8.3.

I studied Mathematics at the University of Florence, and after getting a Ph.D. in Algebraic Geometry I worked there as a postdoc researcher for some years, before switching to IT.

Those years were very helpful and formative, and perhaps I learned how to discuss difficult subjects, focussing on what is important, and without adding unnecessary complexity.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

In the past I have worked at some features; more recently I was elected to the board of ITPUG, and I support PostgreSQL Europe.

Perhaps my biggest contribution to PostgreSQL has been to co-author five editions of the PostgreSQL Administration Cookbook. I like to think that it helped many people run PostgreSQL better, and that it might have encouraged migrations from other database systems.

What is the feature you like most in the latest PostgreSQL version?

I appreciate the ongoing scalability work of the “divide et impera” kind.

This includes the various parallel features, such as VACUUM .. PARALLEL, but also the many improvements to table partitioning; even replication can be placed in that category. As time goes by, scalability becomes increasingly important, and PostgreSQL will need to keep up with the competition.

Which PostgreSQL conferences do you visit? Do you submit talks?

I have attended each edition of PGConf.EU since the one in 2008 (back then it was called PGDay.EU), and most editions of local conferences such as PGDay.IT, Postgres London and the London PostgreSQL Meetup.

I am looking forward to the next conference in person! Perhaps PGConf.EU 2022?

What is your advice for people who want to start PostgreSQL developing - as in, contributing to the project. Where and how should they start?

Start by using existing features; the goal is to understand how they work, and why they have been implemented that way.

Then, volunteer to review other people’s patches.

Proceed gradually: start with a small task, and build things incrementally. Many great features were created small and then improved later in separate patches.

Do you think PostgreSQL will be here for many years in the future?

Yes, because it’s an excellent implementation of a relational database, and relational databases have a long future ahead of them.

The model on which they are based was invented by the mathematician E. F. Codd, who described it in his book “The Relational Model for Database Management”. Another read to recommend!

After all, once I was asked by a former colleague in Mathematics: “What is PostgreSQL?", and my answer was: “An efficient implementation of Typed Set Theory.”