Tag: interview

Episode 5: CF Roadshow and Rakshith Naresh from Adobe

Description:

On this episode of the podcast Script talks with Rakshith Naresh, the Senior Product Manager for ColdFusion  at Adobe.  They discuss many of the items featured in Adobe’s recent “ColdFusion Roadshow”. This includes information about some of the highlighted features of the ColdFusion 2016 (the current version), as well as some of the anticipated features of its next version, codenamed “Aether”.

But Script kicks off the podcast and his conversation with Rakshith with a discussion about ColdFusion’s reputation of being a “dead language”.

You can find out more about ColdFusion at  http://www.adobe.com/products/coldfusion-family.html or find out more about it on Twitter @coldfusion.

You can follow Rakshith on Twitter @rakshithn

Adobe is putting on events similar to the “ColdFusion Roadshow” on the west coast from April 10-17. For more information go to  http://blogs.coldfusion.com/post.cfm/adobe-coldfusion-events-april-10-17

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Transcript:

Hello and welcome to Episode 5 of the “Wake Up! With Script Van Winkle” podcast. My name is Chris Laning, a.k.a. Script Van Winkle. But my friends call me… collect. Come to think of it there Junior Developer, you might need to look that one up.

Two months back, Adobe put on their ColdFusion Roadshow. It was an informational meeting taken to several cities on the East Coast. I got to attend their session in Durham, North Carolina. I got lots of information about the current status of ColdFusion, and a look at some of the features  that might be in future releases.


As someone who is been developing in ColdFusion for over 20 years, obviously I was interested. Especially because I am working with servers that are  several versions behind the current one. So I wanted the opportunity to at least get a taste of what I’ve been missing.

I have run into many people who believe  that ColdFusion is a dying language. While I resisted that opinion for the longest time, I have begun to believe it as well. I have seen a lot of the giants in the CF field move on to other languages and technologies. However, as you will hear in the interview, Adobe has numbers regarding ColdFusion usage and adoption which just don’ t jive with that  line of thinking.

Which leads one to wonder where the truth lies.  Is it really dying, or could it be that a lot of people who have been doing ColdFusion for all these years have moved on to other things not so much because the language is falling behind, but rather because they were tired of doing the same old things and wanted new challenges. I have to admit, I’ve somewhat lost my enthusiasm for programming in CF. But in my case, that may be because I’m still stuck so many versions behind. But what if it is the case that people’s tastes just change from time to time? Maybe there are people coming to ColdFusion from other technologies that they have been doing for a long time.

 

It’s also hard to say what the job market is like in the ColdFusion field and I have heard mixed opinions. Some recruiters have told me that while there are not a lot of jobs in ColdFusion  there are considerably less experienced ColdFusion developers to do those jobs. In short, they have assured  me that if I ever need a new job, I should not have a problem finding one. Unless of course my potential employer has listened to the podcast.

 

Now at the ColdFusion Roadshow, Adobe mentioned how it has taken several steps to help make it easier for other developers and particularly students to learn about CF. At its heart, it is not a difficult language to pick up. Especially if you’re coming from the strictly front-end HTML side.

 

ColdFusion is really easy to understand for beginners. But, they have also made many advancements to it over the years to bring it more in line with other programming languages. That, ultimately, makes it easier for people to jump from those languages to ColdFusion.

The long and short of it is this. Perception may not be reality. I don’t know whether ColdFusion is a dying language or significantly growing. But I will say this. It is certainly possible that it is just in a phase of transition bringing on different types of clients and different developers. I guess that remains to be seen.  I will let you decide that for yourself.

I also had the chance to sit down with Rakshith Naresh who is the Senior Product Manager for ColdFusion.  I am grateful to Adobe for making Rakshith available for an interview that day. I made it clear to them that one of the questions I was going to ask was about whether it was a dying language. So this is not “gotcha”  journalism. Rakshith, Elishia Dvorak, and the rest of the staff from Adobe who were there that day were friendly, personable, and willing to take on any and all questions. That is why I am glad I get to bring this interview to you.

 

Now on the last episode I explained in great detail why I was dropping the phony character accent I used on Episodes 2 and 3.  This interview was before before I dropped it. So enjoy my bad accent one more time.

 

Without further ado, here’s Rakshith Naresh from Adobe.

 

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INTERVIEW BEGINS

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Script :

Alright, so I came to this ColdFusion Roadshow that they had going on here in Durham, North Carolina and it was kind of giving us a map of, well first they were giving us a map of the future, but they were also talking about what’s out in ColdFusion 2016.

