Monday, August 13, 2012

Plight of the introvert programmer

I have grumbled before about the trend away from private offices towards cubicles and open plan offices. At the same time, there are people who genuinely prefer these offices, which I considered inhumane. Then I read a book: "Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking", by Susan Cain. It helped clarify the differences between introverts and extroverts, the rise of the latter, and the implications all this has on workplace productivity.

Introvert, extrovert

Cain's definition of introversion and extroversion is pretty much what you would expect if you are familiar with Myers-Briggs. She emphasizes that "introvert" does not mean shy nor anti-social. Rather, an introvert tends to focus on the inner world of thought and feeling, enjoys solitude, dislike conflict and focus well. An extrovert would be the opposite, focusing on the exterior world and social interaction, are comfortable with conflict and enjoy multitasking. Another way to look at this is to say that introverts are more sensitive to outside stimulation, such as noise or people, and thrive at lower levels of such stimulation. Conversely, an extrovert needs a greater intensity of stimulation to feel "right". An introvert needs solitude to recharge after experiencing elevated levels of stimulation. An extrovert is the opposite: he recharges with social interaction.

The difference between introverts and extroverts -- keep in mind this is a continuum rather than a binary distinction -- in terms of optimal stimulation levels helps explain work environment preferences. An introvert works best in a relatively quiet, distraction-free environment, such as a private office. An extrovert is energized by the constant social interaction of pair programming and the bustling activity of an open plan office.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

AppFog: the GMail of PaaS

AppFog sent out an email announcement a couple of days ago that made my jaw drop. AppFog is one of the commercial implementations of the open source CloudFoundry PaaS (Platform as a Service). I blogged briefly before about CloudFoundry: it's one of the new generation of PaaS that do not lock you in with vendor-specific APIs. You can provision a standard DB service, upload a war and watch your application go live.

So AppFog is a commercial offering of an open source PaaS over generic public infrastructure: sounds about as generic as it gets, right? The difference is in their business model: calling themselves the "GMail of PaaS", they intend to shake up the market in the same way. Remember GMail? It arrived as a free email service with virtually unlimited storage. Suddenly, the idea of a paid email service seemed ridiculous. AppFog's announcement is comparable. The part of the announcement that made my jaw drop is the price: free for an application with 2GB of RAM, 1GB of DB storage and a 50GB transfer limit. By contrast, Jelastic's prices at ServInt work out to $14.40 per 128MB per month. The next step up is a $100/month plan, but the free plan alone is so generous many users won't need anything more. AppFog could kill the VPS market altogether.

There are details I'm still not clear about. For example, the default infrastructure is Amazon's AWS: is the disk storage the EC2 ephemeral storage that disappears when an instance shuts down or is that EBS or S3? Of course, you also have other infrastructure options: HP's OpenStack, Microsoft's Azure (no Java) or Rackspace. Moreover, I'm still skeptical about how AppFog intends to make money. They made vague noises enterprise customers, but the fact is their free product will be very popular. And while AppFog will not charge you money, AppFog itself still has to pay Amazon for the infrastructure. Still, why look a gift horse in the mouth? One thing is for sure: the PaaS market will not be the same again.

Where are the QA engineers?

I heard again today from my employer that we still really, really need software QA engineers. This has been going on for quite a while now. I realize that good tech talent is often hard to come by, and newer skills like HTML5 and mobile are red hot. But SQA -- while obviously an important position -- has been around for a long time, yet we've had a hard time hiring them. Is there something in the Boston tech scene that is sucking up all the QA talent?