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Vertabelo in Dublin: PGConf EU 2013

As those following our Twitter feed know, last week we were in Dublin, Ireland at the PostgreSQL Conference Europe 2013 as a Silver Sponsor. Since this conference and the host country were new to me, I thought I'd share some quick reflections on the experience.

The conference

All of us on the Vertabelo Team are intimately involved with databases. Not only do we routinely design and use databases, we even built a tool to create database models. We know all of the good and bad practices (AKA patterns and antipatterns) used in database model design. We speak fluent SQL (some may say even better than we speak English!). Given our profound relationship with databases, we had quite high expectations for the PGConf EU.

Overall, my experience at the conference was positive, if a bit mixed.

Since the conference participants tended to be older than attendees at most Java conferences in Poland (i.e., 33rd Degree, 4Developers, and Confitura), which tend to skew young, I got the impression that the level of experience and discourse would be much higher. It was obvious to me that the conference participants were hungry to learn more about PostgreSQL. Questions from the audience were often insightful and quite detailed.

However, the level of talks at the conference was, in my opinion, too diverse. I didn't experience the "WOW effect" but sometimes I was left thinking "what's going on". This isn't to say the talks were poor (although, to be honest, some were disastrous), but the talks weren't happening at the level I would have expected at a Europe-wide conference.

The talk I learned the most from was Stephen Frost's "Using Postgres FDW w/ a sharded PostgreSQL Database". I've never used this feature and Stephen presented both a general overview and enough detailed information to hold my interest. Stephen’s talk proved that software engineers really can speak languages other than code! Well, at least some of them can.

Another couple of nice lectures were "Indexes: The neglected performance all-rounder" by Markus Winand and "Detecting performance bottlenecks" by Hans-Jürgen Schönig. Both talks were connected to each other as they both touched upon a very important issue – performance. Well, they both made developers feel bad :)

Markus's talk was a little bit more philosophical as he tried to convince the audience (successfully, I hope) that it's a developer's role to ensure proper data indexing for maximum performance. Hans-Jürgen, on the other hand, drilled into the attendees' heads that "stupid queries" cause performance problems. There's nothing left to add except – they're right!

There was also one truly scary talk. After Willem Leenen's story on "Epic fails in the RDBMS world" I started to wonder if little more than luck keeps the Internet working and planes in the air. What's worse, one guy from the Netherlands that I talked to during a break afterwards confirmed that he had seen a lot of those antipatterns in real, working systems. Quo vadis, engineering?

I think that in a conference like PGConf EU there is no time for basics. I suppose (or rather – I hope) that every attendee of such a conference knows what transaction isolation levels are and what types of anomalies are related to them. Unfortunately, and perhaps needlessly, it seemed that precious time was used during the talks to explain such things.

In terms of conference organization – well done, guys! I've got only one little remark – lack of coffee and water during short conference breaks. It's rather a minor bug, not a critical one ;) We engineers like to keep hydrated all the time.

Dublin, Ireland – An old city replete with excellent whiskey and great people.

Only one sentence could sufficiently describe Éire: what a wonderful place it is! Open and helpful people, beautiful landscapes, lots of historical buildings to see and totally unpredictable weather.

The Old Library at Trinity College Dublin We started our tour around Dublin at a quite old... database - the Old Library and the Book of Kells Exhibition at Trinity College Dublin. It made a huge impression on us to see a few hundred thousand old books in such arrangement.

We didn't have that much time to visit all of the places we would have liked to see. Nevertheless, we managed to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle and, last but not least, The Old Jameson Distillery. After a tour of the distillery, I was chosen to join a small group of whiskey tasters. It was a very funny experience after which I received the Irish Whiskey Taster Certificate!

On Saturday we decided to get outside of Dublin. We chose Bray as our destination and it was an excellent choice. There's a Bray Head hill with a cross on top which was the ultimate goal of our trip. When we reached the summit we were treated to a breathtaking landscape.

In summary, we spent a really good time in Ireland. We learned some new PostgreSQL features, met very interesting people at the conference, tasted some excellent Irish whiskey and got wet a few hundred times a (rainy) day.

Michał Kołodziejski 8th November 2013
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