 

Very informative and very enlightening. I decided to grab Rakshith Naresh, that’s the Senior Product Manager with Adobe. He gave some of the presentations and I thought I’d get him to talk to us a little bit about what’s going on.

 

Welcome to the show, Rakshith.

 

Rakshith:

Thanks, thanks a lot. It’s great to be a part of the show.

 

Script :

So I got to start with the 2,000 pound elephant in the room here. You know I’ve been a ColdFusion developer for all these years but in the last few years I keep hearing over and over ColdFusion is dying. I know you’ve heard that, so what do you say to people that really think that ColdFusion is becoming a dying language?

 

Rakshith:

It’s definitely not dead. I had this on my slide deck as well. It’s clearly the best undead language ever. We are working on the next version of the product already. I spoke to you about the roadmap as well.

 

Just last year, and we run a business at Adobe clearly, so ColdFusion is about business for Adobe. The business last year was really good. This was one of the best years that we’ve had over the last eight years or so. ColdFusion is really doing well for Adobe, so what it means is that Adobe is more and more committed to ColdFusion as a platform.

 

That’s the reason we have a 10-year roadmap as well, so we have support commitments to 2027. With every version of the product you get five years of core support and two years of extended support. Our existing support commitments for ColdFusion Aether, which is the code name for the next major version of the product, and the version beyond that goes up to 2027. That’s the longterm commitment that Adobe has for the product as a platform.

 

Some of the things that we are doing as a part of the next version really excites me. We are focused on the things that really matter to a ColdFusion developer. We will improve on performance, improve the security aspects of ColdFusion, make the platform more secure by default, improve the CFML language as well. We have some exciting stuff going on in the next version. Somebody who thinks that the language is dying, it’s just a myth that’s floating around. It’s definitely not dead and we are actively working on it and we’re working on the next version of the product, code name Aether.

 

Script :

I think one of the impressions that people get, and frankly I got that impression myself when you’re out there seeing what’s out on the market. It seems like ColdFusion seems to be mostly focused in like federal government and big bank institutions. Is there any push for ColdFusion in the more nimble, start-up type arena?

 

Rakshith:

Absolutely, so that’s the reason we have two different versions of the product, which is ColdFusion Enterprise focused more towards the larger companies, and ColdFusion Standard geared more towards start-ups and even a small size organization. That’s the reason we still have standard alive today. If we were not focusing on the small companies, the start-ups, we would not even have ColdFusion Standard anymore, we would just focus on ColdFusion Enterprise.

 

Standard gears towards somebody who’s starting afresh and trying to bring new stuff using ColdFusion. One of the talks that we have, which is still an initiative that we have in mind is, can we do something with the start-ups? For instance if there’s a new start-up coming up, can we provide them with licensing support for the first few years to support the start-up? Then once the organization matures, obviously they will become ColdFusion customers as well.

 

That’s one of the thoughts, we still are working the details of it, but clearly even though existing customers set-up today, we do have all kinds of companies. We do have federal government, we do have really large customer organizations, and we do have really small organizations, start-ups as well.

 

Just so that you know, even today we added on 2,000 new customers every year. It’s not just an existing customer story, the platform is growing. It may not be growing to the extent of some of the competing technologies. We have to accept that as a fact it’s not a super growing product, but at the same time it’s not a product that has stagnated. We continue to grow, we continue to add 2,000 new customers year over year.

 

Script :

One of the questions that we heard here today, somebody wanted to know what you’re doing to go out there and recruit the newer, upcoming junior developers. That’s a good thought, I mean me, I’m an old, grizzled, senior developer, whatever. If you don’t get the fresh blood in there, it’s going to be some problems. What are you doing in that realm to try to get these guys and girls onboard?

 

Rakshith:

Yes, absolutely. That’s a great question. We have quite a few initiatives, we clearly see that as an issue. Whenever we talk to our customers and even developers out there, we hear that hiring new developers, that is the number one challenge out there. It’s not so much about the product; the product runs great. Where can we find those new developers? That’s basically the problem that our customers have today.

 

We have quite a few initiatives to fix that. It will take some time to eventually see a noticeable difference, but we have made that move already. The first one is we do have a free education curriculum available. It’s a semester long course on web application development; it focuses on web application development in general. We have client-side, HTML, CSS, JavaScript. It introduces the client-side bits to you and then it also introduces server-side via ColdFusion. This is a free course available and we have quite a few community colleges who are adopting this web application development course.

