ASF 028: Uwe Ricken interview

ASF 028: Uwe Ricken interview

Introduction

Uwe Ricken is working with IT systems since the 90’s. He found the way to the technology of Microsoft SQL Server with the assignment for the development of membership administration software for the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany. Afterwards, the software has been distributed to five additional European countries.
The primary passion for developments with Microsoft SQL Server expanded in 2007 with his engagement as a DBA for the Deutsche Bank AG. After 6 years of experiences in the European Operations Center as a DBA and over 14 years as a developer of complex database models he earned in May 2013 the “Microsoft Certified Master – SQL Server 2008” certification which “was” the highest technical certification from Microsoft.
The successful year 2013 has been finalized with the first MVP award for his outstanding support to the Microsoft SQL Server community in Germany and Europe. Uwe Ricken was the first MCM + MVP in Germany!
Uwe is blogging since 2010 about his daily experiences with SQL Server. His blog posts are in German language only to provide the German-speaking SQL community a deeper inside view into the technology. Uwe Ricken is a speaker on many international conferences and events and preferred topics for “Database Internals”, “Indexing” and “Development”.

This talk has taken place after SQL Saturday 2019 in Madrid, Spain on 28 September 2019 (Saturday).

Interviewer: Kamil Nowinski (T).

Audio version

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Transcript

KN: This is the next episode, and currently we’re sitting in Madrid for SQLSaturday and my next guest for this episode is my friend from Germany. And basically, I was planning to do this episode at least for a year, but I was planning to do this in Germany, because he is from there, but never happened, I was not here in the last period. But finally, I decided, so I must do it. I must do it finally to not skip this opportunity. So could you introduce yourself?

UR: Oh yes, sure, so first of all “dzień dobry”! Dzień dobry, Kamil, dzień dobry, my friends in Poland. My name is Uwe Ricken, I’m from Germany, as Kamil has said. I’m 55 years old and I’m working with Microsoft SQL Server since 1998 I think, and I’m on international conferences since 2013. I love to work with SQL Server, it’s my daily job. The good thing is I love SQL Server, the bad thing is I only know SQL Server. No clue about anything else.

KN: Oh, that’s probably not true. If you know SQL Server, so like a new version, about 2019, Big Data Clusters, so probably you’re starting learning new features.

UR: Yeah, but big data cluster that’s not my business because most of my customers mostly have on-prem SQL Server running with 2016/2017. 2019 is not yet there. I think it will come in November, maybe. But I’m currently so busy that I didn’t have even one look into SQL 2019, although I know that there are so many pretty cool, good features but I was not able to play around with them. Business is, as I said, the main purpose currently.

KN: Yeah, true. And you haven’t enclosed your age. I didn’t ask about it. (laugh)

UR: Well, as you know, it’s quite important because many people think “Oh, look there’s this young guy”, and then I need to make clear that I’m 55 years old.

KN: So where do you live?

UR: I live in the area of Frankfurt am Main. That’s the best place to live there because I’m working international, I’m travelling a lot and therefore for me, it’s mandatory to have a big international airport in my area. I originally came from Ruhrgebiet, maybe you know it – coal. That’s more in the middle of Germany and I moved over in 1988 to Frankfurt to study law. And then my career started as an IT specialist.

KN: To study law?

UR: Yes, I needed the money. I was young and I saw a request for teaching people in IT. I said “OK, I’ve taught little kids then I could maybe teach adults too”. And so I started my career with the IT.

KN: OK, so you started to like this, interesting. So what kind of take technology was valid at that time?

UR: Oh my goodness, I think most of the… Maybe you know DOS?

KN: Yes, absolutely, I remember.

UR: Disk Operating System [DOS]. That was my beginning, my very first beginning. And the machine I had was an x86 with 1 MB of RAM.

KN: It was even before the 286, right?

UR: Yes, it was the very first one, yes. And I started with 640 kB of memory. There was a DOS system. And I needed a computer because when I did my study at law, I, first of all, bought an electrical type machine, typing machine. But the problem there is, if you failed with something, you had to completely rewrite the complete page. So I decided to buy my very first computer then. It was in 1990/1991, because then before I printed it out, I could fix everything. That was the point.

KN: And save a lot of time.

UR: It saved lots of time, yeah. But I was very unprofessional with that. It was Word for DOS. I think that nobody knows it that something like this software was on the market at the time.

KN: Only we dinosaurs remember those systems. Young people can’t even understand how it was possible that Google didn’t exist before.

UR: Yes, it’s the same as with the mobile. I remember when I showed my little daughter a telephone with a… how do you say, where you have to select the numbers with the circle (rotary dial). They were looking at this “my goodness, what is this?”. So yeah, we are definitely dinosaurs. The good thing was when I was doing the training, I did it for a teaching company and lots of these attendees, they liked my show, what I’m doing, when I was presenting. And they asked me to do a job in their prem, on their prem. So then I started my career as a developer. There was the very first time in 1993 as a developer for… I think nobody knows this software. It was the Ashton-Tate Framework. Nobody knows it so far. But Ashton-Tate dBase?

KN: Sounds familiar…

UR: It came out before Paradox. So dBase and Ashton-Tate Framework, you see, really old. Then I started my career with an American company, Motorola. I did the network there and that was my very first time when I started networking with Novell NetWare.

KN: Oh yeah, I remember.

UR: It’s on the market but it’s very, very tiny. At that time it was the biggest competitor for networking. And then came Microsoft with Windows.

KN: My first serious job was at the company where they had Novell NetWare. But it was a German company in Poland.

UR: And that was the very first time in my life I did a certification. The very first time I did a “Novell-certified blah, blah”, I don’t know what, it’s so long ago. But that was the very first time I got my first certificate in IT sciences.

KN: You had to be very proud.

UR: I was, I was at that time. Then it was going on and on. I was working with Microsoft Access, you know Microsoft Access? I think, most of the people know it. Then in 1998, I got a very, very big challenge. I had a customer, they wanted us to completely re-develop their membership software. And that was the very first time I started quite extensively with SQL Server. No idea about it, absolutely no idea. I did it from scratch. I said “oh my goodness, an index might be good here”, just for example. I didn’t know whether it is or not. But I was thinking about “well, when you search for it, maybe you use an index”. When I see today this software… I have it on my computer. I facepalm. My goodness, I’m so happy about this customer and I’m so sorry about this customer because they paid me so much money for this crappy software.

