Mark Porter is CTO at MongoDB, and a technologist with broad interests and a deep history in software leadership and practice. Porter joined MongoDB at the beginning of 2020, after serving as CTO at Grab, a ride-sharing, delivery, and mobile payments “superapp” company based in Singapore. Before that, he spent nine years building Amazon RDS managed database services at AWS. Earlier in his career, he spent 12 years at Oracle, where he worked on the Oracle RDBMS, managed the Oracle RDBMS server development team, and eventually rose up the ranks to report directly to CEO Larry Ellison.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Porter about joining MongoDB, his relational database snobbery, the advantages of the document model, how to make software developers happy, how to make software deployments safe, and what today’s developers need from the database tier. Porter also discussed what it was like working with Larry Ellison and why developers should not have to become managers to “succeed.”

mark porter MongoDB

MongoDB CTO Mark Porter

Matthew Tyson: Hey Mark, thanks for chatting with me. You took up the CTO mantle at MongoDB at the beginning of 2020. What was that experience like, right as the pandemic was unfolding?

Mark Porter: Matt, thanks for taking the time. My journey to MongoDB was an interesting one. To be authentic and a bit ashamed, I really didn’t understand what I’d gotten myself into. While I’d used MongoDB in multiple jobs, I have to say that I was still a relational snob. But as I got to see the power of the document model, built-in scalability, and fully architected high availability, I became much more open-minded. Frankly, MongoDB is a natively highly available distributed system that handles transactions, while relational databases are single-primary transactional systems that struggle with distribution and availability. It also took me awhile to fully comprehend the power of a modern platform—with MongoDB’s drivers, you program naturally in your language and don’t have to go through this incredibly cognitively difficult SQL translation layer. Sure, SQL is mathematically really pure. But MongoDB lets you get things done more practically, easily, and efficiently.

Tyson: What do you see as the frontiers in data? Where is MongoDB researching and pushing the state of the art?

Porter: Well, JSON, believe it or not, is still pushing the frontier of data. We launched with JSON back in 2009, and the power of that data type that is both computer- and human-readable and processable is still being felt across the world. Open standards like JSON, Parquet, etc. are so powerful. And combining them with streaming standards and huge economical object stores on the cloud providers allows easier integration of systems than ever before. We’re really focusing on making it easier to move data between MongoDB clusters and data lakes but also into and out of MongoDB. And we’ll manage it all for you. Just like we removed the need to build a separate search cluster, manage it, and upgrade it — we added open-source Lucene search directly into our back-end engine. Almost every app needs search now, and with Atlas, you turn it on with the click of a button or an API call. I envision more and more integrations like that, but all while remaining standards-based and composable, so people can integrate us anywhere in their workflow — as the system of record, as the landing spot for IoT data, or as the sink for all of a company’s 360-degree data on their customers and suppliers. It’s all about being easy to build with.

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