 

One of the issues that we saw was the curriculum at the community college, they are pretty much outdated. We wanted to come up with this new focused web application development course for the community colleges, or even for any university in general, and provide them with a semester-long course, provide them with instruction videos as well, curriculum material, even projects so everything is right there. They just need to hand it over to a certain instructor to teach that curriculum in the college.

 

What we’ve also been able to do is create a model where we have tied in our customers with a few community colleges where they typically go hire new developers. It’s worked out quite well for us in a few areas where we have the schools in place at a community college. Developers love to be a part of the course, more so because there’s a customer who’s looking to hire interns from the community college. They take part in the web application development course, and once they’re out of it they get an internship opportunity with one of our customer organizations. It’s kind of like a win-win, both for the new developer as well as our customers who are looking for fresh blood in the ColdFusion community. That is one part of it.

 

The other issue that I generally see is a lack of introductory training materials out there for ColdFusion. There are a few, like Learn CFML in a Week and a few other training materials, but we are focused on bringing in some new curriculum courses with new training courses as well for a new developer. We have this Adobe platform called Adobe KnowHow. We do have … I don’t know how much it is, I think it’s 30 hours of instructional video for a new developer on Adobe KnowHow. That’s a great resource for somebody who’s trying to get in to ColdFusion and learn. Videos are the in-thing today to learn any kind of technology. You don’t go through a set of documentation to learn, so we are doing that.

 

The third really interesting project that is my favorite is the CF Fiddle. This is an online tool that works in your browser. What it does is, it shows you a code snippet that you can go tweak and you can run the code snippet from within the portal itself on the browser and see the output right there. The whole idea is instead of showing ColdFusion developers static content or new developers some static content in the documentation, we will have a link to CF Fiddle that will take you to an online portal where you can run the code snippet and see it working.

 

You can tweak that, share it with others, and also if you have any kind of questions, if you want to ask a question to the community on Stack Overflow or Adobe forums, you can now link a CF Fiddle code snippet and link it in the forum, and somebody who’s an expert in the community can take a look at it, see the output right there, see the issue, fix it for you, and then pass it back to you as an input. We have all these initiatives in place. It’s not going to change things drastically in just a year or so, but we believe that it will change the game in the next few years.

 

Script :

That’s really cool. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back with Rakshith Naresh, Senior Product Manager with Adobe.

 

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Construction of Fusion Kingdom is slated to begin soon, upon completion  of Adobes Photoshop pier, Acrobat Adventure, llustrator Island, Flash Fantasy Island, Preimer Park, Dreamweaver Farms, After Effects Experience, Audition Alley, Muse Magic, In Design Dominion, and Creative Cloud Land.

 

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INTERVIEW RESUMES

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Script :

Welcome back to the Script Van Winkle podcast. I’m Script Van Winkle and I’m here with Rakshith Naresh, the Senior Product Manager at Adobe. The main purpose of this CF Roadshow was to kind of tell us what’s going on in 2016, and then take a look at the future. First off, what do you think are some of the highlights of 2016, the things that you’re most excited about?

 

Rakshith:

I’m really excited about the performance improvements that we’ve done. Your existing applications will run up to 30% faster. Even without having to make any code changes, you can get 30% increased throughput.

 

What it means for you, for a developer is that your existing applications, even without you having to change the code, tweak the application, you will be able to leverage those runtime improvements, perhaps to deliver on one of your goals or one of the KPIs that you may have. You may have a KPI to reduce the end-user response time by so many percent, but the new platform itself will give you the boost so that you can accomplish your goals. That is one thing that I’m really excited about.

 

The second one is security. We are focused on security so you have access to a team within Adobe called PSIRT. They’re a group of security experts who work within Adobe and they give us recommendations and how to go about fixing a security threat. Even if it’s a threat in the wild out there, we get to hear about it from the PSIRT team and they interact with the product team and help us release those security fixes on time.

 

We do have frequent security fixes as well. In 2016 specifically, we came up with this new security code analyzer. Let’s say you may have some legacy applications that you’re just maintaining. Somebody else wrote it, let’s say 10 years ago, and you have been assigned to maintain it. You don’t really know what kind of security issues are present in that particular legacy application. When you run the static code analyzer that we have, it points out exact line numbers, which have the vulnerabilities and it will also recommend how to go about fixing that. That is something that I’m really excited about.

 

The third one is API Management. I just love what we have built. Even the customers who we work with, they just love the solution. Some of our customers have actually moved out off some of the leaders in the API Management space to adopt our solution. That helps you take your APIs to market with ease. You just have to worry about designing your API, coding the API. Everything else about securing, managing, engaging developers, analytics, everything is baked in, in the product.