KN: But you finished the project. I think that is a goal for every project.

UR: It was a very successful thing because we sold it in different countries. By the way, to Poland. The Polish chamber, they bought our software, and that was the very first time I was in contact with the Polish business. I loved it. It was in Warszawa (Warsaw), beautiful. So we had our software running in seven countries. I had a partner with me in the company, so we decided to go separate ways in 2007, like a divorce, right? Then I ran my own business again since 2007 and I didn’t have the manpower to support it anymore. I promised to my customer I will do. As long as you have the software, I would support you. And I was really, really happy when the last customer in 2012/13 said: “we’re going for new software”. I helped them to put the data into the new software. And now I’m doing what I want to do – SQL Server only.

KN: OK, so you started describing how you started with your business. How was it at the beginning? How did you create it?

UR: You mean in the 90s or the SQL Server business?

KN: In the 90s, that was your first company, right?

UR: To be honest, it was absolutely easy. Because IT was not so complicated as it is today. Just to give you an example. When I was working for an American company, we only had for 50-70 people just one server. We were running five services on it, we were running Windows because in Windows 3.11 you could put your profile on the server, mailing and print services. Everything on this one server. And, my goodness, the server was standing in my office. That was the 90s. I was aware of how professional IT must be the very first time, I would say, in 2001/2002, around that time. Then I saw the first time that they had a data centre for example. No one could access servers, all this kind of stuff. And then when I started working for banks, then I saw it on a very, very high, professional way. Segregation of duty, that means you do not have access to the Windows system when you’re a DBA, something like that. And I would love to see more companies working with this kind of segregation of duties.

KN: Then you learn something new, what it should look like. Did you try to adopt this approach to every single company, every single customer of you?

UR: I try to, but the big point is, to be honest, you don’t even have big, big companies. You have small companies, you have medium-sized companies and they don’t have the money for it. Just to give you an example, I have one company, 200 people working there, and they have just only three people working in IT. And these three people are backups for them, and they do everything. And for me, it is good, because they need experienced workers for SQL Server, but the problem is everybody has to do everything. And that is not a good way to work. But if you have big, big companies, corporates, they are strongly working on this segregation, which is very good.

KN: These days there are fewer and fewer small companies on the market. But also I remember my first job was in a pretty small company where I was doing everything in IT. So from some perspective it’s good but from another, it’s bad, because you can’t focus on one thing, you cannot specialize yourself.

UR: Well, it depends on what you want. So to be honest, for me, it is every single time quite annoying working for corporates for one simple reason: well, they pay me by the hour – this is okay for me, so the longer it takes for me to do a job, the better it is for me. But on the other hand, if you want to work something out, you want to fix something, and you can’t, this is quite annoying. And this is really disappointing. And this always happens in big companies, especially when working for banks. And just to give you an example, they hired me for an investigation of a SQL server. I saw the problem, I say “I made a document about the issues we found”, it said: this needs to be fixed, go through all this bullet list. And I said “OK, I can do it for you, it takes me 4 hours”. Do you know how long I was working there? Nearly a month. For 4 hours of work. And this is because of complicated processes.

KN: You mean you were working for a month because they didn’t order the service from you?

UR: No, they ordered it. I was working there, sitting there. The problem is I was waiting there. Because what you have to do in big companies is you have to create an RFC (Request For Change). On a production system, it is only allowed to do it on the weekend. You need to have the approval from the business, change management, implementer, all this kind of stuff. And maybe you know it, if they outsource services to India, Romania, wherever, the moment you outsource services. The people outside, they say “I don’t give a shit on it” because if it’s approved, I do, if not, I do not. Who cares. When we did the service in the bank, we were taking care that every single step has been approved. We were calling the people, saying “hey, I’m missing your approval, can you please click it, because I want to do it on this weekend, you’re waiting for this”. But if you outsource it, there is a big distance from culture and from distance and that makes it quite difficult. So that was for me easy working because one month I could do other stuff, but as I said, it was OK because I could do other stuff, on the other hand, it was very frustrating. And you will see very often in big companies.

KN: Yes, I’ve seen. When I started working in London in the UK which was in 2015, I just started seeing where the problem is, what the processes really look like in big companies. So I never experienced something like this in Poland before. But it probably depends on what kind of company you’re working for.

UR: Well, it is a highly professional thing what they are doing, but the problem is, at that moment I can understand the business manager when they say “IT is expensive”. For one simple reason: if you have lots of complicated processes, you involve more and more people into the process, and then it becomes expensive.

KN: You want to be safe and this costs money.

UR: All of them want to cover their asses. That’s it. Really, currently, I have one customer which I was working last week for and I explained the problem, I described the problem, I demoed the problem, it’s a small company, and I said: “let’s fix this and you will be happy”. Now they are thinking about 3-4 days now “shall we do, shall we not”. They are afraid of it. I say “come on, you hired me as an expert, why don’t you believe it?”.

KN: If some students would propose those changes, might be OK, you can check this with someone else.

UR: Yeah, but I’ve been on the market for 30 years, I know what I do. And to be honest, no risk no fun. I said, “come on, it’s easy, we’re not changing data, we only change the configuration, which can easily be reverted, don’t worry about it, I promise it will work”. They are a little bit afraid of it, so they don’t trust me.

KN: Maybe they don’t trust themselves.

UR: They are afraid of… maybe they get some pressure from the business, from the management. I don’t care about it.

KN: There are a lot of factors, yeah. I don’t care about it as well. But it’s hard that we can do something quickly, we know what is going on. We know what needs to be fixed and you need to wait because of the process, very long. So when exactly did you start working with SQL Server then?

