Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Thank you Microsoft, nine months on ...

Level [C1]

I felt that almost a year after my blog post Thank you Microsoft and so long, it is a right time to look back and contemplate on the decision I made back then. If you have not read the post, well in a nutshell, I decided to gradually move towards non-Microsoft technologies - mainly due to Microsoft's lack of innovation, especially in the Big Data space.

A few things have changed since then. TLDR; Generally it really feels I made the right decision to diversify. Personally, I have learnt a lot and at the same time I had a lot of fun. I have built a bridge to the other side and I can easily communicate with non-Microsoft peers and translate my skills. On the technology landscape, however, there has been some major changes that makes me feel having a hybrid skillset is much more important than a complete shift to any particular platform.

I will first look at the technology landscape as it stands now and then will share my personal journey so far in adopting alternative platforms and technologies.

A point on the predictions

OK, I made some predictions in the previous post such as "In 5 years, all data problems become Big Data problems". Some felt this is completely wrong - which could be - and left some not very nice messages. At the end of the day, predictions are free (and that is why I like them) and you could do the same. I am sharing my views, take it as it is worth for you. I have a track record of making predictions, some came true and some did not. I predicted a massive financial crash in 2011 which did not happen and lead to one of the biggest bull markets ever (well my view is they pumped money into the economy and artificially made the bull market) and I lost some money. On the other hand back in 2010 I predicted in my StackOverflow profile something that I think it is called Internet Of Things now, so I guess I was lucky (by the way, I am predicting a financial crash in the next couple of months). Anyway, take it easy :)

Technology Horizon

The New Microsoft

Since I wrote the blog post, a lot has changed, especially in Microsoft. It now has a new CEO and a radically different view on the Open Source. Releasing the source of a big chunk of the .NET Framework is harbinger of a shift whose size is difficult to guess at the moment. Is it mere a gesture? I doubt it, this adoption was the result of years of internal campaign from the likes of Phil Haack and Scott Hanselman and it has finally worked its way up the hierarchy.

But adopting Open Source is not just a community service gesture, it has an important financial significance. With the rate of change in the industry, you need to keep an army of developers to constantly work and improve products at this scale. No company is big enough on its own to build what can be built by an organic and healthy ecosystem. So crowd-sourcing is an important technique to improve your product without paying for the time spent. It is probably true that the community around your product is the real IP of most cloud platforms and not so much the actual code.

Microsoft is also relinquishing its push strategy towards its Operating System and to be honest, I am not surprised at all. Many have talked about the WebOS but reality is we have already had it for the last couple of years. Your small smartphone or tablet come to life when they are connected - enabling you to do most of what you can do on the laptop/pc with the only limitation being the screen size. On the other hand, Microsoft has released the web version of the office and to be fair it is capable of doing pretty much everything you can do in the desktop versions, and sometimes it does it better. So for the majority of consumers, all you need is the WebOS. It feels that the value of a desktop operating system becomes of less and less importance when most of the applications you use daily are web-based or cloud-based.


Cloud and Azure

I have been doing a lot of Azure both at work and outside it. Apart from HDInsight, I think Azure is expanding at a phenomenal rate in both feature and reliability and this is where I feel Microsoft is closing in the Innovation Gap. It is mind-blowing to look at the list of new features that are coming out of Azure every month.

Focusing mainly on the PaaS products, I think future of Azure in terms of adoption by the smaller companies is looking more and more attractive compared to AWS which has traditionally been IaaS platform of choice. Companies like Netflix have built all their software empire on AWS but they had an army of great developers to write the tooling and integration stuff.

All-in-all I feel Azure is here to stay and might even overtake AWS in the next 5 years. What will be a decider is the innovation pace.

Non-Hadoop platforms

A recent trend that could change the balance is the proliferation of non-Hadoop approaches to Big Data which will favour Microsoft and Google. With Hadoop 2.0 trying to abstract away even more the algorithm from the resource management, I think there is an opportunity for Microsoft to jump in and plug-in a whole host of Microsoft languages in a real way - it was possible to use C# and F# before but no one really used it.

Microsoft announced the release AzureML which is the PaaS offering of Machine Learning on the Azure Platform. It is early to say but it looks like this could be used for smaller-than-big-date machine learning and analysis. This platform is basically productionising of the Machine Learning platform behind the Bing search engine.