 

This is freely available as a part of ColdFusion and it cannot just manage CFML-based APIs, it works with any kind of APIs. One of the things that we saw was 74% of our customers have multiple technologies in their organization. If the API manager can actually track those individual technology-based APIs as well, be it a .Net API or a PHP API, the relevance of the importance of ColdFusion all of a sudden is so much more within the organization, so that’s one of the reasons why API Management excites me. 2016 in general with performance security language improvements and API Management are like the top picks for me.

 

Script :

We got a lot of listeners here that maybe aren’t so up-to-date on things and may not understand what you mean by the API Manager. Are we talking like services, micro-services, what are we talking here?

 

Rakshith:

That’s actually a great question. The way API Management platform works is, it’s actually a gateway that sits in-between or before your ColdFusion server. Your back-end APIs, be it REST APIs or SOAP APIs, will be returned in CFML.

 

Now there’s a gateway component that you install either on the same machine or a different machine, so this kind of routes all your API calls to the back-end. While it’s routing the calls to the back-end, it provides this additional layer of security. It provides you access control so that nobody can hit the back-end API without having to bypass the API Management layer. It has to pass through the authorization mechanism that we have, and then access the back-end.

 

Similarly SLAs, so service level agreements. You can enforce them at the gateway. Similarly analytics, since the traffic is routed through the gateway as a separate constant, it’s a stand-alone component, it can track analytics as well. All this that you were supposed to take care of as a ColdFusion developer when you’re building an API, is now offloaded to this new component that sits in front of your ColdFusion server. That’s the whole idea about the API Management layer.

 

Script :

Okay, that makes it sound a lot simpler, because I know there is this big push toward moving toward services and things like that. I have mentioned in other podcasts that this whole of micro-services, I kind of like it. I want these little short things to do what you need to do. Sounds like it’s a good direction.

 

Rakshith:

Right.

 

Script :

One of the things that caught my eye, being an old-school developer, is some of the language changes. In particular, could you explain the changes in the structure?

 

Rakshith:

In 2016, we introduced this concept of ordered structure, so you can now retain the insertion order. So just like an array. An array maintains the insertion order. You can get elements out of an array based on how you insert on index one, two, and three. What if you want something like this on a struct to get data back out of the struct in the insertion order? That is what this ordered collection gives you.

 

We also have this new capability of ordered structs. What it does is, whenever you insert something on the struct, you can order the struct based on the key values that you insert. You can customize it by your own function that it can pass, or it can say that you want an ascending order struct or a descending order struct, and you would just order the keys based on what you select.

 

Script :

This keeps us from having to take stuff that was in the struct, moving it into an array to do the ordering, and then dumping it back out?

 

Rakshith:

Yes. Internally it works slightly different but yeah, for a developer it feels as though the struct, when you do an array and got back all those elements in the insertion order, absolutely.

 

Script :

Awesome. Before we go, real quick. You mentioned some of the things that are coming up in the next version called “Aether”.

 

Rakshith:

Yes.

 

Script :

Just a real quick overview of some of the hot things that you think are coming out with that.

 

Rakshith:

I’m excited about Aether as well. Again, through multiple service, through multiple customer interviews, what I find is our customers and developers are looking for performance improvements. We did performance improvements to the runtime in 2016 but we plan to take a slightly different approach in the next version.

 

We are planning to provide tooling that will help you extract the best part of your existing infrastructure. We’re planning to come up with an auto connector tuner that can optimize your connector to the best. We also will revamp the server monitors so you can figure out any kind of bottlenecks in your application, JVM settings not tweaked in an appropriate manner.

 

You’ll get notifications on all of this using the revamped server monitor, which will have a new dashboard that will kind of give you a sense of how well is your application performing in just one snapshot. That is one thing. We are also planning to introduce a code profiler for performance. Performance improvements will obviously be there. We’re also planning to support a distributed cache. Those are some of the things in performance.

 

On security, we may have an integration with a web application firewall just to make your application so much more secure. This also functions like a gateway, even before your ColdFusion applications come in the picture, it just scans your HTTP request pattern and prevents malicious request patterns from hitting your back-end. That is also something that I’m excited about.

 

Quite a few language changes as well. We are planning to improve the object-oriented support, perhaps look at introducing CFScript 2.0, introduce null support. There are a lot of potential directions but we may not be able to accomplish all of it as a part of Aether because we only have limited resources available.