UR: I first touched SQL Server in 1998/1999, like that. But only for one simple reason: I saw the installation media said “SQL Server”. What is it? I installed it. Internet was not available at that time. I read a book about, it said: “SQL Server is a database system”. I said, “oh my goodness”. And here comes the big point. I was coming from Microsoft Access. Access was OK, I loved it, but here comes the big, big point. At that moment, when I discovered SQL Server, it was the version 4.21, so very, very old. And that is a big, big problem I think that many developers today have too: I expected if I put my data on a SQL Server, everything will run faster. I completely failed. I thought that now everything would be fine and easy and incredibly fast. I failed completely. But that was the very first time. And I thought by myself, that was the second misunderstanding, I was thinking about SQL Server as a development environment. I was searching for “how can I develop GUIs or something like that”. Very funny, today I can laugh about it but at that time it was incredible. And it was then I got my first… 4.2 was in 1996/1997, not 2000. And in 1998 I got my first engagement for the development of a SQL Server-based application. And from 1998, to be honest I learned very, very much about development with SQL Server that took me 10 years. But I didn’t have any clue about security, installation, performance, nothing.

KN: At the beginning, you just learn how to create the system, the application.

UR: I was focused on development. But SQL Server is way more than development. You have two separate parties: development and administration. So in 2008, I started at Deutsche Bank in Germany. That was the very first time I started as a DBA.

KN: 2008, really?!

UR: Yes. And the funny thing is they hired me although I said I don’t know anything about DBA work. But they were impressed. In the interview, they told me about mirroring. I said, “well, mirroring, it’s easy, I did it”. The point is in SQL Server 6 mirroring did mean that you had a database on the same server, not mirroring between two servers, something like that. But the key point was, he heard that I understand mirroring and they said: “OK, you’re my guy, you can come”. So since 2008, I got the professional way to work with SQL Server. The very first two years was for me learning, learning, learning from the DBA aspect. But the good thing was my three colleagues, they were only familiar with the GUI. They could do every single job but they always needed the GUI. And the problem is that it’s not effective enough, especially when you have repeatable things. So what I did then was, you know in the GUI you click, click, click and then you say “scripted”. And this was the way I learned to administer SQL Server by T-SQL. And what I did that was I was developing scripts for the administration of SQL Server for our team. And that was from 2008 to 2010. In 2010 they started outsourcing the services and those were the two worst years I would say because there was nothing more to do, only a few things, for that customer. But 2010 was I would say the big point where I changed completely my SQL Server experience because one of my colleagues was telling me about the “SQL Server Master” program. And he was coming to me and said: “Uwe, I heard about SQL master, this is the highest level of technology you can achieve in Microsoft certification, and now I can do it in an easy way, I don’t have to go to Redmond, I will learn it”. And I said “what is it?”, and he was “yeah, it’s the best thing you could ever do, you learn much and you are a well-renowned engineer”, all this kind of stuff. I said, “OK if you do it, I do it too”. And that was a competition. That was good for us both. So what was the first step? I did all my recertification, so the MSCE, MCSA, because you needed to have four certifications at least, and then I started watching the videos from Kimberly [Tripp], from Paul Randal, from Brent [Ozar]. It took me two years to prepare for the master. And then happy, happy, happy, I got it in 2013. So it took me two and a half years. But you know, what impressed me most was when I started in 2010, I was thinking I know everything about SQL Server. What a big, big, big mistake. And when I started learning that, I saw how little I knew at that time, how incredibly little I knew at that time. Today I’m happy that I have it. The MCM program is dead, but the knowledge you can transfer to every new version, it’s always the same, and that’s a good thing. The basics are the same.

KN: Everyone has the same I think. I don’t remember the name of this chart that’s showing you how much experience you have, how long you’ve been working in the markets and how much you think you are experienced and then when you learn more, it’s going down.

UR: Well, Microsoft itself recommends 3 to 5 years experience. To be honest it’s too little. To pass it, it’s too little. But you could do the boot camp, you could at that time do the boot camp in Redmond, but the problem is it’s way too expensive. It was $20,000 I think, I don’t know. But flight costs, accommodation, no income for three weeks. So that meant for me, I was calculating, it was about forty thousand euros. I said “no, it’s not worth it”, at that point, at that time. But then, when they changed the program, they changed it and said: “OK, you can prepare by yourself, you don’t have to go to the boot camp, get your own pace, here is the stuff, the only thing you have to learn”. I did it, took me two years and that’s it.

KN: So before it was like you had to do the course at the place for these three weeks and then finish with the exam.

UR: Yes, but it was required to go to the boot camp. But now, as you know, it’s dead. Don’t talk about it anymore, it’s done.

KN: But also there’s the MVP program and you’re still an MVP, so you’ve been an MVP since 2013.

UR: April 2013. It was at the same time when I had my master. When I received the email from Microsoft, to be honest, I was pretty proud of it. Because it showed me that my efforts I’m doing for the community have been recognized by Microsoft. And I love to be an MVP, that’s a great community, you know it by yourself, so I shouldn’t explain it to you, but the MVP for me it means… well, it’s a giving back from the community to the people who engage for the community. For example, now we are here both sitting in Madrid. But we are doing everything on our own cost. I don’t think that many people know that, but every single SQLSaturday you’re on, it’s important to know for the audience, every speaker is doing it for free. The cost is completely on their side.

KN: There’s no remuneration for that.

UR: Therefore I would say it’s really cool that Microsoft recognized it. I mean not this only but that’s one part of the MVP.

KN: A lot of activities for the community, technology, around this.

UR: And I need to say that maybe a few people think “come on, MVP, it’s easy to achieve”. No, it isn’t. Because you have to engage for the community by heart. Not only say “OK, let’s go to the forum, make 10,000 points and maybe then I achieve the MVP”. That will not work. Not yet.

KN: Even if you achieve that like this, maybe by mistake or by accident, maybe it will be not extended for the next years. Because we need to mention that the MVP program is not given to you for the whole life, it’s being extended every year, so you need to continue what you’re doing.

