February 2013 Spotlight: Davide Mauri

Italy’s Davide Mauri is a performance hound with a passion for fast queries, Agile development, airplanes, and life-long learning. What is his one piece of advice for 2013?  

Tell us about your life with SQL Server – what are you doing now, what path did you take to your current position, and what excites you in the data world?
I started working with SQL Server in the ‘90s with SQL Server 6.5. I was a full-time developer at that time, with a passion for performance. Optimizing data access was a challenge that I took very seriously. I was on a team that was building a content-management system for big customers like Yahoo, Panasonic, and Sony, and the minute I started studying SQL Server, I was hooked and decided to make it my primary job. Today is all about data, having it right here and right now, so I’m still doing pretty much the same thing, just on an higher level. Now we measure data in millions or even billions of rows, and every little thing you do has an enormous impact on performance. It’s a challenge every day to use all the power the hardware can give you, but it’s very rewarding.

I’m also in the Business Intelligence field, which came quite naturally because good performance is very important there as well. I love working with BI because it can really change the way a company works, making IT a strategic asset that provides insights impossible just 10 years ago.

As leader of UGISS – the Italian SQL Server User Group – for the past 7 years, what are you seeing as the biggest challenges and opportunities for SQL Server professionals in Italy right now?
The biggest challenge, without a doubt, is keeping up-to-date with all the new technologies and features that are released every year (and sometimes even more frequently). Every day there’s something new to learn, and to make everything faster, better, and easier for the end user, technologies are becoming more and more complex. This means that technicians need to stay current and be open to learning new technologies often. While you certainly won’t get bored, it is also an ongoing challenge.

You’re an avid proponent of Agile development for BI – what’s the biggest myth you see around that approach that keeps people from adopting it? Anything to still be careful about when you do Agile development?
I really believe that the only way to have a successful BI project is to follow the Agile approach. After all, the only constant we’re sure about is change. Changing to meet everyday challenges is how business survives, so the BI solution that supports the business needs to be able to respond to that change as quickly as possible.

The biggest myth around the Agile approach is that there’s a tool that can turn your solution into an Agile one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Agility is a state of mind, a way to approach problems. To be agile, you will need to use tools to help speed up development, but you first need to create a process that lets you quickly apply controlled changes and test the results for correctness.

The thing you really have to be careful about with the Agile approach is not to turn it into anarchy and, thus, lower the quality of the delivered solution, or worse. Before going Agile, you must put a set of rules and common best practices in place so that the entire team can work on common ground and toward a common goal. Engineering the project to support changes: That’s the key to a successful Agile project.

You’re an active blogger and Twitter (@mauridb) and LinkedIn user – what would you tell database pros who aren’t on social media?
The main point of being on the social platforms is to share and discover knowledge. It’s incredible how much help and knowledge you can find quickly and easily. Social media also helps you keep in touch with friends that you may physically meet only a few times a year. Because the world of IT is incredibly small, you may end up working with some of these friends at some point, and there’s nothing better than working with someone you already know, trust, and enjoy.

What’s one of your most favorite SQL Server projects?
Hmm… I don’t really have just one favorite – I’ve enjoyed all the projects I’ve worked on. My work is also my passion, so every project I do has something special in it for me. For sure, every project is a challenge that I enjoy taking on and winning. If I really had to pick one that stands out, I would say a SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse and self-service BI project we did last year for private postal operator TNT Post Italia that got quite a lot of exposure in the media: It’s nice to see your name and photo in magazines. :)

As a SQL Server MVP and frequent event speaker, what are you seeing as the hottest topics in the SQL Server community right now? If you could give your database colleagues around the world one piece of advice this year, what would it be?
Performance. Performance is what really matters right now – from all possible perspectives: Hardware, data modeling, index tuning, query analysis, everything. And to understand performance, you have to understand internals. So my advice is really simple: Don’t just use SQL Server (or Analysis Services or Integration Services or whatever); understand how it works – understand it deeply. Data management systems, relational or not, are now so complex that you can’t simply say, “If I have this problem, I fix it by doing this.” I wish it were that simple, but there are by far too many variables in the game for a “one size fits all” solution to most problems. To be able to fix any issue that may arise or improve any solution, you need to understand how things work.

What’s your favorite time-saver at work?
Dynamic Management Views (DMVs) are simply the best thing Microsoft has included in SQL Server from a DBA perspective. I couldn’t imagine my work without them now. And for BI, the free, open-source BIDS Helper is the can’t-miss tool, especially for its BIML support (thanks, Varigence, for making BIML also available in BIDS Helper!).

Tell us a little about what you like to do when you're not working or focused on SQL Server or the database community.
I have a 2-year-old baby and another one coming in a few months… so you can imagine how I spend my “free” time. :) We have a nice old house in the countryside – in the Monferrato region – and we go there whenever possible. We love to just stay there and relax and cook. We also love to travel. Now with kids, taking trips has become a little more complex, but luckily there’s a lot to see in Italy, and the country is small enough that everything is close enough for a weekend visit.

“If I weren’t a technologist, I would be…”
An aerospace engineer. I’ve loved airplanes even before computers, and I’m still fascinated by flight.

What does community mean to you?
I am what I am now because of the SQL Server community. The sharing of knowledge, experience, ideas… everything helps you grow – both professionally and as a person. And community events such as PASS Summit and SQLSaturdays provide such great opportunities to meet new friends you never would have met otherwise, to take challenges you never would have imagined you’re capable of. But most important, community makes your home the world – not just the place you live.

Read more community profiles: 2013 | 2012