A decade in review in tech

The Type Strikes Back

One of the more welcome trends of the 2010s has been the resurgence of typed languages. True, typed languages had never quite faded into oblivion (C++ and Java were still dominant in 2010 as they are now), but dynamic languages saw a sharp uptick in usage since the Ruby on Rails movement emerged in 2005. The momentum seemed to have a hit crescendo with the open sourcing of Node.js in 2009, which made Javascript-on-the-server a reality.

Putting back the SQL in the NoSQL

NoSQL is another technology that seemed way more popular in the beginning of the decade than it does at the end. I think the reason why this happened is two-pronged.

Stream all the Things

Apache Kafka was, hands down, one of the most important innovations of the 2010s. Open sourced in January 2011, Kafka revolutionized how businesses handle data. Kafka has been in use at every company I’ve worked at, from startups to large corporations. The guarantees it provides and the use-cases it enables (pub-sub, streaming, event driven architectures) has been used to implement everything from data warehousing, to monitoring to streaming analytics across a wide cross section of enterprises (finance, healthcare, government, retail and more).

Continuous Integration (to a lesser extent, Continuous Deployment)

Continuous Integration (CI) wasn’t invented in the 2010s, but it’s the decade where it become widespread to the point of becoming a part of the default workflow (run tests on all pull requests). The rise of GitHub as a code hosting and development platform and more importantly the GitHub workflow meant that running all the tests before merging a pull request to trunk is the only development workflow many engineers who began their careers in this decade are familiar with.

Containers

Containers was probably the most hyped, talked about, marketed and misunderstood but also one of the most-important pieces of technology to gain adoption in the 2010s. Part of the reason behind the cacophony was the mixed-messaging we were bombarded with from seemingly all corners. Now that the commotion has died down ever so slightly, certain things stand out in more clear relief.

Serverless

I’d argue that the advent of “serverless” compute is arguably even more important than containers, for it truly makes the dream of “on-demand compute” a reality. In the past 5 years, I’ve seen serverless compute routinely expand its scope (by adding support for more languages and runtimes). The introduction of products like Azure Durable Functions seems to be the right step toward making stateful functions a reality (while addressing some of the concerns around the limitations of FaaS). It’d be interesting to see how this new paradigm of compute evolves in the coming years.

Automation Reigned

The operations engineering community probably benefited the most from this trend, since it made developments like “infrastructure as code” a reality. This also was in lockstep with the rise of the “SRE culture” which aims to take a more software oriented approach to operations engineering.

The API-ification of Things

Another interesting development has been the API-ification of a lot of development concerns. Good, hackable APIs enable a developer to build novel workflows and tooling, which in turn helps with maintenance and usability.

Observability

It’d be fair to say that we have way better tools now than we’ve ever had to monitor and diagnose application behavior. The Prometheus monitoring system, open sourced in 2015, is perhaps the best monitoring system I’ve ever worked with. While not perfect, it got a significant number of things right (not least supporting dimensionality when it came to metrics).

Looking into the Future

There still exist many pain points that can be better addressed in the coming decade. Here are some of my thoughts on what such pain points are and some potential ideas on how they can be addressed.

Addressing the End of Moore’s Law

The end of Dennard scaling and the slowdown in Moore’s Law call for new innovations. This lecture by John Hennessy makes a good case for why “domain specific architectures” (like TPUs) might be one answer to address the slowdown in Moore’s law. Toolkits like MLIR from Google already look like a good step forward in this direction:

CI/CD

While CI becoming more mainstream was definitely one of the standout advances of the 2010s, Jenkins still remains the CI gold standard.

  • the implementation details that’ll make it truly scalable and fast
  • integrations with different environments (staging, prod etc) to enable more advanced forms of testing
  • continuous verification and deployment

Developer Tools

As as industry, we’ve begun to build ever more complex and impressive software. However, when it comes to our own tools, it’s fair to say that we could be doing a lot better.

Compute (The Future of PaaS)

While containers and “serverless” were the buzzwords that garnered the most hype in the 2010s, the spectrum of compute in the public cloud has broadened a fair bit in the recent few years.

The Correct Highest Level API

Docker is a perfect case study for the need for better separation of concerns while getting the highest level API right.

  • infrastructure software engineers extending Kubernetes and building a platform on top of it
  • end users who interact with Kubernetes with kubectl

Retail

One industry that’s not seen much change in the digital experience the 2010s is retail. While on the one hand, the ease of online retail has sounded a death knell to several bricks-and-mortal retail stores, on the other, shopping online still remains fundamentally similar to how it was a decade ago.

Journalism

I’ve been feeling increasingly disillusioned about the state of journalism in the world. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find non-partisan news outlets that accurately report the news. Every so often, the line between news and comment gets blurred. News is often reported through lens of partisan glasses. This is especially true in certain countries where the historical division between news and comment hasn’t existed. In a recent article published after the most recent the UK general election, Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of The Guardian wrote:

Social Media

Social media and crowdsourced news seems to be the primary source of news for many people across the world, and the lack of accuracy and the unwillingness of some platforms to so much as do a basic fact check has resulted in, among other things, genocide, interference in elections and more.

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Cindy Sridharan

Cindy Sridharan

@copyconstruct on Twitter. views expressed on this blog are solely mine, not those of present or past employers.