UR: You see how many fabulous people they have thrown out of the MVP program. People I would never have expected. William [Durkin], that was really a big surprise. He’s running Data Grillen and I was wondering why they kicked these people out. Or maybe you remember, that was two or three years, Paul White. Mr Paul White, Mr SQL engine, he’s brilliant in his stuff. He’s pushing his work into the community, and I love his work because he’s so exceptional. There are lots of them. I don’t want to name them all but I would say, people who are MVP, they are brilliant people, they love to work or do community work. Maybe not everyone but I would say over 99%. And I have to be honest, the MVP for me, for my business it was boosting my business too. I don’t have to hide behind it. That’s a true fact. If you ask a customer “do you know MCM”, or “do you know MVP”, you get over 90 per cent “well, I know MVP, yeah, they are experts”. MCM, mostly in Germany, they didn’t know what it is. No chance, they didn’t know. But it’s OK because let’s go ahead with the MCM, it’s over since 2013.

KN: So in terms of MVP, are you still blogging?

UR: Sure, but unfortunately way too little. I have so many topics. You need to know, in my calendar, in my Outlook I have an activity list what blog posts I want to write. What do you think, how many topics I have there? Over 30. But the problem is, I don’t have the time currently to do this. I want to do this, I really want to do it because they are extraordinary things in it. For example, the last blog post was about bacpac problem, with bacpac fights when you deploy your database to Azure database and suddenly your application is running mad. That can happen and the reason is in the process of bacpac… but this was the last thing I was writing about. But I have lots of other things to write because I love writing about the SQL engine, it’s an interesting thing.

KN: I saw it on the MVP group (Distribution List).

UR: Yeah, but that is one of the, I would say, bad points is I only write in the German language.

KN: Yeah, that was my next question: why only in German?

UR: That’s very simple to explain. Two things: first, I’ve never seen a good German blog post or an intensive German blog post, let’s put it this word. Which means if I would do it in English, there are so many, many, many, hundreds of brilliant bloggers which are doing SQL stuff in English. And they are doing a fantastic, an absolutely fantastic job. So my decision was directly in 2012 when I started blogging, I said: “no, I do it only in German”. Because the feedback of the German community was “oh my goodness, we don’t find blogs in german language, we would love to have it in German” and that’s how the idea was born that I would blog in German. What I do is sometimes I’m blogging for Redgate. Then I take my blog post, rewrite it in English. And now I have contact from Israel. He was contacting me and asked me whether he could translate my blog. I’m feeling really honoured. He asked me if he could translate my blog posts to English, that he could post it on his website. Do what you want, it’s for the community, give it for free. I was thinking about doing it in two languages. But first is it’s complicated and second is then I need double the time.

KN: And that stops you from doing that. I had the same problem when I started my blog. Thinking “should I write a blog post and keep it in English because I’m living and working in the UK now, or should I do it in Polish or both?”, so I thought like “both would too complicated, too time-consuming, it would be stopping me from doing that instead of starting doing this”.

UR: Another point with blogging is for me it is a marketing tool for me. I’m not so professional as for example Brent Ozar, he’s brilliant in marketing. He’s a master of marketing, I would say. But I’m not. But I would say I get at least once a week from my contact form a request if I could do some services. And they mostly are landing on my blog posts because they are searching for it. All my customers are coming from Austria, Switzerland, Germany. I have two customers in Singapore and one in Hong Kong. The most far customers I have. OK, I speak with them in English but you see, most of my customers are coming from the German area so why shouldn’t I? This is my market, you know? And as I said there are brilliant English posts that why should I get in competition with these guys.

KN: You also travel a lot. Do you like travelling now? You can confess.

UR: So let me separate two different kinds of travelling. First is business travelling. So under the week from Monday to Friday, I travel really a lot. So just for your understanding: I travel by car, per year, around 60,000 kilometres and by plane (I don’t use trains, they are not reliable in Germany) I would say about 50-60 business flights, only in Germany. 60 flights a year. I have around 150 nights per year in a hotel for business. So that means I’m travelling around Germany, wherever someone is requesting a job I go there. And then it comes to the weekends – SQLSaturdays. The highest amount of SQLSaturdays I had I think in 2015/2016, it was around 20. That means 20 weekends, out of 52,  was travelling around for conferences because it’s mandatory for me. I love to travel around for conferences. I love to see the speakers. For me, it’s a little bit of a family. Yesterday you saw it when we were in the restaurants, I love to see you all again. I love it.

KN: I’m feeling the same, it’s like an addiction.

UR: It is! So that takes me another three days. And here comes the point, when I travel for conferences, the good thing is I see different countries, I get more open-minded at the same time.

KN: You can also relax a little bit and see some places, taste new food, meet people.

UR: Yes, and so in Europe, I would say I was nearly at every SQLSaturday since my career as a speaker. Last year the farthest I travelled was to South Africa. Beautiful, I love it.

KN: That was my other question, you’re just reading my mind!

UR: And next year, that’s really a highlight. I have to keep it safe. Next year I’ll be in New Zealand for Difinity 2020 in Auckland, and this will be the longest flight in my lifetime. It is 6.5 hours to Dubai and then from Dubai non-stop to Auckland 16 hours. Let’s see how it works.

KN: Are you preparing for that mentally?

UR: Well, I have an e-book reader.

KN: Also, I was planning to be there, in Auckland, I was talking about this with Reza and Leila. Maybe next year, maybe not in 2020, but in 2021. We’ll see. I need to plan in advance. I just changed jobs recently so it was very hard to make that happen. New projects, new employer…

UR: What I tried to do is then when I’m in Auckland, I do the Difinity, then fly over to Wellington in the south, do the SQLSaturday, fly back to Auckland and then fly back home. And the big, big challenge next year, to be honest, this is really a big challenge, the Difinity is in February, so I come back from Difinity, 12 hours time zone difference, come back to Frankfurt, one week later I fly to Canada for the SQLSaturday, if it happens SQLSaturday in Victoria, and go to the MVP Summit. So that means 9 hours. Back. I will see how it works. I’m not sure if I could manage it. But if not, then I know my limits.

KN: Yeah, so I think we should sit for 5-10 minutes, summarize your experience during the MVP Summit.

UR: Yeah, why not. As long as there’s no Information about internal data we can talk about it.

KN: So let’s talk about the SQLSaturday in Johannesburg, because I’ve seen that you started flying there like a year ago or two years ago.

