This Week in Modern Software logoWelcome back to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly analysis of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding the software and analytics industries. This week, our top story concerns the mobile industry’s annual extravaganza at Mobile World Congress.


TWiMS Top Story:
The Best of Mobile World Congress 2016—BGR

sagrada familia: this week in modern softwareWhat it’s about: Who says trade shows are passé? Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s biggest annual show, took place in Barcelona this week, and it displayed plenty of fireworks, from Mark Zuckerberg in the flesh touting virtual reality and other Facebook priorities, to 5G wireless and the future of connectivity, to major device releases like the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. The new phones drew plenty of raves; BGR’s Chris Smith, for one, called the duo “the best work Samsung has ever done.” 2016 is poised to be a big year for Android phones, with LG G5 also earning huge praise. Meanwhile, virtual and augmented reality devices and apps were about as buzzy as you can get, thanks in no small part to Zuckerberg’s personal appearance, but also to its omnipresence at MWC: “You couldn’t stroll the show floor for long without spotting someone running a virtual-reality demo,” wrote Phillip Michaels and Tom Rutherford in their event recap for Tom’s Guide.

Why you should care: It wasn’t just the devices getting rave reviews. In a column for Re/code, Publicis Groupe Chief Revenue Officer Laura Desmond says software is becoming the real earth-shaker in mobileand how that’s redefining how companies do business: “As striking as the hardware was at MWC, it was clear that software is leaping ahead and becoming the true differentiator in mobility, in the broadest sense,” she writes. “Mobile has empowered people beyond anything we have seen before—upending the rules that define consumer interaction by the second.”

Further reading:


Docker Offers an Enterprise ‘Containers-as-a-Service’ PackageThe New Stack

What it’s about: Containers might be about to get another big boost in the enterprise. Docker has released Docker Datacenter, a subscription-based package for managing containers at each stage of the application life cycle, from development through production. As The New Stack’s Joab Jackson notes, Docker Datacenter essentially enables companies to implement their own Container-as-a-Service environment, in which developers hope to gain speed and agility from such features as self-service provisioning, while sysadmins get better tools for managing the operational impacts of containers. Scott Johnston, Docker senior vice president for product management and product design, tells Jackson that customers “want a self-service bureau to allow developers to move as fast as possible.”

Why you should care: It’s news that should hopefully make developers and operations teams happy. Devs get to move more quickly, and ops folks get streamlined administrative tools. Indeed, that’s been one of the primary concerns as containers draw ever-increasing attention in software circles: How do we manage and secure these things, especially in production environments? Docker’s Johnston tells InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock that this was one of the early barriers to enterprise adoption: As developers begin pushing containers in their organizations, ops pushed back. “IT operations managers started saying, ‘Wow, how are we going to manage all these containers, keep them running, and offer SLAs?’” Johnson says. “We started a suite of tools that didn’t slow developers down but allowed IT operations teams to manage containers.” For the time being, however, Docker Datacenter may appeal most to companies that are already embracing containers. As TechTarget’s Beth Pariseau notes, plenty of organizations will continue to move cautiously.

Further reading:


A New Breed of Trader on Wall Street: Coders With a Ph.D.The New York Times

What it’s about: Technology has played a growing role on Wall Street over the years. Even at the most tech-centric firms, though, the geeks have usually played a supporting role to the traders and financial wizards who bring in the big bucks. Increasingly, though, the techies are the traders, at least at relatively new firms like Jane Street, according to a DealBook post by The New York Times’ Landon Thomas, Jr. People with advanced degrees and coding skills increasingly man the trading desks of banks and other financial firms. Jane Street, which operates in the massive market for exchange traded funds (ETFs), might be the current pinnacle of that trend. “As these firms have grown, so has the demand for a new breed of Wall Street trader—one who can build financial models and write computer code but who also has the guts to spot a market anomaly and bet big with the firm’s capital,” writes Thomas, Jr. “These are not your suit-and-tie bond and stock traders of yore, riding the commuter train into Manhattan. They are, instead, the pick of the global brain crop.”

Why you should care: It’s another reminder that software innovation does indeed occur outside of Silicon Valley. (Though it often still intersects with it: the DealBook piece notes that Jane Street competes for talent with the likes of Google and Facebook more so than with other financial firms.) More important, it’s a reminder of software’s pervasive impacts beyond the software industry itself. The public face of secretive Jane Street isn’t a star trader or managing partner; it’s the company’s CTO, Yaron Minsky. The company’s blog isn’t a hub for info on ETFs or other financial topics. Instead, it’s more likely to feature musings on OCaml, Jane Street’s programming language of choice, often penned by Minsky himself and featuring titles like “Self-Adjusting DOM and Diffable Data” and “Faster OCaml to C Calls.” Jane Street hires only traders who can code, according to the DealBook post, and new hires complete a month-long bootcamp in OCaml before they hit the desk. It’s working, too: the Times says Jane Street’s net worth is $1 billion today, up from $228 million in 2007.


