Thoughts on PostgreSQL 9.0 release

Something I wrote for a press contact last month that I wanted to share:

We started the process toward 9.0 last year when we added new committers and invited many new people into the commitfest process (our way of getting lots of patches reviewed, approved and committed every two months). What we’ve found is that we can engage new developers by providing a clear way for them to help in small, well-defined ways.

As a group, we work really hard to recruit and maintain long-term relationships with developers. And that investment in people has paid off really well in 9.0. We have long term commitments from volunteers and independent businesses to implement features that take multiple years to see through to completion. The binary replication is a clear example of that, and we have many other projects underway that are only possible because developers trust our core development team to see them through.

It’s not the most headline-grabbing thing that we do. But it is pretty amazing that a group of people, with no central authority, “benevolent dictator” or business driving it, continue every year to produce a trustworthy, stable and feature-rich database that rivals what’s produced by the best-funded enterprises in the world.

What do you think the best part of the 9.0 release was?

Weekly tweet digest for 2010-10-10

  • PostgreSQL 9.0.1 released, includes security fix & maintenance releases for 6 other versions: #
  • Who should I be following that works with database tech? #db #
  • Kind of a teeth-grindy day. #
  • There are so many female database researchers. Why is the blogosphere around databases such a sausage-fest? #shouldbeaquora #
  • heading out to Mortified! tonight with Emma peeps. Yay! #
  • Waiting for mortified to start #
  • Obtw this is the kickoff for #WORDSTOCK2010 kinda awesome. #
  • OH: I had a 5 year old nervous breakdown. If you really loved me you would have never had me. #mortified #wordstock2010 #
  • Watchiny @mayorsam on the stage #wordstock2010 #
  • RT @goscon: Early bird registration open through October 18th – hope you can join us! also hotel discount #
  • engaging in database maintenance for @emmaemail. eyeing the bottle of wine waiting for me when we're done. #
  • yay! time for wine. #

The problems with copyright re-assignment

While I was in NYC (eating awesome food, riding my bike across the brooklyn bridge in the rain!), I spent time catching up with free software advocates. One issue that we talked about was copyright assignment. H Online recently published an article about this. Their description of the Linux kernel’s policy pretty much matches PostgreSQL’s policy:

Ownership of free software is a difficult area, and one that is resolved simply by the Linux kernel project. The code belongs to everyone and no-one, and the copyright for each individual piece of code belongs to the original coder, so that any future reassignment of the licence or the code for the Linux kernel requires the agreement of every other contributor.

I haven’t contributed code to projects other than PostgreSQL in a long time, but an important aspect of contribution that I used to not think very much about is copyright assignment. Now that I have spent a little time thinking about it, my preference is to contribute to projects which do not require copyright re-assignment.

Copyright came up in a conversation about dual-licensing, because it is the copyright assignment which provides the opportunity for a codebase to be re-licensed. But more important to me than the possibility of re-licensing, is the chilling effect copyright re-assignment agreements have on communities. The intent can be to be to hedge a company’s bets against contributor interference, and ultimately be able to assert complete control over a codebase. If we agree that the collaborative production of software is a social good, this type of hedging can only be seen as anti-social, and ultimately, destructive to a software community. In practice, I’ve seen projects which require contributor agreements effectively shun all non-corporate contributions, or actively engage in “ornamental sourcing“.

For a business owner who invests in free and open source software, this is an unsustainable position. The advantage of accessing source code is not just the code, but the people who know the code. And while I’m sure there are some exceptions, I doubt most people consider themselves experts in a codebase without having contributed significant patches to it.

Given all that, copyright assignment to the Free Software Foundation or to Canonical has been a contentious issue. But maybe if you have an organization which is committed in its charter to maintaining software freedom, then the copyright assignment serves a social good and gives an organization like the FSF the legal authority to pursue legal action if the terms of a license are violated.