Another sign that the Hadoop's elephant is getting old is Google's announcement to drop MapReduce: "We invented it and now we are retiring it". Basically in-memory processing looks more and more appealing due to the need for quicker feedback cycle and speeding up processes. Also it seems that there is resurgence of focus towards in-memory grid computing, perhaps as a result of Actor Frameworks popularity.

In terms of technologies, Spark and to a degree Storm are getting a lot of traction and the next few months are essential to confirm the trend. These still very much come from a JVM ecosystem but there is potential in building competitor products.

Personal progress

MacBook

This is the first thing I did after making the decision 9 months ago: I bought a MacBook. I was probably the farthest thing away from being an Apple fanboy, but well it has put its hooks in me too now. I wasn't sure if I should get a Windows laptop and run a Linux VM on it, or buy a MacBook and run Windows VM. Funny enough, and despite my presumptions, I found the second option to be cheaper. In fact I could not find an Windows UltraBook with 16 GB of RAM and that is what I needed to be able to comfortably run a VIM. So buying a 13.3" MacBook pro proved both economical (in the light of what you get back for the money) and the right choice - since you want your VM to be your secondary platform.

Initially I did not like OSX but it helped me to get better at using the command line - be it the OSX variant of Linux commands. Six months on, similar to what some of my twitter friends had said, I don't think I will ever go back to Windows.

I have used Mac for everything apart from using Visual Studio and occasional Visio - also using some Azure tools had to be on Windows. I think I now spend probably only 20% of my time in Windows, the rest in Linux (Azure VM) and OSX.

Linux, Shell scripting and command line

I felt like an ignorant to find out the wealth of command line tools at my disposal in OSX and Linux. Find, Grep, Sort, Sed, tail, head, etc just amazing stuff. I admit, for some there might be windows equivalent that I have not heard of (which I doubt) but it really makes the life so easier to automate and manage your servers. So been working on understanding services on Linux and OSX, learning about Apache and how to configure it... I am no expert by any stretch but it has been fun and learnt a lot.
And yes, I did use VIM - and yes, I did find it difficult to exit it the first time :) I am not mad about it, I just have to use it on Linux VMs I manage configs, etc but cannot see myself using it for development - at least anytime soon.

Languages

As I said the, I had decided to start with some JVM languages. Scala felt the right choice then and with knowing more about it now, even more so. It is powerful yet all the wealth of Java libraries are at your fingertip. It is widely adopted (and Clojure the second candidate not so much). Erlang probably not appropriate now and go is non-JVM. so I am happy with that decision.

Having said that, I could not learn a lot of it. Instead I had to focus on Python for a personal NLP project - well, as you know most NLP and data science tools are on Python. I had to learn to code, understand its OOP and functional side, its versioning and distribution and finally above all being able to serve REST APIs (using Flask and RESTful-Flask) for interop with my other C# code.
My view on it? Python is simple and has a nice built-in support for important data structures (list, map, tuple, etc) making it ideal for working with the data. So it is a very useful language but it is not anywhere near as elegant as Scala or even C#. So for complex stuff, I would still rather coding in C#, until I properly pick up Scala again. I am also not very comfortable with distributing non-compiled code - although that is what we normally do in JavaScript (minimising aside), perhaps another point of similarity between these two.

Apart from these, I have still been doing a ton of C#, as I had predicted in the previous blog post. I have been working on a Cloud Actor Mini-Framework called BeeHive which I am currently using myself. I still enjoy writing C# and am planning to try out Mono as well (.NET on OSX and Linux). Having said that, I feel tools and languages best to be used in their native platform and ecosystem, so I am not sure if Mono would be a viable option for me.

Conclusion

All-in-all I think by embracing the non-Microsoft world, I have made the right decision. A new world has been suddenly opened up for me, a lot of exciting things to learn and to do. I wish I had done this earlier.

Would I think I will completely abandon my previous skills? I really doubt it: The future is not mono-colour, it is a democratised hybrid one, where different skillsets will result in cross-pollinisation and producing better software. It feel having a hybrid skill is becoming more and more important, and if you are looking to position yourself better as a developer/architect, this is the path you need to take. Currently cross-platform/hybrid skills is a plus, in 5 years it will be a necessity.

2 comments:

  1. "Linux, Shell scripting and command line"
    I guess you missed powershell on windows, having the whole .NET framework at the command line is quite powerfull and allows you to do more interesting things than just parsing strings of texts....

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    1. I have done a lot of Powershell. Simply there is no comparison - Powershell is clunky.

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