Fundamentals are Important

by Jonathan Gennick

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O'Reilly has just published one of the three most significant and meaningful books that I've edited during my almost five years with the company. In case you haven't seen the announcement yet, Chris Date's latest book, Database In Depth, is now available. The subtitle, Relational Theory for Practitioners, sets out the goal for the book, which is to impart the fundamentals of relational theory to professionals in need of a quick refresher, or who have come up in the field through learning specific, vendor products.

Chris is a giant in the field, and I consider him to be one of the founders. A man named E.F. Codd was the founder, but Chris was one of the first to see the genius in Codd's idea. Chris and Ted (E.F. was Ted to his friends) worked together for many years, first at IBM and later at their own firm, constantly refining and developing the relational model that underlies practically every commercial database of significance today. Together, they gave birth to a new field.

Life sometimes runs in strange circles. Some 23 years ago, it was Chris, through his book A Guide to the SQL Standard, who led me into the world of SQL and relational databases. My memory of browsing his book in a Saginaw, Michigan bookstore is vividly clear even to this day. Ironically, the most influential part of that book was his Appendix A (I believe it was A) containing a critique of the then-current SQL language. That critique was my introduction to relational theory, and the knowledge I gained from that one appendix set me head-and-shoulders above my coworkers (at the time) in my understanding of SQL and relational databases.

As the years wore on, I tended to focus more on products, notably on Oracle, neglecting the importance of fundamentals and theory. Then, one day, a jarring argument about subquery optimization that hinged on a point of relational theory led (surprisingly!) to my meeting Chris Date, and that meeting led the book I'm talking about today. I'm still amazed when I think about how this book project came together.

I'm the book's editor, and so I'm biased, but permit me still to make a recommendation: If you do any work at all with relational databases, pick up a copy of Database In Depth. I won't say it is an easy read, because in some chapters you'll really need to think, and you may need to read some chapters twice, but the book is less than 200 pages, and reading those 200 pages is a small, yet very strong investment that you can make in your career. Reading Database In Depth is especially important if you've come into the field through learning a specific product. Product knowledge is vital for getting day-to-day work done, but the sort of fundamental knowledge you'll get from Chris is likewise important in the long-term. You'll better understand the day-to-day work that you are doing, and you'll better advance your career.

Pick up a copy of Chris's book. Learn the fundamentals of your field. You won't regret the investment.


2005-05-24 05:26:38
Comparison to earlier work

How is _Database In Depth_ different from Date's _An Introduction to Database Systems_?



2005-05-26 05:44:46
Comparison to earlier work
Database In Depth (208 pages) is much smaller, and focuses on relational theory with an intended audience consisting of (for the most part) of those who already have experience using products. Chris's larger work (982 pages not counting the index) is ranges over quite a bit more ground than just relational theory. For example, the larger work covers topics such as recovery and transaction management. The larger work is designed as an introduction to the entire field of databases. It's a much different focus than you'll find in Database In Depth.