Software engineers must continuously learn and integrate

Four ways programmers can thrive in their careers.

Software engineers: themes to watch in software architecture, open source culture and code, data, mobile and the Internet of Things

As O’Reilly continues to build and assess our programming content ecosystem — now more than 30 years in the making — we have gone from covering a few key languages, operating systems, and concepts to a diversification of topics that would have made an editor’s head spin in the 1980s. Our goal, however, remains the same: to continue to provide practical content from experts who help you do your job. An important piece of that goal is to keep you informed as we interpret the trends on the horizon. What follows are a few of the core themes we are focusing on at the moment. Expect these to evolve and change with the speed of innovation.

You can also stay in the loop on the latest analysis and developments through our weekly Programming newsletter.

Actually be a software engineer

The term “full-stack” first emerged in a 2008 blog post (no longer readable as the link is dead), and perhaps reached its canonical definition in a post by Facebook engineer Carlos Bueno. He wrote:

“A ‘full-stack programmer’ is a generalist, someone who can create a non-trivial application by themselves. People who develop broad skills also tend to develop a good mental model of how different layers of a system behave.“

Whether you are striving to be a full-stack programmer, a T-shaped engineer, or you choose to rebuff those terms entirely as mere marketing, what now floats around as a “full-stack developer” definition is incomplete. Read more…

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Five things to consider before offering new technology as a cloud service

Entrepreneurs must apply the same decision-making processes used when starting any infrastructure company.

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Editor’s note: Shahin Farshchi will cover these topics and more in an upcoming free webcast, Building Value Into Hardware Start-ups, on March 19 at 1 p.m. PT. Find out more, and reserve your spot.

There are many compelling reasons to package new technology as a cloud service. Connected devices come in many forms: dongles, phones, tablets, televisions, cars, and even buildings. Intel is offering “connected buttons,” and others are introducing connected jewelry and accessories. Internet connectivity is also available through many channels: satellite, cellular, WiFi, bluetooth, and hybrid meshes. The plethora of powerful, beautiful connected devices, coupled with ubiquitous connectivity, creates an incredible channel for delivering novel services.

Hotmail, Salesforce, Workday, and many other software-as-a-service companies have fared well by offering their applications directly through Internet browsers. DropBox and Box, while creating tremendous media attention, have yet to prove they can offer storage services profitably on the cloud. Amazon doesn’t disclose the economics of its Amazon Web Services business in detail, though one would expect the opposite to be true if it were a lucrative business. ASICMiner and KNCMiner are leveraging their proprietary hashing chips to offer bitcoin mining as a service. Nervana is leveraging its proprietary chips as a service for deep learning. As more entrepreneurs attempt to harness the cloud as a powerful distribution channel for their novel technologies, here are a few factors to consider. Read more…

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The Intimacy of Things

At what layer do we build privacy into the fabric of devices?

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts exploring privacy and security issues in the Internet of Things. The series will culminate in a free webcast by the series author Dr. Gilad Rosner: Privacy and Security Issues in the Internet of Things will happen on February 11, 2015 — reserve your spot today.

In 2011, Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo and others alerted us to a privacy gaffe made by Fitbit, a company that makes small devices to help people keep track of their fitness activities. It turns out that Fitbit broadcast the sexual activity of quite a few of their users. Realizing this might not sit well with those users, Fitbit took swift action to remove the search hits, the data, and the identities of those affected. Fitbit, like many other companies, believed that all the data they gathered should be public by default. Oops.

Does anyone think this is the last time such a thing will happen?

Fitness data qualifies as “personal,” but sexual data is clearly in the realm of the “intimate.” It might seem like semantics, but the difference is likely to be felt by people in varying degrees. The theory of contextual integrity says that we feel violations of our privacy when informational contexts are unexpectedly or undesirably crossed. Publicizing my latest workout: good. Publicizing when I’m in flagrante delicto: bad. This episode neatly exemplifies how devices are entering spaces where they’ve not tread before, physically and informationally. Read more…

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Closing the gender gap in tech

Stories from women who are making a big impact on the field of big data.

The gender gap in tech is not news, but here’s what is: it’s shrinking. In O’Reilly’s latest report — Women in Data: Cutting-Edge Practitioners and Their Views on Critical Skills, Background, and Education — female data practitioners discuss their work, their achievements, and the attitudes that have propelled them forward to career success.

Through a series of 15 interviews with women across the data field, we’ve uncovered stories we think you’ll find and both interesting and inspiring. The interviews explore:

  • Interviewees’ views about opportunities for women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  • Benefits of the data field as a career choice for women
  • The changing attitudes of Millennials toward women working in data
  • Remedies for continuing to close the gender gap in tech

Our findings reveal an important consensus among the women we interviewed — the role of female mentors and role models working in STEM is extremely important for opening up the pathway for more women to enter these fields. In fact, the impact that mentors have had on our interviewees has inspired many of them to serve as mentors to other female colleagues, and younger generations of girls, today. Read more…

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Keep me safe

Security is at the heart of the web.

Locks image: CC BY 2.0 Mike Baird https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/2354116406/  via Flickr

We want to share. We want to buy. We want help. We want to talk.

At the end of the day, though, we want to be able to go to sleep without worrying that all of those great conversations on the open web will endanger the rest of what we do.

Making the web work has always been a balancing act between enabling and forbidding, remembering and forgetting, and public and private. Managing identity, security, and privacy has always been complicated, both because of the challenges in each of those pieces and the tensions among them.

Complicating things further, the web has succeeded in large part because people — myself included — have been willing to lock their paranoias away so long as nothing too terrible happened.

I talked for years about expecting that the NSA was reading all my correspondence, but finding out that yes, indeed they were filtering pretty much everything, opened the door to a whole new set of conversations and concerns about what happens to my information. I made my home address readily available in an IETF RFC document years ago​. In an age of doxxing and SWATting, I wonder whether I was smart to do that. As the costs move from my imagination to reality, it’s harder to keep the door to my paranoia closed. Read more…

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Elvis has left the ivory tower

Pragmatism now rules in team structure, technology, engineering practices, and operational innovation.

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Ancient history in computer science (2004) provides a gem about the personas that Microsoft envisioned as users of the development environment Visual Studio. They developed three:

  • Mort, the opportunistic developer, likes to create quick-working solutions for immediate problems. He focuses on productivity and learns as needed.
  • Elvis, the pragmatic programmer, likes to create long-lasting solutions addressing the problem domain, and learning while working on the solution.
  • Einstein, the paranoid programmer, likes to create the most efficient solution to a given problem and typically learns in advance before working on the solution.

These designations received a lot of negative press, particularly around the Mort persona, but I want to focus on Einstein and Elvis.

Formerly, software architects exemplified the Einstein persona: isolated from day-to-day development details, focused on building abstractions and frameworks. The isolation is so common that it spawned its own “Ivory Tower Architect” derogatory phrase. But the realities of building systems that scale as fast as the business does invalidates that approach. Now, Elvis, the pragmatic developer, has ascended to architect while simultaneously descending from the Ivory Tower. Modern architects don’t have the luxury of isolation from the gritty realities of software development today. Pragmatism now rules in team structure, technology, engineering practices, and operational innovation because:

Read more…

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