 

The directions are pretty interesting and the nice thing is in all these Roadshows, I get a sense that everybody likes the directions that we are taking. That’s the best part about the directions that we have. I had this $100 test for people who are here and it seems to echo what we are planning to do. Clearly performance, everybody likes performance. The performance improvements that we’re doing, the security, the language, so exciting times for the next version as well.

 

Script :

We appreciate it. We’ve been speaking with Rakshith Naresh. He’s the Senior Product Manager at Adobe. I thank you for your time and real quick, the Aether is due out, when is that 2018?

 

Rakshith:

Yes. We’ve been having a two year cycle pretty much. Potentially I can’t comment on the exact date of-

 

Script :

Come on, I want a committed day right now, down to the day. Let’s go, break it here!

 

Rakshith:

Okay, it’s going to be in 2018.

 

Script :

Awesome. Again, we’re speaking with Rakshith Naresh, Senior Product Manager at Adobe. Appreciate your time and thank you for being with us.

 

Rakshith:

Thanks a lot, it was great being a part of the show.

 

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INTERVIEW ENDS

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That’s all for my interview with Rakshith Naresh.  I hope you found it as informational as I did and  that it left you with some things to think about it.

 

That’s all for Episode 5 of the “Wake Up! WIth Script Van Winkle” podcast.  If you’ve got questions or topics you would like me to cover, drop me a line at  script@scriptvanwinkle.com or find me on Twitter @ScriptVanWinkle.  You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, Google Play,  or on Stitcher. You can comment on this episode, see blog posts and find more info at ScriptVanWinkle.com.

 

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.


 

Episode 4: Getting Real, Open Source, and Raymond Camden

Description:

On this episode of the podcast Script talks about getting “real”.  He also touches on “Open Source 101”, a conference he recently attended in Raleigh, NC. After an important fauxmercial message, he interviews Raymond Camden, an Evangelist for IBM.  Ray discusses his recent interests in static site generation and in serverless applications.

You can find out more about Raymond on his blog (https://www.raymondcamden.com).

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Transcript:

Script:
Welcome to Episode 4 of the “Wake Up! With Script Van Winkle” podcast. My name is Chris Laning, aka “Script Van Winkle”, but my friends call me…..very rarely.

Now I am going to start off this episode with a mea culpa of sorts.  When I started this podcast I thought it was some grand stroke of marketing genius to create the Script Van Winkle persona. You know, the grizzled old developer who got way behind in technology and is desperately trying to play catch up.  Though come to think of it, the only part that that is made up is the name..

Well, then in episode 2 I got the really bright idea to add an acerbic sounding and very bad NY accent to the character.  Now I don’t drink so I really have no excuse for what I was thinking.

Lately though, I have come to the realization that these days, especially in this political climate, with so many people on both sides of the aisle puffing themselves up on Social Media and the like and talking tough from behind their keyboards, that being genuine is what stands out. Forgetting insecurities and opening up to each other and just being….real.  So while I am still hoping my self-manufactured nickname sticks, I am dropping the terrible accent and phony hard edge and am instead going to focus on the content more than the delivery. Don’t worry though, I still plan to keep cranking out the funny commercials!

This podcast will still document my journey to catch up with the state of the art, but I am going to steer it more in the direction of interviews with people about a wide variety of subjects throughout the profession.  This is because part of my journey also involves me being burnt out with what I am doing and my searching for a new passion within the community.  I know I am not alone. We all burn out from time to time and need to retool, revamp, and go in search of greener pastures.  So hopefully you will want  to explore those things along with me.

Ok…enough of the touchy feely stuff. Let’s get down to business!

A couple of weeks ago I attended an event called “Open Source 101”. It was a one day conference held in Raleigh, NC that focused on sessions around the basics of open source and encouraged attendees to jump in and become part of the open source community. It was put on in partnership with the folks that run the All Things Open conference,a huge open source centered conference which is held in October in Raleigh as well. It was a great turnout and featured attendees ranging from the college-aged to the decidedly more seasoned.  The attendees also covered the gamut from highly accomplished developers, to experienced developers looking to add to their skill set, and  yes Junior Developer I saw you there too.  But there were also attendees who weren’t developers at all.  Some were managers looking to understand their development teams better and some were people looking to switch careers and become developers.

Now I am not going to lie.  I did come out of most of the break out sessions I attended a little disappointed. It is quite possible that I set unrealistic expectations on what I would get out of each of those. So that could be on me.

The day also started with not one, not two, not three, but a whopping four “keynote” presentations! Now most conferences I have attended have either exactly one keynote or at least no more than one a day. But they kept using that word…and I do not think it means what they think it means.