Training lessons learned: Code dojo, whiteboards, interactivity

Training can be an incredibly boring, frustrating exercise. Often, I have friends who don’t bother to attend sessions or tutorials during conferences. Instead, they cherry-pick friends and colleagues that they can work on code, gossip or brainstorm with in the hall while others sit passively in lectures. When I think about it now, knowing this about my friends is what motivated me to start Open Source Bridge.

The PostgreSQL training I gave to Ondo State was specifically targeted at developers. I used material End Point had from previous trainings, and added few new things designed to meet the needs of fledgling database developers. The high points I wanted to hit were: schema design basics, user defined function development and highlight developer-friendly features of Postgres that they should be aware of.

One big obstacle for me was that they would all be using Windows as their primary operating system. I develop exclusively on UNIX-based platforms, and so I had to spend a little time getting re-acquainted with Windows tools. pgAdmin III was essential, and I was happy that a new version was released along with version 8.4 of Postgres.

Also, while the concepts are the same, the built-in monitoring tools for Windows are quite a bit different, and I used freely available material from my Postgres colleagues who support Windows for a couple hour tutorial on interactive troubleshooting.

When trying to explain concepts – like replication, or basic database terms – it really helps to have a whiteboard. I was working with a group of people with diverse IT backgrounds, and often, I asked individuals to try to explain in their own words various terms (like “transaction”). This helped engage the students in a way that simply stating definitions can’t. Observing their fellow students struggling with terminology helped them generate their own questions, and I saw the great results the next day – when students were able to define terms immediately, that took five minutes the day before to work through.

Finally, one important request from the client was that some time be spent mentoring developers on standards, best practices for development and coding style. To accomplish this task with fourteen students in such a limited period of time, I decided to conduct a series of coding sessions where students and I took turns at the keyboard programming as a group. We call this coding dojo, a concept built on the Coding Katas from Dave Thomas.

Overall, I prefer interactive training, where students are not only encouraged, but forced to interact with each other and the instructor.

When I sent out the CFP for MySQL Conf yesterday, lots of people asked me for suggestions on talk topics. In general, I recommend that speakers focus on a particular take-away for the audience, and mention specifically what a person sitting in is going to learn *and* apply immediately. Not every talk can be interactive, or give people chunks of code. But *every* talk should have a clear goal, and leave the audience educated. The best leave them inspired!

PostgreSQL at MySQL Users’ Conference 2011

So, I’m on the committee for MySQL Conf this year, and the committee is specifically seeking talks about PostgreSQL. The idea is to broaden the scope of the conference to include a lot of different open source database technology, including a bunch more about Postgres.

The theme of the conference is “the ecosystem and beyond”, which was chosen specifically because the open source database world has exploded and grown so much in the last three years. Below is a slide from a presentation I made last year at LinuxConf AU about the growth in free and open source (FOSS) databases:

We’ve seen a half-dozen forks of MySQL appear, exponential growth among “NoSQL” databases, and now, a powerful release from PostgreSQL. It may seem odd that the name of the conference didn’t change to reflect the change in focus – but this is the largest FOSS database conference I know off – weighing in at over 2000 people last year. Given the community that’s grown around it, I understand why they are keeping the name.

The content will still largely focus on MySQL — the core, the many forks, and the community around it. But we’ll also hear from many new, successful database projects, and definitely hear from PostgreSQL. To do that, though, I need you to submit talks!

The submission deadline for all proposals is October 25, 2010!

Topics for consideration include:

  • Innovative uses of Postgres
  • Data warehousing and BI
  • Architectures based on Postgres
  • PostGIS
  • Government + Postgres
  • [your favorite web framework] + Postgres
  • Performance and optimization
  • Security and database administration
  • “In the cloud”
  • Business and case studies

If you’ve got an idea, submit a proposal today!

Please contact me directly for feedback, help with submissions or help generating ideas. And if you’re submitting, please just drop me a line to let me know! I’d love to hear from all that are interested.