UR: I started with… let me think about it. 2016 I started. That was the very first time. So, Michael Johnson, I was in contact with him, I submitted for SQLSaturday in Joburg because for one simple reason, I was never in my lifetime in South Africa. So I was asking my wife whether she would join me, and we made a big plan, we said “OK, let’s go one week before, go to a game lodge, see the lions, all this kind of stuff, elephants, rhinos and so on. Then we went to Joburg only, in 2016. We only did the conference in Joburg and then we flew back to Frankfurt. So it was one week, it was easy because of the same time zone, everything fine. But Joburg was… how do I say, we didn’t see anything from Joburg for one simple reason: people recommended not to go out of the hotel. It’s so dangerous in Joburg.

KN: Yeah, exactly, I wanted to ask if it’s safe there.

UR: I do not really know. So what we did was, and that was a great, great, great, really, thank you to Michael, that was a great hospitality, they picked me up from the hotel, brought me to the speaker dinner and back, and to the venue, I did a pre-con there two times, and on the Saturday do the SQLSaturday and back to the hotel. Really, absolutely brilliant hospitality. So to be honest, I didn’t see very much of downtown. I only saw it once when we had the transfer to the airport because we took an Uber from the hotel to the airport and the highway was blocked, so he decided to drive through downtown. I didn’t feel very comfortable, I have to admit. So I think the recommendation from people who are living there is absolutely valid when they say “please, try not to leave the hotel”. But I think if you take an Uber, you’re safe. But we didn’t do this. Why should I take a risk? If someone warned me and say “no, better not”, then why should I do this? So that was Joburg. We had a lovely hotel, I have to say. Beautiful hotel. The next year we skipped it, and then I asked my wife again, said “what are you thinking about it, shall we go again to South Africa?”, she said “oh my goodness, yeah, yeah, let’s do it!”, I said, “OK, kochanie (the polish word for sweetheart), we do”. And so I booked for Joburg, and not only Joburg but one week later it was in Cape Town. So what the guys in South Africa are doing is absolutely brilliant. They have three SQLSaturdays in a row. So that makes it easy for speakers. Week by week by week. So we went to Joburg, I did the pre-con and the SQLSaturday there, then we flew over to Cape Town, do the pre-con and the SQLSaturday there, and then we flew back to Joburg and home. Next year, if they take me I don’t know, but then we will do Joburg, Cape Town, Durban. All three. And then we go back to Frankfurt. And I really love to fly long-distance flights, because we take business class, it’s easy, you can sleep and we have a night flight basically, we have enough place, we can read, we can do whatever you want to do. So that was really my… was it my longest flight? No, I was in India, the Data Platform Geek Summit, and from India, I went over to Singapore for a week and then back to Germany. So flying long-distance, going to SQLSaturdays all around the world is fantastic. The only area which I currently missed totally was the US. I need to see, let’s see, 3 SQLSaturdays in a row, I have to pick them up, and then I have to arrange a flight, accommodation, all this kind of stuff. But the US, well… I am addicted to Asia. I’m completely addicted to Asia. It’s beautiful, the people are so beautiful, they are so kind, really, they are lovely. And every once a year I’m in Singapore, every year, I love to be in Singapore. I was last weekend there for Formula 1 and I’m absolutely addicted to it. I was in Vietnam, I was in Indonesia, I was in Thailand. Unfortunately, there is no SQLSaturday there because I would immediately do it. Bangkok, what a beautiful city. It’s amazing. They have a New Year’s celebration. So I strongly recommend it. It’s beautiful. That’s the reason why I go to SQLSaturdays. It’s on the weekend, I can see different nations, different cities, different people. And I have some favourites, to be honest. I’m addicted to Poland. That’s not only for the interview. I’m four times a year in Poland. In Krakow, in Wrocław (SQLDay), in Warszawa (Warsaw) and Opole but Opole is more of a private thing. My wife is from Poland.

KN: We’ll come to this. So the next question will be also about the conferences, a quick one. Do you remember what was the biggest conference that you have taken part of as a speaker?

UR: Well, to be honest, that was the PASS Summit in 2015 I think. And the second biggest was the Data Platform Geek Summit in India. Perfect. It’s amazing, the more people are coming to my session, the more I’m completely excited and I get out of myself. So at the PASS Summit, I was not so lucky with the session for one simple reason: it was on a Friday because many people went home Friday, it was after lunch. But I had 130-140 people in my session. And it was in a big ballroom. You know the PASS Summit and you know the ballrooms, right?

And I remember it as it was yesterday. When I first saw… You know me as a speaker on this big, big platform, waiting for the audience coming in, and you know that there could be thousands of people in, and then you saw 100-130, I was a little bit disappointed. But however, that’s my intention: whether there is one sitting there or 1000, I always try to give my very best. The people should have fun when they are on my session. I love it when they laugh. That makes it so easy. And to be honest, if you laugh about something, you keep it in your mind. You say “oh my goodness, yeah, that was his joke about this, ah, indexing…”. That’s how I do my sessions. And Bangalore was for me a very exciting thing because the greatest thing from DPG was the people are fascinated about learning. And they came into my session and the organizers warned me at my pre-con, said: “go straight through your topics, do not answer questions”. They were coming in my session before, introduced me and said: “please keep in mind this is a pre-con, no asking questions, and we will go through the stuff soon”. Oh my goodness, what am I doing here? And I allowed to ask questions. That was my fault. Because they wanted to learn and ask this and this, and this. I didn’t understand the mentality at that point, but it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Good hospitality, beautiful.

KN: Another part of the conversation: what do you think is the nearest future of the data platform technology?

UR: That’s a difficult question.

KN: Cause everything is changing very quickly, extending, even SQL Server is expanding a lot these days.