While I was disappointed in some of the aspects of the conference that does not mean I regret going. You see it gave me a glimpse into another world of programming I have only touched upon.  Certainly I have consumed a few open source libraries over the years and even work with both an open source content management solution and shopping cart solution. But there were a lot of terms and products being thrown around that I sheepishly admit I did not know.  I felt like fish out of water.

The reality is that most of us work in our own little subsection of the programming verse. Maybe some of us have our foot in one or two other subsections as well either due to having multiple clients, or having personal projects quite different from our daily work ones.  And I am sure there are a few people who have a foot in several of the subsections simply because they are driven by a passion to know and learn as much as they can.  

In most cases though we are fairly familiar with the products and people in our subsection and blissfully unaware of those in others. This point was driven home to me in an interesting way at this conference.

As I mentioned before I have programmed in ColdFusion for nearly all of my 20+ year career.  That is the subsection I am most familiar with.  Until recently, the conferences I have attended were either entirely or mostly CF-based.  At those conferences, all you had to do is  simply say  the name “Ray”, and everyone knew who you were talking about.  Raymond Camden was a rock star in the CF community!  Kind of still is though he doesn’t work much with ColdFusion anymore.  But his face and name were instantly recognizable, and admittedly I always found myself a little tongue tied when I would try to introduce myself to him.

Raymond was one of the keynoters at Open Source 101.  He gave a great talk on how to identify the best open source projects for you to jump into. And his slides were filled with his signature use of cat pictures.

What was surreal though is that very few people at that conference knew him.  Now to be fair there were likely a number of Open Source rock stars there whom I didn’t know from Adam.  But it was different to not see a  huge pack of star struck developers vying for Ray’s  attention. Well, naturally I swooped in and took advantage of the opportunity and spent some time talking with him. He is a very cool and very humble guy. He even graciously agreed to an interview about topics that appeal to him.  That interview is coming up here in just a bit so hang on.

But the point I am trying to make and one that I better appreciate after attending Open Source 101 is the sheer enormity of the programming verse. There were so many different things there at that conference and yet it was still mostly focused on the web app side of things, which is in and of itself a small subset of the  much larger programming universe.  It’s a good thing to keep in mind when you have gotten burned out at your current job or miniscule subset of programming.  Even when your passion for it grows cold, which truthfully is the point I am at currently, there are so many areas to explore that could easily renew and reinvigorate what drives you!  So keep searching! Keep going! Keep growing!

Now Ray’s presentation clearly had an impact as I heard his name referenced in each and every one of the breakout sessions I attended, often by that session’s presenter!  I guess when you got it…you got it. So stick around, you are not going to want to miss my interview with him coming up right after this!

FAUXMERCIAL: Kitty Point

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Script:
Welcome back to the “Wake up! With Script Van Winkle” podcast.  Let’s get right to my interview with Raymond Camden. Please note though that  this interview was recorded before I made the decision to lose my phony accent, so just bear with me on that. Besides, what Raymond has to say is far more interesting!  So here he his, Raymond Camden.

(Interview begins)

Script:
All right, so here I am walking around the Open Source 101 Conference, and who do I run into, but Ray Camden. Now, if you’re from the ColdFusion community like I am, he was a literal god. I mean, I remember seeing Ray back at the Allaire Conference, in DC in 2000. Confidentially, he looked a lot younger then, but then so did all of us.
Ray has kind of moved on from ColdFusion. He’s doing other things. But just to have him here, and to talk with him, I just wanted to get that out to you, and find out some of the exciting things he’s working on now. Welcome Raymond.

Raymond:
Hey, thank you for having me.

Script:
So again, I’ve talked about you had a background in ColdFusion and all that. What do you actually do currently?

Raymond:
I’m an evangelist for IBM. When I first joined them, I was working with a mobile enterprise server type thing that was really hard to sell because it was big and highfalutin. I was allowed to keep talking about mobile stuff, and I do a lot with Apache Cordova, which is a open source framework for using the web to build native applications. IBM was in favor of me doing that. Since I joined IBM, I switched to another team that is focused on Node.js, and APIs, with a product called LoopBack, which is an open source framework for building APIs and Node.js. I feel like I’ve said Node.js a lot.

Script:
That’s all right. I actually was going to hit you up when I back at NCDevCon, but I did sit in on your LoopBack presentation there, and Node is kind of an area that I’m hoping to really push into, as my listeners know.
But moving on from that though, one of the things that I asked you today that you wanted to talk about was this new idea of a serverless application. Let’s just pretend that some of our listeners, and maybe one of our hosts, doesn’t know what you mean by serverless. How would you describe it?

