TigerGraph Developer Spotlight: Frank Blau
TigerGraph Developer Spotlights allow you to get to know people using TigerGraph around the world to create powerful connected data solutions answering countless use cases.
Meet Frank Blau
Learn about Frank’s journey from working with relational databases to working with graph technology and how graph has allowed him to make a bigger impact on his clients.
Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, and what you did before becoming a Principal Data Architect at EBCONT?
I’m originally from Southern California, the Santa Barbara area, but I spent the bulk of my life, about 25 years, in Seattle. For the past five years, I’ve been living in western Austria. As far as my career, I studied modern English literature in school. At some point, I figured out that it wasn’t a great career for me. I became interested in computers as a writing tool, then discovered databases and realized I had a knack for working with them. Then my career kind of just became databases. I went from the relational world, working on a lot of back-end projects, to data warehousing, the dimensional modeling world, then spent some time in the data warehousing appliance space. I also did data architecture consulting of a few varieties. I worked with a couple of product companies and a couple of consulting companies, and now I’m back in the consulting space.
How did you go from working with relational databases to working with graph databases?
Relational to dimensional happened because of growth. The databases got too large, and the queries got too complex. When I was working at a company that was building a data warehouse, I was fortunate enough to work with some brilliant people. They taught me this new way of data modeling. During that time, two things happened. One, I realized learning analytics was going to be a great career, and two, I realized that data could be modeled differently.
It’s similar to when the programming world moved to object-oriented programming. It took some people a while to get it, but eventually, everybody went, “yep, that’s the way you do it.” That sort of happened with data warehouses, too. Eventually, people realized that if you need to get analytic insights out of lots and lots of data, you can’t do it in a relational database. It just doesn’t perform the types of queries you need. I also worked with time-series data and time-series databases, and document databases. But then, about four years ago, I started hearing about graph databases. At that moment, I didn’t have an application for them until I got into a web agency that wanted to do customer profiles, and I chose a graph database for that project. I was amazed at how natural it is to work with graph databases. I’ve been an addict ever since. That’s also how I discovered TigerGraph!
What has surprised you most about working with graph technology?
When I would do data modeling for dimensional modeling, I would draw circles and lines on a board to understand customers and their business requirements. I would draw a circle for the customer, a circle for the product, and a line representing the relationship. Then when I was done, I would have to take pictures of all this stuff and go back to my office and design a schema that fit that design. Well, with graph databases, you don’t have to do that. Those lines and circles are the model! That was a real eye-opener for me.
The other thing that surprised me was the kinds of queries you can write. For example, queries about deep pattern matching are something that people struggle with in the analytics space, and graph just does it out of the box. So you’re not querying tabular structures, you’re actually querying patterns. I thought that was really cool, too. It was a different way of looking at data.
What has it been like working with TigerGraph specifically?
Initially, I worked with a different graph database and ran into some limitations. I couldn’t understand how to visualize certain types of relationships, and it got frustrating for me, so I Googled around for something else, and that’s how I found TigerGraph. I like how developer-friendly it is; it’s code friendly but it has an interface. I can model something in pictures if I wanted to, but I could also write it as code and easily do that in TigerGraph. The built-in APIs also made it easy to test things, but I have to say, honestly, what made me fall in love with TigerGraph was the support. I found the TigerGraph community to be super friendly and just really want to help you do things right. One of the things that is really difficult about graph databases is you can make a lot more decisions about modeling. There’s not always one best way to do things. Having those kinds of discussions is important, and I found TigerGraph to have great resources.
Also, as a consultant where I have to be presenting in front of people all the time, TigerGraph allows me to show results and answer questions quickly. For example, I was at a show this week, presenting with a partner of ours, InterSystems IRIS, and I demonstrated how to visualize and analyze their native data using TigerGraph. They asked about adding different attributes, and in about 30 seconds, I was able to show them what the data would look like with that change. From model to execution using TigerGraph is instantaneous. As a consultant, that is super important.
What has been your favorite graph-based project that you’ve worked on so far, and why?
The most interesting graph project I’ve worked on has been building digital twins using graph technology. IoT digital twins is a topic I’m really passionate about. In the use case of Industry 4.0, where you have multiple machines on a production floor, for example, the idea of building out a machine floor and being able to model it using graph and operate it in graph is amazing. That, to me, has been really cool to play with. To be honest, I haven’t completely figured it out yet. I’m still learning how you would model physical things in a graph model. But it sounds like everybody is trying to figure that out right now. It’s a pretty hot topic.
What’s been the most influential resource for your career?
People. Early in my career, I was really fortunate to work with some really smart people who accepted this weird little literature guy interested in databases. They sat down and taught me about Unix. When I worked for the New Science Associates, which was kind of a Gartner spin-off doing research analyst work, I quickly had to learn how to present in front of customers about topics that I didn’t know that much about. And so, people like John Girard would sit down and talk to me, for example about the ten things I needed to know about Unix before going to a customer, really made the difference. Having people like David Birmingham that I could talk to when I started data warehousing and all throughout my career has been really important to me. People have definitely the most influential resource.
If you were going to write another book (Frank has written two books!), what would it be about?
I often thought I’d want to write a novel about what it’s like to have your life go through so many changes and end up in Europe. I think that will be an interesting book, but I also think it would be fun to write a Graph for Dummies type of book. Jon Herke and I have talked about that. It’s hard to say because I write a lot, and my writing tends to be creative. I like to think I’d be able to write a novel someday.
Do you have a good book recommendation?
The Overstory by Richard Powers is a really powerful book about the environment. Any book by Richard Powers is great. The best book I’ve read recently is Golden Hill by Francis Spufford, and I was blown away by his writing. Every page of his book is so well written. The dialogue, narrative, storyline, everything just comes together well in that book, and I was in awe of every sentence.
Anything else you want to share about yourself?
I love talking to people about this stuff! If you want to brainstorm about graph use cases, what that use case would look like, or just to get ideas, please contact me. I could have conversations like these all day long.
Connect with Other Developers
There are hundreds of TigerGraph developers talking daily in TigerGraph’s developer chat. If you would like to get help from others, discuss ideas, or just meet other graph enthusiasts, check out TigerGraph’s Developer Chat!