Tuesday 6 October 2020

Graphistania 2.0 - Episode 9 - The one about the (Graph Databases for) Dummies (book)

Here's a nice new episode of the Graphistania podcast for you: for the first time in 5 years, I was able to get the fantastically awesome Chief Scientist of Neo4j, Dr. Jim Webber, back to the podcast. Jim is a great colleague and friend, and one of the best tech public speakers in the business - especially when you want to talk Graphs and distributed systems. Over the past few months, I had the pleasure of working together with Jim on a more regular basis - as we actually wrote a book together: the Graph Databases for Dummies book. It was announced on the Neo4j blog, and seems to have been doing really well in the past few weeks. Some of you may remember that Jim co-wrote The O'Reilly book on Graph Databases, and I wrote Learning Neo4j by Packt (2nd edition together with Jérôme Baton) - and we have had a bit of friendly banter going back and forth about the quality of both artifacts :) ... it has been a ton of fun.

So here's the chat that we recorded about the new book - hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Here's the transcript of our conversation:
RVB - 00:00:00.151 Hello, everyone. My name is Rik, Rik Van Bruggen, from Neo4j, and here I am again recording another episode of our Graphistania podcast. And this is a special one. This is a special episode, one that we've been talking about for some time, because I have a very special guest on this show, and that is my dear friend and colleague Jim Webber. Hey, Jim.
JW - 00:00:24.363 Hello, Rik. It's really lovely that you would say it's special. It's been a very long time since I was last on the podcast, and I know that we had such a good laugh the last time we did it. So I'm very pleased to be invited back, and it's really lovely of you to say it's so special. I think it's special too, so.
RVB - 00:00:44.489 It is special. I always enjoy talking to you. And yeah, I do have a fond memory of the 2015 episode of our podcast when we were talking in Amsterdam, if I remember correctly. And I think we did a meet-up or something like that, and we had a really good time talking there. Right?
JW - 00:01:05.721 We did. That podcast was super nice, but I do remember the more amusing things were the outtakes that we did as we had our romantic podcasting on the waterside in Amsterdam. It was probably the most romantic podcast I've ever been on, Rik, and that's all down to you for making me feel comfortable in that space. Thank you.
RVB - 00:01:26.640 Yeah. Very good. [laughter] Jim, this episode is going to be a little bit less romantic, I hope.
JW - 00:01:33.515 Oh, I'm very disappointed to hear that.
RVB - 00:01:35.849 Yeah, yeah. We're going to talk about something that we've been working on together for the past couple of months which is the new book that we wrote, right, the Graph Databases For Dummies book that just came out. That's on the website. It's already been downloaded a couple of thousand times. And we both have a little bit of a history with books, don't we?
JW - 00:01:58.889 We do and actually a competitive history. Right? So yeah, I think, back in the day, Emil, Ian Robinson, and I wrote Graph Databases, the O'Reilly book. You wrote Learning Neo4j, and there was a little bit of friendly rivalry going on there. Right?
RVB - 00:02:20.750 A little bit, just a little bit. I remember GraphConnect or something where both of us were boasting [laughter] from the stage and everything, which was a ton of fun. But no, both of us have been writing and blogging and podcasting about Neo4j for such a long time. It felt great to do this little project together. Right?
JW - 00:02:40.570 It was. Right. So all kidding aside, you've written wonderful books in the past, and I just think it was really nice for you to be able to work with a professional author this time round who could really show you how to express what readers need when they're first getting into graphs. So it was really pleasing for me, in a way, to be able to coach you to write a really successful book.
RVB - 00:03:05.914 You keep on giving, Jim. It's fantastic, fantastic. Thank you so much.
JW - 00:03:11.206 I [crosstalk]--
RVB - 00:03:11.401 But why? Let's talk a little bit about why we did this. Right? This has been a little bit of a project. And it's been a fun project, and we've had a bunch of laughs, but we've also had some serious background to it, and we wrote this thing for a reason, right, even though it's kind of shortish. But I think there's both technical and community and business reasons for doing this book. Why don't we talk about that a little bit? What was your driver?
