It turns out riding across America is more than
a handy metaphor for building system software.
BY MICHAEL STONEBRAKER
KENNEBAGO, ME, SUMMER 1993. The “Land Sharks”
are on the squawk box, Illustra (the company
commercializing Postgres) is down to fumes, and
I am on a conference call with the investors to try to
get more money. The only problem is I am in Maine
at my brother’s fishing cabin for a family event while
the investors are on a speakerphone (the squawk
box) in California. There are eight of us in cramped
quarters, and I am camped out in the bathroom trying
to negotiate a deal. The conversation is depressingly
familiar. They say more-money-lower-price; I say less-money-higher-price. We ultimately reach a verbal
handshake, and Illustra will live to fight another day.
Negotiating with the sharks is always depressing.
They are superb at driving a hard bargain; after all,
that is what they do all day. I feel like a babe in the
woods by comparison.
This article interleaves two stories
(see Figure 1). The first is a cross-country bike ride my wife Beth and I took
during the summer of 1988; the second is the design, construction, and
commercialization of Postgres, which
occurred over a 12-year period, from
the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. After
telling both stories, I will draw a series
of observations and conclusions.
Off to a Good Start
Anacortes, WA, June 3, 1988. Our car is
packed to the gills, and the four of us
(Beth; our 18-month-old daughter Les-
lie; Mary Anne, our driver and baby-
sitter; and me) are squished in. It has
been a stressful day. On the roof is the
cause of it all—our brand-new tandem
bicycle. We spent the afternoon in Se-
attle bike shops getting it repaired. On
the way up from the Bay Area, Mary
Anne drove into a parking structure
lower than the height of the car plus
the bike. Thankfully, the damage is re-
paired, and we are all set to go, if a bit
frazzled. Tomorrow morning, Beth and
I will start riding east up the North Cas-
cades Scenic Highway; our destination,
some 3,500 miles away, is Boston, MA.
We have therefore christened our bike
It does not faze us that we have been
on a tandem bike exactly once, nor
that we have never been on a bike trip
longer than five days. The fact we have
never climbed mountains like the ones
directly in front of us is equally un-
daunting. Beth and I are in high spirits;
we are starting a great adventure.
Berkeley, CA, 1984. We have been
working on Ingres for a decade. First,
we built an academic prototype, then
˽ Explained is the motivation behind
Postgres design decisions, as are
˽ Riding a bicycle across America and
building a computer software system are
both long and difficult affairs, constantly
testing personal fortitude along the way.
˽ Serendipity played a major role in both