Play Nice! How the Internet Is Trying to Design Out Toxic BehaviorThe Guardian

What it’s about: Take a quick peek at the online comments section of some news stories and you’re likely to learn a few new bad words. And digital media does more than encourage potty mouths; it’s an environment that can amplify serious problems like racism, sexism, bullying, and a general lack of empathy for the human beings on the other side of the screen. These problems are severe enough that some online publishers have killed their comments sections altogether. And the situation affects more than just news stories and discussion forums: After a stroll through many public social media feeds you might need a shower and a stiff drink to recover from the digital grime. While trolls and bad operators may always exist, a new school of thought holds that encouraging online decency might be a software and design opportunity, according to a new piece by Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian.

happy laptop: this week in modern softwareWhy you should care: Hinsliff’s piece cites a growing number of software companies, developers, and researchers who see digital decorum as something that can be designed into the Web. It’s worth a try, since legislating better behavior with rules and restrictions hasn’t worked and tends to incite free-speech arguments. Startups like Civil Comments and established titans like Facebook are increasingly tapping into what sociologists, anthropologists, and others call “social capital.” Put another way: We tend to be nicer when we see other people being nice, too, and when we’re learning from a positive community rather than simply firing off brainless missives into cyberspace. Civil Comments’ software, for example, requires users to read and rate three other people’s comments for “quality” and “civility” before posting their own message; they then perform the same review process with their own post before publishing. Civil Comments’ algorithms crunch the data to exclude abusive content based on community standards established by the aggregate ratings. “If the pioneers of prosocial behavior are right,” Hinsliff writes, “the tide may be slowly turning, even in a community that once prized freedom of expression above everything.”


What’s Next in Computing?Medium

What it’s about: It’s still prediction season! And Andreesen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon has served up a big one. Based on the historical patterns of computing’s product cycle, he posits, we might already be in the “gestation phase” of the Next Big Thing in terms of platforms that enable massive innovation in applications and services. Historically, those have come every 10 to 15 years, according to Dixon, marked by the PC era, the Internet era, and the mobile era. (Or maybe not: Dixon notes at the end of his piece that mobile may have been “the final era” in this cycle. There’s plenty of realism here, in lieu of pie-in-the-sky claims, and that’s refreshing.) Dixon’s ultimate conclusion: “We are on the cusp of not one but multiple new eras.”

Why you should care: Software and data sit at the heart of all of the major trends Dixon analyzes, from machine learning and AI to virtual and augmented reality to wearables and IoT. Artificial Intelligence (and the bucket of related technologies the term encompasses) leads the list, and Dixon cites several reasons why the latest headline frenzy around topics like deep learning is more than tech industry hype. He also notes that much of the current work on deep learning is being open sourced, which has a cascading impact on new innovation. As a result, the “WhatsApp effect”relatively small teams building massive applicationsis now taking hold in AI: “Software tools like Theano and TensorFlow, combined with cloud data centers for training, and inexpensive GPUs for deployment, allow small teams of engineers to build state-of-the-art AI systems.” What’s next? Even Dixon isn’t quite sure, but a safe answer for software pros seems to be plenty.

Further reading:


IBM Inks VMware, GitHub, Bitly Deals, Expands Apple Swift Use As It Doubles Down on the Cloud—TechCrunch

What it’s about: While much of the industry’s attention was focused on Spain, IBM made headlines at its InterConnect event in Las Vegas, announcing a slew of new deals and news that make Big Blue’s cloud ambitions apparent. IBM revealed new or expanded partnerships with Apple, VMware, GitHub, and Bitly, all with a visible focus on extending IBM’s reach and services in enterprise cloud environments.

Why you should care: Cloud in the enterprise. As TechCrunch and others note, the latest news developments are all about making Apple’s open source Swift more accessible as an end-to-end language for writing enterprise cloud apps. And InfoWorld’s Serdar Yegulalp points out that IBM appears to be catering to both its legacy enterprise customers but also investing heavily in new and next-generation tools for building modern software.

Further reading:


Morgan Freeman Is Finally a GPS Navigation Voice—Entertainment Weekly

phone voice: this week in modern softwareWhat it’s about: If you use Google’s traffic and navigation app Waze, you may be about to get a little calmer behind the wheel: The next time you need directions, you can choose to have Morgan Freeman’s famous baritone guide your journey. No, the Oscar-winning actor isn’t making a late-career change. It’s a marketing tie-in for the movie London Has Fallen, in which Freeman plays the vice president of the United States. Still, Freeman has one of the most famous, instantly recognizable voices in Hollywoodand now Waze drivers can let Red from The Shawshank Redemption tell them when to turn left and right.

Why you should care: Sure, it’s a marketing stunt. But it’s also an indicator of a growing trend in modern software. As more and more of our interactions with apps are spoken instead of tapped or typed, the voice that speaks back to you is an increasingly important part of user experience and satisfaction. Plus, it’s not just Freeman’s celebrity that explains the Waze promoit’s science: “In scientific experiments, people consistently perceive low-pitched voices in men as stronger and more physically attractive than male voices with a higher pitch,” writes TIME’s Mandy Oaklander. In a world where our software interactions will be increasingly driven by chatbots, familiar, comforting voices like Freeman’s appear poised to become an important software feature.

Further reading: 


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Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a wide variety of publications and companies. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek story, “Are You Too Old for IT?” He’s also a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards. View posts by .

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