JW - 00:03:39.029 Look, I've got one overarching reason for this, and it's that graphs are now-- if not huge, then they're certainly an early part of the mainstream. When we last did this podcast five years ago, you and I both thought graphs were amazing and should be part of the mainstream, and we kind of couldn't believe that they weren't. But now here we are. And what's, I think, important for us to understand - and I think we understood, which is why we wrote the book - is that so many people are now coming to graphs, and the first thing that they pick up is something on graphs and AI, this enormous edifice that they have to swallow before they can get going. And that's something we needed to address, otherwise the folks coming to graphs, who could make good use of graphs, are immediately put off by the technical challenges of really, really advanced graph use cases. So I think, for me, the motivation for writing this book was to welcome those people into the graph community and say, "Look, here's a little book. It's only 50 pages. If you read through that-- and it's written in really friendly language. It's not patronising. It's written peer to peer, friendly kind of way. If you read through this - might take you a couple of evenings to do it - you'd have a really good idea of the basics of graph databases and what you can do. And moreover, you'll be able to use one. You'll be able to write a graph model and query it just after a few hours of study." So it's a really low barrier to entryway of welcoming this enormous rump of our community onto graphs.
RVB - 00:05:09.696 Yeah. I must say that I really feel the same way about it maybe coming at it from a little bit of a different angle. Obviously, you're the scientist. Right? But I'm more in the commercial world of Neo4j, and I find that there's so many people still out there that need to kind of learn this new way of thinking, the power of the model, the advantages that it brings to their business reality. And I find that the technical people are usually quite convinced of Neo4j and the advantages of graph databases, but they need to be able to articulate it to their peers, right, or their managers or their business stakeholders and stuff like that. And just from a human-to-human point of view, I think that people are not going to buy into something if they don't understand it at least a little bit. You know what I mean? And so for me, this is kind of like another attempt after the Learning Neo4j writing experience, also the second version with Jerome and everything. This is kind of like a new attempt for me to help the technical audiences to also expand the reach and the perspectives of the graph data model and the graph databases to their peers. And I know there are 48 pages, like you said. Right? You can pick it up and read it in an evening if you wanted to and take it away and hopefully not just for your own benefit but also for the benefit of the rest of your peers and your colleagues and stuff like that. That's really what [crosstalk].
JW - 00:06:51.832 Absolutely. I think, yeah, if I can labour a graph metaphor, that bridge-building between the technical and the kind of business community stuff is a really important part that this book plays. You're right. I mean, as nerds, as a scientist, I can wade through difficult texts. I think they award you a PhD when you've waded through enough difficultly written texts. But this really is something that will enable me as developer not just to get excitable about graphs but to explain the value of graphs to my nontechnical or post-technical peers or managers so that they can also understand the value because it's all too easy, I think, to get wrapped up as a technologist in some shiny new technology. We've all been there, Rik, haven't we? You pick up some shiny new technological artefact, and it's wonderful and all-encompassing, but being able to explain why it's valuable to other people who aren't so wrapped up in it as you can be a really hard task. Right? That kind of technical communication's really difficult. And I think one of the things that you are really good at is that bridging. Right? Being able to bridge from the kind of technical enthusiasm over to a business why, a business use case, a business value case is really important. And I think when I read the book, that sings to me, and that's pure Rik in there coming out, which I know you've done that hundreds of times in your day job, being able to translate that technical value into business value for the kind of less technical audience, the interested--
RVB - 00:08:24.942 Oh, man.
JW - 00:08:25.880 --curious but less technical audience.
RVB - 00:08:27.987 You're being so kind, Jim. What's wrong with you? What's wrong?
JW - 00:08:31.048 Well, I mean, you did a bunch of work, and I just got to stick my name on the book, so I suppose I should be nice to you. Right? Is that not the way it works? I mean, you could always [crosstalk] podcast.