UR: Absolutely. When I was starting with SQL Server, we only had the platform, the engine, nothing else. OK, a little bit of SSIS, that’s it. And then came Analysis Services, Reporting Services, and you saw that the SQL suite was growing up and up. And see what’s happened now. You have lots of different technologies…

KN: Big data clusters, satellites with R, Python, Java…

UR: And this is something for me as a dinosaur for databases, which I, to be honest, completely dismiss. I don’t want to have it in a database because from my point of view, in relation database, that’s my point of view. When they started with XML, I said I was puking. I said, “my goodness, what are they doing there”. That was because of the developers. I know that the data-based platform should change, have more of a focus on the development but not only on the let’s say DBAs for example. Then cloud was up and coming, and I would definitely see that the future is in cloud computing but the problem I think it’s in every country is that the current management is not so… They are concerned about cloud computing. If the new management comes into the positions, then it will speed up. In Germany, we have very big concerns about data security. This is the biggest point where people say “no, I don’t want to go into the cloud”. And I would say on-prem would ever be when I retire I would say there would be on-prem software, but artificial intelligence, KI, all this kind of stuff, that will go more and more into the focus. And what I would say is that the model, the database models, they will rapidly change. So if you’re talking today about relational databases, I would say the big data kind of stuff that could not be handled by relational… So that’s the reason why they always change. NoSQL. I never got in touch with NoSQL, I don’t have any experience with that. For two reasons: first of all, I’m not so interested in really, and the second is I didn’t get a project with that. To me as a freelancer, you know it, I cannot sit around for one week and say “oh my goodness yeah, I love this new kind of stuff”.

KN: And then you will not try it in practice, it doesn’t make sense.

UR: And something that is really annoying, it’s not by Microsoft, different companies are doing that, they are pushing a feature, everybody says “oh yeah, my goodness, what a cool feature”. Next year say “sorry, we stopped it”. And what did you learn? This is your time, your effort for that, and then they say “don’t give a shit on it”.

KN: I think the reason for this is the pace of how everything is changing. How quickly they want to adopt the technology.

UR: Yeah, that’s the point. For me the period between new versions, from my point of view, it’s way too fast. For on-prem by the way, sure. I mean now dedicated SQL Server for example. It’s way too fast. I know there’s new technology, they have new features. And from my point of view, it is so that many cool features they are implementing is because of some stupidity of developers. No, that’s wrong because then I would blame developers. That’s not correct. Let me say it in other words. I know the problem of developers. Developers can make great GUIs, can make perfect services, but when we think about the data, for them it’s only “come on, I store it in a database”. That’s what it is for. Then I have to apologize for my stupid…

KN: From that perspective, those positions should be separated, you know front-end developers and back-end developers. Whatever it will be like, service or database. Or a database developer.

UR: You won’t see them. In medium companies, they don’t even have it. They have developers who are doing everything. And that’s the reason why I can live from it.

KN: But then we have work.

UR: And that’s what I love about my work. You come in, people are concerned, “well is it the right man for doing this job”, and after let’s say 3-4 days you get out and you are the hero of the company. They say “ah, you saved our life, great, wonderful, come back whenever you want, you get free cookies!”.

KN: True. OK, let’s leave the Azure things. Let’s go a little bit into your private life.

UR: Oh, yes!

KN: A simple one at the beginning: what is your hobby?

UR: What is my hobby? Diving. We do it with the whole family. Unfortunately, in three weeks we wanted to go for diving, and that’s my annual holiday, but unfortunately, maybe you heard about it, the Thomas Cook bankruptcy, I’m a victim of it, so we can’t do this year. But diving is the hobby of the whole family. And another hobby is my private car from Italy. It’s a Ferrari, it’s a 30-year-old Ferrari. I’ve owned it for over 20 years now. 30 years now, it’s a historical car. That’s good, it’s cheaper for taxes. And my third hobby is Formula 1.

KN: Driving or watching? [laughs]

UR: Oh, come on. No, no, no. I’m looking at maybe visiting it, but to be honest I would say since five years, if I see it on TV, it’s okay. Let’s say if Ferrari wins, very great as they did in Singapore. But the focus is going now to different other things. I like to walk in forests, beautiful, have some calm, you know? Because my life is currently running so quickly. Every single day another customer, every single day another city. Do you know the situation? I’ve had it three times now. You go into your hotel room, take your keycard and the door won’t open. Then you get down and said “hey, come on, my door doesn’t open” and then they tell you “sorry, you were in the wrong door”. And you say “my goodness, it was yesterday where I was in a different city”. And I have these situations. And that seems that is for me came just really clear the point where I say “calm down, stop, not so fast, try to focus more on the family”. And that’s the reason why we love to go diving. Diving you need to be very concentrated, if you think about other things, it could be quite dangerous because if you’re not aware of what’s going on with you, it could be quite dangerous when you’re 30 meters down and you have some problems, you cannot go up immediately up to surface, it doesn’t work, it could kill you.

KN: I tried a few years ago and yeah I understand the feeling. So it was only once but yeah, I’m not sure if I… probably in the future I will repeat it but I was a little bit scared but I was repeating to myself “calm down, calm down, you need to focus on what you’re doing, breathe slowly, don’t panic”. Because this is the worst thing you can do under the water.

UR: And that’s why I love diving. So when you go to let’s say the Maldives, to Egypt or something, you have to dive with the buddy. And my buddy is my wife. So you know, we both go together and we can completely… I’m feeling quite safe when she is near to me and the opposite. So my daughter’s, they are the buddies for each other and then we go with four people we’re going diving. Really beautiful. And you know what the cool thing is when you sit at the evening at the bar, with a cocktail and you’re talking about what you see. I love it. That’s the way of family life I absolutely love.

KN: It’s great that you have something in common in your family. Like going on holiday and doing the same thing. Then you can share the experience.

UR: That is a great, great benefit we have. My oldest daughter she’s living 300 km away from us. The youngest one is living very near to us, but I always love to have my family around me. So whenever we have the opportunity for a holiday together in Italy, we were this year in Italy, or in November we go together to the Baltic Sea and we meet there, it’s a big family meeting. And to be honest, these are absolute highlights of the year when I see my family. I could not express how important it is for me to have a family around me. That gives me the power to do my daily job. I’m doing it for my family. I want to have them comfortable, I want to have them around me, and I want to have lucky people around me. When I see them for let’s say 3-4 days, we spread out to our locations, I’m absolutely happy. That gives me the speed for the next 3-4 months. That’s what I love.

How many minutes are we currently doing? An hour, that’s what you said, yeah.

KN: Normally it takes between 30-60 minutes.

