Joseph Sciarrino

Reading time: 5 minutes

Tags:   postgresql (170)   data-warehouse (1)   olap (1)   hydra (1)   postgres (12)   opensource (20)   postgresqlpet (7)  
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.

PostgreSQL Pet of the Week interview: Titus the Coton De Tulear.

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

I’m the co-founder and CEO of Hydra - the open source data warehouse that’s built on Postgres. I grew up in Connecticut, but have spent my adult life all across the US; North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, New York, and at long last, California. I live by Duboce park in San Francisco which is great for our tiny dog, Titus.

Before starting Hydra I was with Microsoft Azure (open source databases team) via the acquisition of Citus Data, the multi-node sharded Postgres solution. Before that, I was at Heroku helping customers deploy apps on cloud PaaS.

Joseph Sciarrino

Joseph Sciarrino

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

I enjoy running, tennis, hiking, and a good slice of pizza. Living in NYC definitely increased my pizza standards, which were pretty lofty already.

I’ve played the violin all my life - playing in symphonies, string quartets, and even on the sidewalk as a teenager. I still have my old street-performer’s license in my violin case.

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 recent read: “Brooklyn, The once and future city”

Product read: “Hooked, How to build habit-forming products”

Fun read: “Zen Speaks, shouts of nothingness”

Any favorite movie, or show?

Chernobyl (TV Mini Series 2019). It paints a character portrait of Valery Legasov, a Soviet inorganic chemist and the nail-biting and urgent circumstances of the Chernobyl meltdown. The program shows a breadth of challenges for Valery to overcome, ranging from technical to political / bureaucratic obstacles. I like to believe that we all have the potential to remain calm, rational, and resourceful under severely high stake situations.

What does your ideal weekend look like?

I like grabbing an early morning coffee down by Fort Mason when it’s windy and heading over to the east beach at Crissy field to watch our dog Titus run around. Maybe throw in a wine-country day or a nice walk down the cliff at Fort Funston and I’d call that pretty ideal.

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

My job at Heroku was to support our customers. I quickly learned that a big part of the value or advice I could provide was around Heroku Postgres. It seemed that developers could get up-and-running quickly with Postgres, but didn’t particularly know too much about their performance metrics, looking at explain plans, and the like. When you talk to hundreds of managed service Postgres users, common problems or questions tend to arise. Also, it was fun to understand what problems customers were trying to solve and then pointing them in the right direction of a cool new Postgres extension.

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

Not particularly. Must have been version 9.4

I took a few computer science courses, but I was an economics major at Wake Forest University. I had a fairly holistic liberal arts education. As a founder / CEO, it’s important to switch contexts and disciplines daily. Cross disciplinary studies train the same skills as a startup founder.

What other databases are you using? Which one is your favorite?

Hydra, the open source data warehouse! We’re transforming Postgres into a Snowflake alternative.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

We’re working to make Postgres a data warehouse. I’m looking forward to seeing Postgres handle OLAP workloads - it’ll be transformative! Postgres’ extensibility is one of its key advantages.

Any contributions to PostgreSQL which do not involve writing code?

Postgres writing on the Hydra blog, medium, and evangelism generally. Everyone should champion the accessibility and transparency of Open Source solutions. Without evangelism, many enterprises may try to ignore open standards.

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

Have to say hydra, but also, pg_stat_statements.

What is the most annoying PostgreSQL thing you can think of? And any chance to fix it?

My hot take is FDWs. They’re interesting, but performance is a mixed bag and they don’t live up to their potential. We’d written a Postgres extension that made use of Postgres hooks to push query execution down to Snowflake, run there, and return results through Postgres. This project required us to understand FDWs and their performance challenges. Primarily, extracting data from the remote database and executing from Postgres. That can be OK, but not in bigger OLAP cases.

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

I spoke at the Postgres Vision conference this year and hopefully a few more soon.

Do you think PostgreSQL has a high entry barrier?

No, in fact, it’s one of the lower-barrier databases. Aside from running Postgres yourself, there are managed Postgres instances that are basically free.

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

Based on how the world has been going, all bets are off. In all seriousness, yes and I believe many people would hope so. Postgres’ extensibility gives it great advantages to supporting great projects beyond the very good core Postgres releases. Postgres has great breadth, which is generally what engineers need when starting a new project. The flexibility and extensibility of Postgres means it generally ‘just works’ and that’s just great.

Anything else you like to add?

Data warehouse-native applications are an upcoming trend for B2B SaaS. It’s important to remember that useful applications and reporting is the ultimate end-value of databases. As traditional data warehouses improve their OLTP stories and capture app builder’s mindshare, Postgres can lose ground. The general cooperation of Postgres and data warehouses today is reliant on data pipelines, ETL, and reverse ETL. For simplicity and less data movement, I believe more companies will generally build more around the data warehouse if / when they can. Given this belief, it’s no surprise that I’m investing my time into transforming Postgres into a data warehouse.