Michael Brewer

Tags:   postgresql    php    sql    music   
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, your hobbies and where you are from.

I live in Athens, Georgia (USA), the city where I was born (and have lived in or near most of my life). I’m a Web Developer Principal for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Georgia, my alma mater. I also play bass trombone in the Athens Symphony, am principal conductor of the Classic City Band (Georgia’s oldest continuously-operating community band), Director of Music at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, music director of the Athens Brass Choir, and also conduct a new local opera company, RespirOpera.

Michael Brewer

Michael Brewer

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

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

I started using PostgreSQL to back up custom PHP application development back in 2001; I used it because I felt (and still do) that it was the best (most ACID-compliant, etc.) open source database at the time. The first large application I developed was a system for assisting with academic advising; this application went on to win a national award (for advising software). A course evaluation system I developed (running on PHP/PostgreSQL) has been used at the University of Georgia for fifteen years now.

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

Woof. I’m thinking maybe 6.5 or 7.0, although we would have moved to 7.1 fairly quickly.

Yes; I have bachelors degrees in both mathematics and music, and was a graduate student (for a time) in computer science. I feel that all the courses of study helped in one way or another, either from familiarity with algorithms and analysis in computer science, the logical and ordered thinking required for mathematics, or the diligence and practice habits of music. It was certainly a well-rounded education, which may have helped me in communicating with and relating to many different clients over the years.

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

Our current setup has me working with both Postgres and MySQL; I prefer Postgres, of course.

I’m currently the Secretary of the United States PostgreSQL Association (PgUS). I co-founded the group with Joshua Drake and Selena Deckelmann back in 2008. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to serve the community via PgUS for the last dozen years.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

Advocacy, mostly; over the years, I’ve presented on Postgres (and SQL generally) at several conferences (such as SELF, PgCon, PgOpen, and OSCON). I’ve tried to be a kind, steady, and occasionally humorous voice in the community.

Any contributions to PostgreSQL which do not involve writing code?

Again, advocacy; I haven’t written any code for Postgres.

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

I would probably say PostGIS, as it’s an excellent tool for a community that’s doing important work, especially now, during the pandemic.

Could you describe your PostgreSQL development toolbox?

Oh, I’m an old command-line person; I love using psql directly (or writing bash scripts in vi [not even vim – standard vi!]). For PHP, I’ll often use either Notepad++ or VS Code.

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

Empathy. Empathy is a crucial skill for Postgres developers, as it allows the developer to communicate with and appreciate what users need.

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

I’ve been to and spoken at PgCon once (and loved it); I’ve also been to (and both spoken at and not presented at) PgOpen.

Do you think Postgres has a high entry barrier?

I do not feel that Postgres has a particularly high entry barrier (other than the name ;) ), but it’s been interesting over the years to see what people will do (and what technologies they’ll develop) just to avoid dealing with nulls and outer joins. ;) I’d say Postgres doesn’t have a high entry barrier, but it is exceedingly deep and broad, so it can occasionally overwhelm with everything it can do.

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

Hang around the mailing lists/IRC/Slack channels, to get a feel for the culture.

Join a local user group (or start one)

Join PgUS! :) Help us help the community.

Attend conferences and talk to the presenters and folks working the booths. One of the best things about our community is our friendliness and openness; I remember attending a Postgres BoF session at OSCON in San Diego, sitting on an inflatable couch between Tom Lane and Bruce Momjian, being amazed that they’d even talk to a newbie like me. Later, I started volunteering for booth duty, learning a lot from just meeting all kinds of users (including bringing a sousaphone to SELF, proclaiming, “you can’t have ‘database’ without the ‘bass’”). This led directly to getting involved in PgUS (despite the sousaphone).

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

Oh, I certainly hope so! Yes, Postgres will stay around for a long time.

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

I certainly recommend Postgres for business; one of its main strengths is that it can do just about anything you need.

What other places do you hang out?

These days, I monitor Slack (mostly silently).

Which other Open Source projects are you involved or interested in?

I do a lot of work with PHP and Drupal.

Anything else you like to add?

Again, one of the main strengths of our community is the people; you will meet some of the best folks you’ll ever know in the Postgres family. Come, join us!