Before He Disappeared: Conversation With Microsoft's Jim Gray - InformationWeek

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2/5/2007
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Before He Disappeared: Conversation With Microsoft's Jim Gray

The database giant hasn't been seen since setting out from San Francisco in his sailboat Jan. 28. In his honor, we reprise a Q & A he had with Dr. Dobb's Journal in 2001.

Jim Gray

Jim Gray is one of the world's leading experts on database and transaction processing computer systems. Over the past three decades he has worked on systems that have defined the progress of the field. In 1995, following six months as McKay Fellow in U.C. Berkeley's Computer Science Division, he joined Microsoft to establish a San Francisco Bay Area laboratory focusing on making Microsoft data servers more scaleable, manageable, and fault tolerant. He is the recipient of the 1998 Turing Award.


DDJ: Can you bring us back in time a bit and tell us what the computer science field was like when you entered it in the early '60s? For example, there were no computer science programs at universities. Most of the work was privately funded.

JG: Well, no. There was a very, very small computer industry, as we would think of it today. IBM was a large company. There were the so called "Seven Dwarfs" -- Burroughs, Control Data, GE, Honeywell, NCR, RCA, Univac -- which were companies. I think NCR is the only survivor out of the "Seven Dwarfs" these days. [Univac], and Burroughs shrunk into Unisys. There was a crowd of people building computers. However, if you actually look at the history of computing, it largely grew out of universities. That is to say there were people in England at Cambridge, Manchester, and Oxford who were building machines. There were people at the University of Pennsylvania who were building machines. There were people at Los Angeles who were building machines. If you wanted to get access to a computer in those days, at a university, you had to pretend you were a numerical analyst. Therefore, I took a numerical analysis class and that gave me access to the machine. That was the only way that you could [get access].

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