Marc Linster

Tags:   postgresql    open source    enterprisesoftware    road-biking    hiking   
Category:   Interviews   
Interviewed 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 and raised in Luxembourg. After getting a computer science degree at the University of Kaiserslautern, I joined the Gesellschaft für Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung (today part of Fraunhofer Gesellschaft) working on expert systems and AI. In 1992, I moved to the US, working in the software and consulting business, always with a focus on data and databases. After four years at Polycom, where I had the opportunity to work on their Video as a Service, I joined EDB in 2013.

Marc Linster

Marc Linster

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

Road biking, hiking, traveling, reading books - mostly history, biographies, and lots of science fiction. I love to cook for a crowd that likes good food, good wine, and a good cocktail. I like to listen to operas, go to great restaurants and try new wines.

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

I use LinkedIn for business connections and to stay in touch with former colleagues.

Facebook is strictly private, and I am still trying to figure out Twitter.

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

My last five that I would recommend:

  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • Space is Open for Business by Robert Jacobson
  • Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 days That Changed the World by Chris Wallace
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

Any favorite movie, or show?

I like to binge watch series like Game of Thrones, Succession, and Newsroom. My wife and I also love old movies, for example Twelve O’clock High with Gregory Peck. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an all-time favorite, especially on a 70 mm projection.

How would your ideal weekend look like?

Hiking with friends, followed by a wonderful dinner with a good bottle of wine. If there is time for a nap or to read a good book, that is appreciated too.

What’s still on your bucket list?

More operas, more personal travel, more mountains to climb.

What is the best advice you ever got?

“Try never to say things that need to be unsaid.”

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

Ed Boyajian brought Postgres to my attention a little over 10 years ago. At the time I was working with SQL Server and Oracle, and I had dabbled with MySQL. I found Postgres surprisingly hard, mostly because it was difficult to install and get started with (might have been me).

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

I started getting into Postgres with version 9.2.

I studied ‘Informatik’ at the University of Kaiserslautern, with a minor in electrical engineering. I took a lot of classes on data structures, databases, relational calculus, and theoretical informatics. Prof. Theo Härder got me excited about databases and helped me understand the beauty and elegance of the relational model. My thesis leveraged declarative relational structures as a foundation for knowledge acquisition for expert systems. I guess that is why I can’t understand why anybody would want to go back to navigational data models and ‘documents’. People who don’t know history have to relive it!

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

I always liked SQL Server for its simplicity to get up and running.

I spend a lot of time explaining Oracle migration, high availability, monitoring, and management to our customers and prospects.

Any contributions to PostgreSQL which do not involve writing code?

In EDB’s CTO Team, I work with a great team of Postgres experts such as Bruce Momjian, Dave Page, Devrim Gündüz, Tom Kincaid, Vibhor Kumar, and Vik Fearing. We work on automated deployment tech, exploration of machine learning, storage systems, performance tuning, benchmarking and all things Postgres.

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

I like PostGIS for its elegant extension of the traditional relational model. In my view, it takes databases to a whole new level, where one doesn’t just deal with mostly simple data types such as integers or strings. PostgreSQL was designed to do that, and PostGIS is a great example of how the object relational model can be put to use.

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

Vacuum and bloat. I hope it will be addressed in the restart of the zHeap project lead by Cybertec.

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

I think that the ongoing improvements of JSON(B), such as json_path, are very significant. This will create a truly multi-model database where we can manage relations and documents in the same ACID-compliant transactional context. Now a developer can start unstructured (with JSONB) and as structures emerge, he/she can start leveraging foreign keys, constraints, and normalization.

Adding to that, what feature/mechanism would you like to see in PostgreSQL? And why?

I would like to see an in-place update mechanism (or an approach that is more efficient and faster than what we have now) for JSON(B) data. Currently, Postgres is very fast for SELECT, INSERT, and DELETE operations for documents when compared to MongoDB, but it is slower for UPDATE operations.

Could you describe your PostgreSQL development toolbox?

pgAdmin and EDB’s Postgres Enterprise Manager.

Which skills are a must have for a PostgreSQL developer/user?

Postgres developers (and I think any software developer) should have a solid understanding of the relational model, such as normalization of data. Normalized data models allow the relational calculus to shine and they create very clean data sets where data is not duplicated, functional dependencies are called out, and where there is no hard coding of an implicit access path to the data. Putting data into a normal form, ideally the third normal form or even higher, creates a solid foundation for data that supports changing business needs.

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

I really like PGConf.EU , as it is a true open source community event focused on developers and hands-on users. I also enjoyed this year’s PGConf India a lot. Postgres Vision bridges between Postgres developers and enterprise users - also a very good crowd. I try to submit talks because I want to be an active participant.

Do you think Postgres has a high entry barrier?

Yes, the barrier to entry is still higher than for other relational databases. Getting up and running has become much easier with the new download site – but management and production support still requires the user to figure out which backup tools to use, how to achieve HA, how to monitor, etc. For the experienced user, the plethora of tools is great. For the beginner, it is confusing.

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

Yes - I believe that Bruce is right: Postgres is uniquely positioned to thrive for a long time to come.

Would you recommend Postgres for business, or for side projects?

Postgres is not only ready for business, it is used throughout the world by businesses of all sizes. A survey of our EDB customers has shown that over 60% use it for tactical analytics, about 50% use it for systems of record purposes, and almost 20% use it in systems of engagement. Postgres is extremely robust and feature rich. It is definitely shaping up as the relational database platform of the future. Migrations off of legacy commercial platforms are accelerating, and MySQL is fading in importance since its acquisition by Oracle.

Are you reading the -hackers mailinglist? Any other list?

Occasionally I read -general .