Interview with Ann Harrison from InterBase World
January 12 2003 by Marina Novikova.
"There's nothing like getting the bug report and patch all in the same message", told Ann Harrison in her interview to InterBase World.
Marina Novikova: What is your hobby?
Ann Harrison: Sailing. My husband and I have a 36 foot (11 meter) boat where we spend nearly every weekend from June to October.
Marina Novikova: What is your favourite music?
Ann Harrison: Acid rock and heavily rock-influenced blues.
Marina Novikova: What are your favourite books (writers)?
Ann Harrison: Anthony Powell (Dance to the Music of Time), Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim), Gore Vidal (historical fiction), Patrick O'Brien (anything).
Marina Novikova: What was the most unusual or strange present you have ever got?
Ann Harrison: My sister once gave me a flattened, desiccated toad. She says it wasn't intended for me, but I'm not sure.
Marina Novikova: Do you remember the most exciting day or moment of your life?
Ann Harrison: Falling in love is way up there, though one shouldn't do it too often.
Marina Novikova: What things do you hate to do?
Ann Harrison: Ask people for money.
Marina Novikova: What people's strains irritate you?
Ann Harrison: Stupidity and inane conversation.
Marina Novikova: How do you spend your free time?
Ann Harrison: Free time?
Marina Novikova: What is your greatest dream?
Ann Harrison: Open source databases put Oracle out of business.
Marina Novikova: What is the most frequent question journalists always ask you? :)
Ann Harrison: How did you get involved with Interbase/Firebird?
Marina Novikova: What is your education?
Ann Harrison: Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature. Go ahead, ask me anything about the influence of late 19th century French poetry on the development of American poets in the early 20th century.
Marina Novikova: When did you first take an interest in programming?
Ann Harrison: Interest? Never I guess. I married into the profession, starting by verifying reported bugs in the COBOL compiler that DEC sold on PDP-11's. I'm reasonably passionate about databases, but the mechanics of programming don't fascinate me.
Marina Novikova: What was the first program you wrote?
Ann Harrison: Really haven't written it yet, aside from some boring little test and load programs. My specialty continues to be finding and fixing bugs. Generally fixing a bug requires removing some ill-considered code and replacing it with fewer lines, better thought out. At this point, my net output is negative.
Marina Novikova: What, in your opinion, is more important for your business - to continue developing Firebird (new versions, features, etc) or consulting and supporting more and more clients of IBPhoenix (I mean also InterBase customers IBPhoenix wants to support)?
Ann Harrison: We're running the consulting/support business to finance parts of Firebird development. In particular, we try to help with the less gratifying parts of putting out a serious product - documentation, kit building, and testing.
Marina Novikova: Some people have a negative attitude to open source projects, as they do not see much centralized support (nobody guarantees them that the product will continue developing).
Ann Harrison: Those people lack experience. Commercial products are dropped all the time. The fact that the sources are available and that developers around the world have experience working on them means that the product can never really die.
Marina Novikova: And some managers think open source has nothing in common with security as any hacker can analyze product sources and find "security holes" in the server.
Ann Harrison: As any security expert will tell you, secrecy is not security. The only way to make a system secure is to expose it to thousands of eyes and fix every problem as it is discovered. That's what we do.
Marina Novikova: What was the most difficult time in Firebird development?
Ann Harrison: The beginning. We anticipated that we'd have a company with experienced developers and a revenue stream. When Borland withdrew, they took the developers, the revenue, and the product name. Fortunately, Mark O'Donohue and a few others wanted to work on the code and created the Firebird fork.
Marina Novikova: Speaking about Borland and IBPhoenix, where was more interesting to work?
Ann Harrison: I never worked for Borland. I was with the original InterBase Software company which was a very interesting place to work. On the other hand, the developers currently working on Firebird are head and shoulders above all but two people I've ever worked with - and I married one of those.
Marina Novikova: Where did you feel secure? Why?
Ann Harrison: IBPhoenix. I was a principal in InterBase Software and thus was concerned not only with my own future, but with the future of all 60 employees. There was always some crisis - poisonous gasses coming out of the air conditioning vents (well maybe not poisonous, and maybe not gasses, but certainly a bad smell) - the fish head that one employee sent another by FedEx third-day delivery in August, speaking of bad smells - and banks, customers, the sales force...
Marina Novikova: As far as I know, Firebird Foundation gives grants not to all the developers. Do you think those who work actively but do not get the grants will feel aggrieved?
Ann Harrison: The Firebird Foundation has a committee that determines who should get grant money. They tend to give money to individuals who are working in critical areas and areas that carry less glory than main-line code development. IBPhoenix does not support any developers - just documentation, testing, kit building and the other boring parts. I think most developers understand that and can live with it.
Marina Novikova: In your interview for Linux Today you told that Firebird team will try to support backward compatibility with InterBase. But Borland seems to invent features which are hard to support (for example internal changes in gds32.dll in InterBase 7.0). What is your attitude to this?
Ann Harrison: Annoyance, but not surprise. Borland had an opportunity to take advantage of a lot of work by very talented people. If InterBase and Firebird had been able to co-operate, Borland would have sold more development tools and would have kept the conservative (and profitable) part of the database business. I think they would have gained technically and financially. They didn't see the situation that way and are continuing their very secretive development policy.
Marina Novikova: What do you think about Yaffil and other such projects (in particular about commercial ones)? Do you think it is ethical to use your labour and get money for this?
Ann Harrison: First, it's not my labor. Second, in developing the IPL, I was careful to allow commercial products like IBSurgeon to be built with parts of the engine embedded in it. Third, my goal is to change the way people think about database management - that it's not a high cost extra, but the foundation of any software engineering project. And, along the way, kill off Oracle and SQL Server. Along the way, I've discovered that open source software is really fun. For the first 20 years of my career, I never spoke openly with anyone who worked on a competing database system. That sort of isolation really limits technical growth. The IPL does require publishing the interfaces between proprietary code and InterBase/Firebird code, if the result is distributed outside the development organization. The Yaffil people have a perfect right to charge for their product, as long as they publish their interfaces. Personally, I think they're missing a real opportunity by not publishing all their code - there's nothing like getting the bug report and patch all in the same message.