UR: But I’m talking too much.

KN: No, not too much, I knew that because I knew that you liked talking and that’s fine.

UR: But you know, I’m 55 years old, I’ve seen lots of things in my life.

KN: Exactly, so you know, this podcast is, that was the original idea, it’s not talking about technical things that you can learn during the SQLSaturday every session. That was not the point. The point was to share the experience from many areas, to share your approach to your private life, what you do, how you can cope with some things. This kind of things that people don’t know about us.

UR: We are sitting here really relaxed.

KN: Exactly! So,… a holiday. So you mentioned that your flight has been cancelled. And where were you planning to go for the holiday this year?

UR: We wanted to go to the Maldives. We go every year to the Maldives for diving. We learned it there in 2012 and we are feeling very safe with the team of the dive school there. We know them and this is like coming home, you know? This year we cannot make it but what we will do now, unfortunately, they took my money, but we didn’t get anything for that, so we are now doing it this way: we booked in Egypt. Because I need to have two weeks of holiday. It’s important for me because I see that the batteries are low. I feel it. And I need to get a little bit of distance for two weeks, and therefore we decided to hopefully go to Egypt.

KN: When will it be?

UR: In three weeks, for two weeks. But you know, the problem is so many people cannot go to the holidays and now you see the prices increasing. They are looking for other things.

KN: Yeah, that’s the bad thing. OK, so we know a little bit how the work-life balance works for you because you talked about it.

UR: Yeah, I don’t have one.

KN: I think you have!

UR: But it’s too little.

KN: You mean 2 weeks of holidays is too little?

UR: Yeah, I have too little holiday. Because sometimes I hear my daughter saying “well, daddy, you’re going on the weekend to your conferences”. OK, yeah, it seems to be life balance because it’s easy, but it isn’t. It’s travelling, you’re not at home, and also I’m travelling very much by aeroplane, it is always stressful for me at the security. I hate it. And waiting for flights and boarding and looking for a place where it could drop your luggage. All this kind of stuff, this is stress. And travelling around means that you’re for three days… just to give you an example: Madrid – yesterday we started our travelling at 10 (am), we’ve been in the hotel at 5 (pm), so five [seven] hours of travelling. When we go back, we start here, so the flight would go on 3 (pm), so that means we start here at 12 (pm), to the airport, and I think we’ll be home at 7 pm. Many hours. And all of us are doing it. Not only me. That’s all of you, all those people are doing this.

KN: I was here in Madrid at 9/10 am, but I had to wake up at 4 am!

UR: You see! So when I go to Hamburg for example, when I go for a business trip to Hamburg, I wake up at 4 am, because I take the first plane at 6:10 to Hamburg that I’m at the office at 8 am.

KN: And then you are just tired.

UR: I’m tired, and I feel it. I feel it now too. Also, I slept really well after the speaker dinner yesterday. I’m feeling a little bit tired. I know that it’s over when I start my session, but I feel that the batteries are going down. So two weeks of relaxing. Don’t think about SQL Server, anything, don’t think about business.

KN: Don’t even touch the computer.

UR: Yeah, that is unfortunately for me not possible. For one simple reason: first, I have a company, but that’s not the point. You know what I absolutely hate is when you come back into the office, open your laptop and you have 300-400 emails. It’s a nightmare for me. This is something I try to avoid, so what I’m doing is every evening I open the laptop, look through the emails. But I set a limit. I said 30 minutes, nothing more.

KN: Because I wanted to ask you if you think it’s worth checking emails every evening instead of sitting for one day and checking everything, replying to the emails.

UR: It depends. Let me tell you a story about it because that gives you a good impression that you shouldn’t do this. We were in 2014 I think, we’ve made a diving holiday in the Philippines. And the first week – perfect. No emails, didn’t touch the computer, anything. But on my mobile, I saw the emails. But what I was doing was “OK, not interesting, not interesting”. But then I got an alert from a company, from a corporate I was working for saying “please, can you help?”. But you need to know that the Philippines is 7 hours ahead of you, so what did I do? As a stupid guy, I said: “yes, sir”. I’m like Starship Enterprise: “Scotty, we have a problem, can you fix it?”, “yes, sir, how much time do I have?”, “Scotty, you have 6 hours”. Scotty then: “OK, captain, I’ll do it in 3”. Like this. That’s me, in the same way. So then we started emailing, I was going on the server. What shall I say, it took me the whole night. It was day time in Germany. That was an incident on the production system. It took me the whole night to fix the problem, the whole night. And what shall I say? The first week I was down. I didn’t think about anything of business. But after this night the rest of the holiday didn’t exist because I was always thinking “did you do everything right, can they work now, what will happen if they get in contact with you again, what else can you do?”. Blah, blah, blah, that wasn’t worth it, you know? I should normally have said “go and check it alone, I’m on holiday”, but I didn’t.

KN: Another experience, right?

UR: Lesson learned, I would say.

KN:. So you have visited Poland a few times. SQLDay, SQLSaturday, etc. Which city is your favourite?

UR: My favourite is Opole. OK, I know there are no conferences there, but my wife comes from there, the family is living there.

KN: Yeah, because we should mention that your wife has a Polish name and has Polish roots.

UR: She’s born Kućka. Her last name, Kućka. But the most beautiful city I was Wrocław. Wrocław is beautiful for two reasons: the city is very beautiful and the audience at the SQLDay, I love it. I absolutely love it. The venue is great and the hospitality is great, the people, the user groups, it’s absolutely brilliant. And everything counts a little bit. Krakow for example, we had a super, wonderful, beautiful speaker dinner there. Krakow with its Old Town, with the Wawel, so beautiful! It’s quite difficult to rate something, some city, which is better or not, but I absolutely prefer to go to Wrocław. Easy to get to, the aeroplane, and easy to fly back to Frankfurt. Warszawa – a metropole. It’s lovely but yeah, it’s a metropole.

KN: How did it happen that you have a Polish wife?

