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David Campbell: Big Brains, Big Heart

Helping drive the future of SQL Server and Microsoft

Last June, Bill Gates left full-time employment with Microsoft. You might have been wondering, like I have been, who will be deciding what direction Microsoft technologies take in the future. Bill transferred the mantle of Chief Software Architect to two people: Ray Ozzie, who was hired in 2005 as a Chief Technology Officer, and Craig Mundie, who had been Chief Research and Strategy Officer. But it’s going to take more than those two technologists to fill Bill’s shoes. I just discovered an interview on MSDN’s Channel 9 with Bill Gates ( in which he stated that there are 22 additional people who will be taking over parts of his former role at Microsoft. These are the Microsoft Technical Fellows, whose expertise spans the entire range of Microsoft products, including products that haven’t even been developed yet.

I had actually heard of this group of Technical Fellows a while ago, when I was telling my editor at Microsoft Press about David Campbell, the SQL Server engineer who was going to be writing the foreword for my next book. I was looking on the Microsoft website to see if there was any information about David and found a list of the members of this elite group  at I was pleased (although not really surprised) to discover that David was in very exalted company. Although I had heard of only three other people who were on the list, the fact that Dave Cutler, the "Father of Windows NT," was one of the three was more impressive than the 18 unrecognized names combined. Another SQL Server engineer, Peter Spiro, is on the list, and I’ve talked to Peter occasionally when in the SQL Server building on the Redmond campus. The other person I recognized on the list was Mark Russinovich, with whom I have had a few email exchanges regarding his SysInternals tools suite. After following some links, I found that ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley is trying to interview all 22 of the Technical Fellows, who she refers to as the "Big Brains" on her blog at

Because David is the person on the list with whom I have had the most interaction, I feel that "Big Brains" just doesn’t do him justice, as he also has a big heart. Yes, David is probably one of the smartest people I know, but there are a lot of smart people at Microsoft. David is also one of the nicest people I have met in all my years of working with people at Microsoft. I met David when I was working on my first book for Microsoft Press, Inside SQL Server 7.0, and David was a program manager for SQL Server, working with the lock manager code. The locking implementation had been completely rewritten for SQL Server 7 with the addition of Row Level Locking and support for all four ANSI isolation levels, so I had quite a few questions for David, and was ecstatic when he agreed to meet with me. We had a 30 minute interview scheduled, and I had fine-tuned my list of questions to make maximum use of those 30 minutes. David answered all my questions completely and succinctly, even getting up occasionally to draw diagrams on the white board. I was very conscious of the time, and when 30 minutes were up, I gathered up my notes and prepared to leave. At that, David sat down and said "Has anyone told you about…" and I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what he said (it was almost 10 years ago, after all) but it was something that definitely sounded interesting, and no, no one had told me about it yet. So David started talking and described all kinds of new features and behaviors that I didn’t even know I wanted to know about, and he never looked at his clock once.

I met with David for many Q&A sessions for many books and magazine articles after that. I have been excited and delighted to watch him rise in the ranks at Microsoft and was deeply saddened when he left the SQL Server team for a while quite a few years ago. But he couldn’t stay away.  Even though my direct interaction with David has become less and less over the last few years, just knowing he is part of the SQL Server team has kept me convinced that my favorite software product is going to keep me interested and excited for years to come. And now knowing that David Campbell is on the team that Bill Gates says will help drive the future of Microsoft, I have every confidence that not just SQL Server, but all Microsoft technologies, are just going to get better and better.

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