Jan 312008

Ken Henderson, SQL expert and author of numerous SQL and Delphi books, passed away this past Sunday.

From NewsOK.com online edition of The Oklahoman newspaper:

HENDERSON, Kenneth W., 41, died Sunday. Services 1 p.m. Wednesday (Walker, Shawnee).

I presume the latter refers to Walker Funeral Services in Shawnee, OK.

Thanks to Allen Bauer for sending me a link to Kalen Delaney’s blog post.

I’ve known Ken for many years, starting with tech editing a few of his “Database Developers Guide with Delphi” books. We shared a beer at BorCon or two (or three). When I was in Dallas to speak at a Delphi Developers of Dallas mini-con, Ken took great pleasure in showing me around Dallas, his Arthur Anderson digs, and introducing me to his lovely wife and kids. Naturally, they insisted that I stay the night in their guest bedroom, and I was familiar enough with Southern/Texan hospitality to know better than to argue! We had a great time.

His role at Arthur Anderson was most intriguing to me. He was the database consultant’s consultant. He was the guy that Arthur Anderson hoped would never be called. It worked something like this: AA consultants in the field get into a difficult situation – database performance not scaling with the project, usually. The front line guys would call in the experts from the AA central office. When the experts ran out of options, they called Ken.

An example: An AA client needed to receive electronic files from a large number of customers and process them within 24 hours of receipt. The individual file sizes were not enormous, but with a daily volume in the millions and rising rapidly, the system was on the verge of collapse. New files were being received faster than the system could insert them into the SQL database. What to do?

Ken spent a day listening to briefings from the AA on-site team. He took the schema and a snapshot of the system on his laptop back to his hotel room that night.

The next morning, at 9am, Ken met with the AA on-site team. “It’s fixed.”

The team: “You know how to fix the system?”

Ken: “It’s already done. Your file backlog has been cleared. I rewrote your six month VB project in about an hour last night in Delphi. That was good for about a 100x perf improvement. Changing the SQL index to use a primary key on SSN was good for another 3 orders of magnitude improvement. And who’s idea was it to dump all the received files into one DOS subdirectory!? It takes 20 minutes just to complete a DIR listing on a million files!”

Heads rolled, I’m sure, but AA got the job done and quite likely retained the client.

After hearing a few of his stories (all fully anonymized, of course), it occurred to me that Ken had an analogue in cinema: Ken was Arthur Anderson’s “Victor the Cleaner” of La Femme Nikita! (“I am Victor. Victor the Cleaner.”) He was doubtful when I first suggested it to him, but after renting the video and watching it himself, he just shook his head and chuckled. “I’d like to think I actually solve problems, rather than just ‘erasing’ them!”

After Arthur Anderson, Ken took his field experience with MS SQL server to where it was needed most – the MS SQL team at Microsoft. As a fellow remote worker (he worked from his home in Oklahoma), I frequently pinged him for advice on how to grapple with the Microsoft corp net or VPN or Redmond-centrism.

I will miss his stories, his opinions, his writing, his wisdom. Farewell, Ken.