Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly roundup of the most important things happening in the world of software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and related topics.
This week, the story everyone was talking about once again revolved around Google—this time its corporate restructuring under the new holding company “Alphabet.”
TWiMS Top Story:
Inside Alphabet: Why Google Rebranded Itself and What Happens Next—The Guardian
What it’s about: Google (again) made headlines with its announcement that Google, the company, is now just one firm in a larger collection of businesses under an umbrella conglomerate called “Alphabet.” While the move caught the public—and the pundits—off guard, the concept makes sense: public companies face relentless investor focus on maximizing shareholder value that can cause myopia in large, maturing firms, potentially obstructing innovation. Alphabet seems intended to allow Google to focus on its cash cow, search, while freeing other endeavors to incubate without as much direct concern for quarterly earnings reports.
Why you should care: At face value, this is nothing more than a business structure decision, the stuff Wall Street cares about far more than the software community does. But that takes all the fun out of guessing what this means for the future beyond financial reporting. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes for ZDNet, the change should help Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin rededicate themselves to being technologists with fewer distractions from the day-to-day necessities of corporate leadership. Hopefully, that flexibility will help the Google brain trust propel “moonshots” like ubiquitous gigabit Internet speeds, wearable devices that people actually want to wear, and the build-out of the Internet of Things. As Wayne State University Law School professor Peter Henning tells The Guardian: “They’re setting it up for something else down the road. It is form over substance, but you have to have the form in place before you can do the substance.” Let the speculation flourish!
- 26 Reasons Google Created Alphabet—Fusion
- Googlers Just Want to Have Fun—and Achieve Immortality—ZDnet
- What We Know About Google’s Alphabet Soup. And What We Don’t—Re/code
What it’s about: Boy, that escalated quickly: Oracle’s chief security officer, Mary Ann Davidson, penned a provocative blog post for the company’s corporate site that took customers and security vendors to task for finding and reporting bugs in Oracle code, especially via the process of reverse engineering. Davidson also dismissed the practice of bug bounties used by many large tech companies, including Google and Microsoft. Among her beefs: Customers and security consultants who reverse engineer Oracle’s code are violating the company’s licensing agreements. Reaction to the post, which was subsequently taken down from Oracle.com (but preserved elsewhere online, because the Internet is forever), was swift and harsh.
Why you should care: Davidson’s screed spawned a new wave of debate around security best practices, and it should be noted that there’s plenty of nuance in the discussion—not everyone simply dismissed the post, as the links below attest. Still, there’s something troubling about her idea that security responsibility should be siloed: More than ever, security needs to be everyone’s responsibility. Davidson says reporting potential flaws is a waste of her team’s time, and that customers should effectively leave the security of Oracle code to Oracle. Her reasoning: Oracle finds 87% of bugs on its own. In school, that earned you a “B” grade. When it comes to the security of our code and our data, shouldn’t we be striving for “A”s?
- Software Security: On the Wrong Side of History—Re/code
- Don’t Trust the Cloud: Why It’s About More Than Just Security—New Relic blog
- Mad World: The Truth About Bug Bounties—Dark Reading
- Oracle Pulls CSO’s BONKERS Anti-Bug Bounty and Infosec Rant—The Register
- Don’t Bug Me—Slate
- Security Industry Reacts to Oracle CSO’s Missive—CIO
What it’s about: You’d be hard-pressed to work in software and not have heard about containers. But does anyone outside of the dev team really know very much about them? That’s a problem, according to Deis’ Catherine Oliver: Containers have plenty of benefits for non-developers in your organization, and they can improve not just app portability across platforms, but documentation, testing and QA, product evangelism, and so on.
Why you should care: Oliver identifies three non-developer roles that should definitely get in on the container craze: developer advocates, technical writers, and marketing professionals. There’s a theme here: Containers can improve work and collaboration for these roles without burdening the dev team with the need to spin up new environments and other potential time-sucks.
The marketing group is particularly interesting—even Oliver’s subhead, “Marketing with Containers,” presents a compelling concept. Containers can enable marketing, PR, and other roles to get their hands on new products without waiting for a potentially messy staging or preview environment. As Oliver writes: “Containers allow your marketing team to get hands-on experience with your application at every stage of life, offering unique opportunities to write behind-the-scenes blog posts, pitching at conferences, and so on.” In the every-minute-counts business of software, that could be a big deal.
What it’s about: As IT pro Dave Cartwright notes, there are indeed “umpty-squillion surveys” out there arguing for or against something. But Cartwright cites one recent poll of IT managers as particularly important: Roughly half of respondents said they weren’t investing in any cloud technologies today. What’s more, almost as many said they still wouldn’t be in the cloud in two years time.
Why you should care: There’s not much surprise that some organizations are hesitant to go all-in on cloud environments. Heck, some of the biggest cloud computing providers themselves aren’t yet doing that. But Cartwright points out the absurdity that the survey respondents are not doing anything in the cloud: “I understand organizations not moving en masse to (say) hosted virtual desktops,” he writes. “But no Office 365? No Google Apps? No Dropbox? No AWS for a cheap server for a pilot project?” That ignores IT’s present and future reality, as ongoing cloud-based service, security, and pricing improvements are making cloud the default setting for new and existing IT projects—whether it’s on some corporate road map or not. The only way that approach makes sense is because the cloud trend is so powerful that we may not need the label much longer. As Cartwright says: “We’ll be so used to the idea that we won’t have a special name for it: in two years time it’ll just be called a product.”
What it’s about: Software developer Ben Lakey checks in with plenty of good advice for getting more out of job interviews, both from the candidate and the hiring sides of the table. Lakey, fresh from another turn in the process himself, notes that developer interviews can be particularly tricky to do well—and thus need extra attention.
Why you should care: Lakey’s piece is recommended reading for anyone on the job market and any hiring manager on the hunt for software developers. (Which is, roughly, everyone.) But it’s particularly important for employers because, as Lakey and others have pointed out, most software companies aren’t very good at interviews. For instance, Lakey questions the value of the ubiquitous whiteboard in the interview room: Sure, dev teams might use them in meetings and brainstorms, but people write actual code on a computer. Why not use one in the interview? Instead of whiteboarding, Lakey recommends pair programming as an interview technique. Lakey said his own recent experience as the candidate in a pair-programming exercise was actually fun—which might help employers attract scarce programming talent.
What it’s about: The Verge’s Ben Popper hits it out of the park with this behind-the-scenes feature on Major League Baseball’s cutting-edge technology outfit, BAM. What began as an internal IT team charged with building websites for individual MLB teams during the first dot-com boom has evolved in a multi-billion-dollar business that is a dominant player in streaming video on Internet-connected devices.
Why you should care: Not bad for a ragtag bunch of IT misfits: Popper notes that BAM was anything but a technology dream team, but it’s now a spin-off candidate with a potential $5 billion valuation. The journey wasn’t always pretty: When Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners in 2001, BAM invested millions of dollars to figure out how to stream live audio of his games to his massive fan base back home—but CEO Bob Bowman says they never even hit 1,000 subscribers. Bowman describes an early video stream as looking more like a “flip-book” than TV—but the company kept listening to feedback and never stopped retooling, all while investing heavily in the necessary global infrastructure. “We made all the same mistakes everyone else makes,” Bowman tells Popper. “We just had the advantage of making them first.” As legendary hitter Ted Williams once said: “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” What constitutes a good batting average for software?
- A Data Dinosaur, Tennis Tries an Analytic Approach—The New York Times
- IBM Watson: Your Fantasy Football Secret Weapon—InformationWeek