RVB - 00:08:39.115 You know what Bruggen-- you know what Bruggen means. Right?
JW - 00:08:43.269 Bridge. You are Rik of the Bridge. Right?
RVB - 00:08:44.824 Bridges. Yay.
JW - 00:08:47.470 That bit I can figure out.
RVB - 00:08:52.382 Very good. So yeah, well, maybe we should do a project like this every couple of years, man, so that we can have you back on the podcast at least once every five years or so. Wouldn't that be a good idea?
JW - 00:09:04.214 Once this Brexit thing has settled down and I can apply for a visa to come to Amsterdam, once that visa comes through in 18 to 24 months, maybe we could do a repeat of the first one down by the waterside. And you never know. As we learn more in how graphs are built and how graphs are applied, I'm confident that we'll revisit this book. Right? Right now this book is a brilliant way of getting started in graphs. It's a brilliant way to satisfy a curious technical manager, but the technology moves on. Right? And I think I'm confident that in two, three, four years from now, we're going to look at this book and say, "Hey, the pace has picked up The technology's moved on. Let's revisit this and do a second edition." So I think this kind of notion of a live book is something that we should very much take to heart.
RVB - 00:09:53.878 So maybe one more thing to cover, I hear you're talking at the NODES conference in a few days as well.
JW - 00:09:59.806 Oh, boy, the NODES conference. So NODES 2020, do sign up, neo4j.com/nodes-2020. Online virtual conference, free to participate. Order of magnitude, I understand from talking to some of our colleagues, like 10,000 folks signed up. Incredible.
RVB - 00:10:17.730 Crazy.
JW - 00:10:18.103 I looked at the speaker line-up yesterday because, truthfully, I'd slightly had to check what I'd promised to speak about, and I spent so much time scrolling through that line. The line-up is incredible. There are just a bunch of technological speakers from Neo4j and Neo4j partners but actually loads of people from the Neo4j community, Neo4j customers talking about real stuff they're doing with graphs. And I have to say-- I don't want to have my salary docked for this, but I must have spent half an hour to an hour scrolling through and clicking on things that I was interested in. It blew me away. Look, I've been in this business for a long time. I've been to a lot of Neo4j events. Quality and volume of material is astonishing. So if you're listening to this podcast and you have even the slightest inkling of interest in graphs, sign up for it. As for what I'm going to talk about, which I now know because I scrolled through [laughter] the NODES website yesterday, I'm talking about distribution systems. So I'm talking about potential futures for Neo4j and thinking about how we can take the graph data model and we can make it even more robust and even more scalable. And so what I'm going to talk about is all the underpinnings of building large sophisticated graph database management systems. So it's quite computer sciency. So if you're interested in things like consensus protocols, if you're interested in things like transaction processing and fault tolerance and you're interested in that in a graph context, then I've got about 45 minutes of time to absolutely take you through a whirlwind tour of all that stuff. And then you can see why my day job has aged me quite so badly because it's an infuriating and wonderful and infuriating topic.
RVB - 00:12:04.577 Well, I know what I'm doing the next couple of days then. Thanks so much, Jim, and thanks for coming back on the podcast. Was a joy to work on the book project together, and I'm looking forward to the next couple of months as well to really sing the gospel of graphs together even more often. Right?
JW - 00:12:25.884 Oh, you bet, mate. You bet. So I hope everyone out there is staying safe and well and surviving the zombie pandemic. Do join NODES 2020 if you've got the time. It runs on US East Coast time, so it's kind of compatible for Europe and the US and a little bit horrible for you folks in Asia-Pac. Sorry about that. But the sessions will be recorded, so you can catch them afterwards. Rik, thank you so much for inviting me back on the podcast. I would say invite me any time, but since our natural cadence seems to be about five years, I guess I'll see you in 2025.
RVB - 00:12:59.849 I'm looking forward to it. Thank you, Jim.
JW - 00:13:02.780 Cheers.
RVB - 00:13:03.551 Cheers, man. Bye.
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