UR: Well, my wife, I know her from studying, from my studies. She’s living in Germany, oh my goodness, for over 40 years. And yeah, I was coming to Frankfurt because of my former girlfriend. We saw that it didn’t work with us, and at the university, I met my wife. And that was in 1988. In 1989 we became a couple. In 1991 I asked her to marry me and in 1992 we married. And since 1992 I’m one of the happiest husbands in the world. This is dedicated to my wife. I’m really happy with her. It’s beautiful. She tries as often as possible to come with me.

KN: So you travel for the conferences together. And I’m not sure, most of the times or…?

UR: Unfortunately not. It depends on the location. So let’s say Scandinavia, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Oslo, she loves it, she absolutely loves it. But I don’t want to blame any city, but there are a few destinations where she said “Nah, I’m not so interested in” or she said, “I’ve been there so often”. For example, in Kyiv, she was twice in Kyiv with me. It’s a beautiful city, but she said: “OK, been there twice now, let’s have a one year break”. Same with Poland. I’m wondering about it. So I said “OK, come on, it’s SQLDay in Wrocław, will you join me?”, she said, “no, because one week before, two weeks before I will be there with mummy”. My mother-in-law, she’s 80 years old and sometimes they travel to Opole. And she said “no, I was over there a few weeks ago” or she had to work, she has a job. So she could not go every single time. But if there are some fine destinations like Madrid, South Africa, she tries to join me. What she doesn’t like to do is Asia. I’m addicted to Asia but she’s not. She was once with me in Singapore but that was only a stopover to the Philippines. She thinks Singapore is beautiful but it’s a big city. You cannot do very comfortable sightseeing, you don’t see old areas like you can see here in Madrid. That’s what she loves. But I’m really happy whenever she joins me. Really happy, I love it. It’s better to be together because we don’t see on the week. We don’t see each other in the week. So when I’m in Hamburg for example for a week, then I come back on Friday, and then on Friday it could be that I say “come on” and in the night we fly to Warszawa. So when we go to JOIN! conference in Warszawa in November. I only have two hours when I come back, two hours for switching my luggage, so I think it will be that my wife will come to the airport, we change the luggage, and I go back into the airport and she drives home. But she tries to join me as often as possible. But you need to keep in mind, another point I’ve forgotten is we have a family at home. My mother-in-law out there, her mother, her aunt is there, she has to take care of the house, of the garden, and that’s the reason why she said: “Uwe, go alone”. The good thing is she understands that I do it. She really understands. It is important and I’m so happy that she will join me when I go to New Zealand. OK, for her it’s the first time in New Zealand, but what she will do is she will go with me to the MVP Summit. But she knows that I completely off for four days. And I will come back only in the evening only. And in the evening, you know it best, there are some other parties going on. Meetings, parties in the Hyatt hotel, all this kind of stuff. But she said, “OK, I will join you”. I’m so thankful to her that she will do this. It’s impressive.

KN: Yeah, I must admit. It’s not an easy thing to understand this kind of work.

UR: But as long as she supports me, I do it.

KN: And probably it’s easier with the fact that your children are adults right now, not living with you.

UR: Yeah, the small one is 21. Caterina, she’s the oldest, she’s 25. They are living their lives. That’s cool. This means we have more time for us.

KN: You’re not worried about them? What are they doing now?

UR: No, I completely trust in what they are doing. I trust in everything that they are doing and for me, it is important that they know whenever they need help, they can come to me. And they know it. As I said, my family is my pole, it’s my south pole. They belong to me and that gives me the power.

KN: That’s fantastic, I think it’s your biggest achievement.

UR: It is, yes, it is. And I have a lovely wife. She was taking care of the family, of the kids, of our relationships throughout the years, because it’s really hard when I’m travelling all around the world. It’s really hard. But she was never complaining about it. Thank you, Bia! Dziękuję, Bia, dziękuję!

KN: Yes. At the end of our conversation, could you tell us where people can find you on the Internet?

UR: If you want to have a commercial thing, well if you go Google Uwe Ricken SQL Server, you will find me in Google. That’s the easiest way, but I’m on LinkedIn, but I’m not so active on social media. So Facebook is more private, for family. Twitter – to be honest, twittering is like chatting, you know? I don’t like it, not so much. Sometimes you will find a tweet from me when I’m complaining about something, but this covers only my current situation. When I have the feeling I have to tell the world what problem I currently have.

KN: I haven’t seen you complaining about Thomas Cook on Twitter.

UR: Yeah, but I was complaining about American Express because they didn’t give me my money back! You know what really sucks is that three days before Thomas Cook went bankrupt, they charged me 7500 euros! The rest of the value of the travel. God’s sake… Good, it’s only for recording a voice but not seeing my face now. It makes me so angry! And what really makes me angry is you’re completely helpless. No one can help you. And you cannot do anything.

KN: And you’re a business customer, you’ve been with them for a very long time.

UR: Yeah, I’m a business customer. I’ve been a member of Amex for 30 years. But they don’t give a shit about it. Whatever. Don’t want to complain about it, we have other beautiful things. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, that’s it. I hate Instagram, I hate this kind of stuff with followers, “oh I took a picture of myself”. It’s for young people. And I’m blogging but it’s in German, so mostly if you want to see me, go to SQLSaturdays, take the chance, visit other countries for SQLSaturday. I think it’s worth it that you open your mind for other cultures, for other languages, for other people. That is a gift for us speakers, for you and the same as me. You travel around and you have the opportunity to see different cultures. This is a gift that I really absolutely appreciate in my life.

KN: I completely agree with you.

UR: That’s what I love and that’s what I’m doing and that’s why I’m sitting here with you and say… how do you say, “dzień dobry to all the Polish people”. I love it to sit here with you, to speak about simple things, not only technology, that’s great.

KN: OK, well, thank you very much for joining me today.

UR: Dziękuję bardzo i do widzenia!

KN: Do widzenia, goodbye! Thanks!

 

Useful links

Uwe’s profiles: Twitter | LinkedIn
Uwe’s blog: Blog
Related events: SQL Saturday MadridData Platform Geek Summit | Difinity | SQLDay

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Kamil Nowinski
Kamil Nowinski 178 posts

Blogger, speaker. Data Platform MVP, MCSE. Senior Data Engineer & data geek. Member of Data Community Poland, co-organizer of SQLDay, Happy husband & father.

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