Vincent Picavet

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Tags:   postgresql (175)   postgis (10)   gis (5)   map (1)   opensource (23)   biking (2)  
Category:   interviews   
Written by: Andreas Scherbaum

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

My name is Vincent Picavet. Originally an applied maths engineer, I created and run Oslandia since 2009, focusing on Open Source Geographical Information Systems 🌍, namely QGIS, PostGIS. I live in France in the Drôme valley, work remote since 2009, and speak French, English, Spanish and German. My favorite projection is an octant projection with Reuleaux triangles.

Vincent Picavet

Vincent Picavet

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

I have two small lovely kids who get most of my time, and I stopped mountaineering a little while ago. I do bike quite a lot though, I enjoy reading ( books & comics ) and the beautiful nature around in the DrĂ´me area.

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

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

The black & white version of “La horde du contrevent” by Éric Henninot is a really good comic book adaptation of Damasio’s science-fiction / fantasy book. The main character is the wind, hurling, pushing, throwing the protagonists to their ultimate limits. Not sure it has been translated into english yet though.

Otherwise, you can read “PostGIS in action”!

When did you start using PostgreSQL, and why?

I started using PostgreSQL back in 2006, when I dived into the geographical information system domain. I actually started using PostgreSQL because of PostGIS, when we needed to store and analyze large amounts of geographical data. PostGIS was still in its early days ( version 1.0 was released on April 19, 2005), but it was already powerful and the database of choice for any geospatial operation.

Do you remember which version of PostgreSQL you started with?

I guess it was 8.1, and I remember some clients using the very new native Windows OS support, not without chaotic adventures! Also there were no windowing functions, and the analytics queries we had to write were therefore really verbose and not that efficient.

I studied applied mathematics at INSA, a French school of engineering. It helped me with my current job on various levels: initially on a technical level, as I started as a developer and then system architect. Now that my job is running a company, I realize that the best things I learned during my studies were: speak English, talk in front of a crowd, manage my stress, work correctly under pressure, and be able to rationalize decisions…

And also back there I met a few Linux aficionados who introduced me to OpenSource software!

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

You mean, there are other databases than PostgreSQL? But… why?

Ok, we also use SQLite since it is a convenient format to store and analyze data without any client-server architecture, and Spatialite provides decent support for GIS operations with SQLite. The GPKG OGC standardized exchange format is also based on SQLite, and we use it a lot with QGIS to store local geographical data in a convenient manner.

At Oslandia PostGIS is at the heart of most of our projects, often with QGIS. Among them, we have ongoing work to improve pg_featureserv, a GO server implementing the “OGCAPI Features” standard on top of PostgreSQL/PostGIS.

We are also starting a new research and development project focusing on 3D, and we will use this opportunity to make some progress on SFCGAL, the 3D geospatial data management extension for PostGIS.

I personally do a lot of PostgreSQL work to build dashboards to follow our activity at Oslandia. Business analytics queries can be (really) complex, and PostgreSQL features allow writing them in a clean and efficient manner.

How do you contribute to PostgreSQL?

My main contribution is probably convincing as many people as possible that PostgreSQL ( and PostGIS) is the best database they can find for 97.4% of their use cases ( guaranteed exact number ). I also still enjoy giving presentations at conferences focusing on PostgreSQL itself, like talking about text management in PG at FOSS4G 2022. I learnt quite a lot about collations along the way!

What is your favorite PostgreSQL extension?

You guessed it: PostGIS! It is definitely the one tool anyone doing serious GIS work should master.

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

When do we officially change the name to “Postgres”? Ho, and revamp the PostGIS logo too, while we’re at it! Fresh paint!

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

IVM ( Incremental View Maintenance ) would definitely be a game changer for some heavy-processing materialized views we need in the GIS world. I know it is a really complex feature which is worked on, and I hope it will land into the main branch one day!

Could you describe your PostgreSQL development toolbox?

I mostly use QGIS for any PostGIS-related work. QGIS has good support for PostgreSQL, and you can do a lot directly inside the database: write queries and display results, but also manage the database itself. Otherwise I use DBeaver for SQL development, and psql of course. We also leverage Apache Superset to create dashboards out of PostgreSQL data.

Do you use any git best practices, which makes working with PostgreSQL easier?

Read the documentation, it is incredibly well written, and full of details. Sometimes when you have a complex problem you do not understand, do not hesitate to read PostgreSQL source code directly: you will find a lot of information there, and very detailed explanations on how PG actually runs and behaves.

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

I have been to PGConf.EU multiple times, as well as PG Day France and FOSDEM PGDay, and I generally enjoy the talks, be it high-level, use-case oriented or deeply technical ones. I usually submit a talk on PostGIS-related work.

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

PostgreSQL has proven to be able to have the right pace of evolution: not too slow, and integrate new contexts so as to be more and more relevant ( think SSD disks, JSON support…), but also not too fast so as to deliver a really mature and strong product, and build trust with end users on the long run. New databases systems come and go, addressing specific use cases probably much better than PostgreSQL, but none of them is able to provide as much genericity, maturity, trust and durability as PG.

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

Both: the versatility of PG is a key aspect. And you can start small and scale. And then scale again, leveraging more complex infrastructure or other PG extensions like Citus. As for business, again the trust you can put in PostgreSQL is worth it. Sometimes organizations fear they will not have editor support if they choose PostgreSQL, but in reality it is the opposite: not only they will find the level of support they need from various providers ( the community, Dalibo, EDB, Loxodata, CrunchyData,…), but they also will have the choice of their service provider, no vendor lock-in!

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

At Oslandia, we are deeply involved in QGIS, which is a desktop - and server - application to manage geographical data, produce maps, and also a framework to develop custom applications. PostgreSQL, PostGIS and QGIS are the main tools we integrate and develop on, but there are numerous other FOSS4G tools we leverage to build our solutions.

What is the main difficulty preventing PostgreSQL adoption?

I think we should focus more on training people and students. There is a huge deficit of new developers with PostgreSQL skills. We as a community should foster PostgreSQL training at universities, improve marketing, mutualize open source curriculum and training material, and make more people be efficient with PG: they will find jobs immediately!

Anything else you like to add?

Thank you for gathering all these interviews. I hope that mine will be of interest for some people, as I enjoyed reading the previous interviews!