Raymond:
Well, sure, let me go a bit high level, and kind of talk about like my history of building web apps. I’ve been doing this since ’95 or so, so for a very long time. For most of that time, what I did was I got an app server and it was ColdFusion, but you can imagine PHP or .NET. I had this large application server, and I would talk to a database. I would generate HTML files. I had a big honking server to build my web apps. That worked fine for a very long time.
What has happened in the last five or six years is that the browsers are able to do a lot more. What we need to do on a server has gotten smaller, and smaller, and smaller. There’s two areas that I think are really exciting that relate to that. The first is static site generators. This is essentially the ability to have a dynamic server locally on your laptop, but it spits out to plain HTML files. I love that because it means in production, I don’t have Apache, ColdFusion, MySQL. I have files period. That means I worry about absolutely nothing. Not having to worry is a great thing.
To be clear, I’m still doing work. It’s not reducing the work. It’s basically saying, you know, my complexity now exist on my laptop, which I’m fine with, versus a server that may crash at three o’clock in the morning. That’s kind of like part one.

Script:
Oh, so basically, this would be kind of roughly comparable to a, saying a real-time application versus compiling it.

Raymond:
Yeah, so instead of having a live server that’s running ColdFusion or PHP, or even Node.js for example, it’s literally a flat file because I’ve taken the dynamic aspects that are potentially not changing very much. For example, I’m using ColdFusion to get a list of the Board of Directors. That’s a table that changes once a year maybe. There’s no reason to “SELECT * FROM EMPLOYEES“ to get that. Even if I cache it, there’s just no reason to do that live in production. I could take the static results from that because it’s a virtually static, and then not have to worry about running MySQL or SQL Server in production.
To me, that’s extremely exciting. I look back at the sites I’ve built in ColdFusion, and most, not all, but a lot of them could be static. Same with Node.js as well, you know. I went through a period of changing all my CF sites to Node.js. Now recently, I’m taking some of my Node.js stuff and turning them into static sites as well.
I said there were two main things. Serverless is like the second aspect of it where I may use Node to do something, ring cowbell. That’s kind of a bad example. In order to do that, I had to set up a web server, which was very easy with Express. I was still setting up a web server, and I was saying, “Start this application. Listen on port 80. Listen for a request for ‘/getcowbell’, do whatever it was, talk to Mongo, whatever crap I’m doing in the backend. Take the result, JSON, and spit it out.”
Serverless takes this idea … You know what? Let me handle all that particular routing for you. Let me handle the web request and all that. You literally just write the function. I think a better name for serverless is “function as a service”, where I can take that small function and deploy just that. I still have a server out there, but I’m not worried about actually running that server.
If my thing was addition, so take X and take Y, and return what they are together, I’m literally writing just X plus Y. I’m not writing all the routing and stuff to handle responding to that request. Hopefully, that makes a bit of sense.

Script:
Yeah, it kind of does. Where I’m getting a little confused here, you’re taking that, and you’re pushing it out to what type of service is going to run that?

Raymond:
Right, so there’s definitely a server involved with that. Amazon has their product offering Lambda. They have a server running, and you upload your action to them. They have a command line, I believe. So does IBM Solution, OpenWhisk , which is open source actually. It’s not just IBM Solution. I write my function in JavaScript, and they support Python, and Java, and maybe Go, I think. They support a couple of languages.
Essentially, I write my simple function. Take an addition. I write return X plus Y. It’s just a JavaScript file. I use a CLI to push it online. IBM’s Bluemix service hosts that file. They handle all of the routing. I don’t worry about setting up the server, or anything like that. I have my magical addition function, which by the way, don’t use addition for serverless. I have that and I’m not worried about provisioning, even like a virtual server, which is pretty darn easy. I’m not even worried about that. I literally worried about my one and two lines of business logic, and that’s it.

Script:
Alright, so let’s say you pushed that service up there. Now you have an application you want to use that service. Are you making an AJAX call of that?

Raymond:
Everyone does this a bit differently. I’m only familiar with IBM’s OpenWhisk version of that. The way they do, is they have a couple different ways that you can execute what they call a action. One of them is by providing a REST API. I could say for my addition, I want it available via GET, and not POST, or POST and not GET, whatever makes sense. I could define a URL for that, and I’m done. That’s it.

Script:
Now this is interesting because I … Back at the NCDevCon, they were talking about microservices and I kind of got all into that. Now you really got me interested in this. I don’t even have to worry about laying out the service, and getting that all. I just write a function, put it up there, and then I just access from whatever I need.

Raymond:
Right. The scenario to like push out a web app nowadays is a heck of a lot easier than it used to be in the old days. Especially with Node.js, right? I can write my Node.js application. I can use Express to handle all that web stuff. It’s all very, very easy. I could have, like say, four services. I define four routes. The particular URL params. Do that. I can deploy that to Bluemix or any of the variety of services that let you push a Node.js app, and be up and running in five minutes.
Serverless actually makes that even simpler than that. I don’t have to worry about setting up a Node.js server because OpenWhisk will do that for me behind the scenes. I don’t have to worry about the routing because it can do the routing for me. Essentially, it reduces the complexity around my microservices, and lets me just do the microservice, as nothing more.

Script:
Now at the risk of getting jumped and beat up here at an open source conference, let’s say you wanted to monetize that. Is there any applications that you can use to monetize that?

Raymond:
I’ve not looked into this. Technically, when I build, again, my simple addition service, and I create a REST based API for that … Again, it’s all pretty simple … I can require a username/password, and I can do validation. I could do billing based on how many times you call my particular service. There’s probably nicer, more enterprise ways of doing them. IBM may be working on that. Because I don’t deal with money ever, I don’t worry about that. My main answer is I don’t know. It’s definitely possible. Just how nice that is, is something I’m not very familiar with.

Script:
Alright, so thinking ahead to the bright future that might be involved here. It’s got to obviously vary by application, but if you looking ahead, what rough percentage of applications codebase do you think might ultimately benefit from being serverless?

Raymond:
That’s a great question. Because I’m doing the same calculations for static sites as well when I present static sites, and when I present serverless. I’ve had to be careful to make sure people know that this is not a 100% solution. It’s not going to kill Node.js as a server, or ColdFusion or PHP. Determining when it makes sense for you is like step one.
In terms of percentage, I’m just going to throw out 50% because I really don’t have any ideas. It depends on what you’re building, how complex it is, and just what your services is. If you’re building like a giant bank site that has a lot of content, and it has user sign-ins and all that, then you’ll definitely want a traditional app server. You may be using some microservices behind the scenes, but you’ll want something on the front end. You’ll want a CMS and all that.
If your service is just the weather, then you could possibly get by with something a lot smaller and a lot simpler.

Script:
Do you have any tutorials out there yet? Are you working on some projects you going to kind of put out on your blog?

Raymond:
Since late December, I’ve been blogging on serverless. Essentially what happened as things slowed down, and I got bored, so I finally looked at something that IBM had been talking about for a little while. I’ve written maybe 10 posts so far, so if you go to my blog, on the right side there’s a category list. There should be one for OpenWhisk. I have a tag for serverless or vice versa. You can quickly see the stuff I’ve done.
I’ve done basic how-to guides plus some examples. For an example, I built an application, this is totally not enterprise. What it does is it looks on your phone, and it finds all the contacts who don’t have pictures yet, where you haven’t assigned a nice picture to them. For those contacts, it calls a serverless function I wrote in OpenWhisk that returns a random Marvel superhero, and their picture, and name as well. So the service returns that, and then the app, which is running Apache Cordova, using Ionic, it updates the contact. Joe Blow becomes Miss Marvel, for example, and you’ll see that picture when Joe Blow calls you.

Script:
That’s a marvelous use of a technology there. Before I let you go, because people are going kill me if I don’t ask you about it. What is with all the cats?

Raymond:
I like cats. It’s simple. You know, since I’ve joined IBM, I keep waiting for someone to complain about the way I do presentations. No one has yet. Before I joined IBM, I really had this impression that they were old and stodgy. While they are old, they definitely are not stodgy at all, which is pretty cool. I work with some great people.

Script:
That’s awesome. Confidentially, between you and me, I’m a cat guy too.

Raymond:
Yeah …

Script:
If somebody wanted to find your blog or more information, Ray, how could they go about it?

Raymond:
Just go to raymondcamden.com.

Script:
Hey, that’s nice and simple. Well, Ray, I want to thank you so much for taking the time. Appreciate it, and I look forward to running into you at future conferences.

Raymond:
Thank you for having me again.

(Interview ends)

Script:
So that wraps up Episode 4 of the “Wake Up! With Script Van Winkle” podcast. If you’ve got questions or topics you would like me to cover, drop me a line at  script@scriptvanwinkle.com or find me on Twitter @ScriptVanWinkle.  You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, Google Play,  or on Stitcher. You can comment on this episode, see blog posts and find more info at scriptvanwinkle.com.

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.

 

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