Monthly Archives: September 2009

Tech Trends for 2015, by Anand Deshpande, Shridhar Shukla, Monish Darda

On Monday, I participated in a Panel Discussion “Technology Trends” organized by CSI Pune at MIT college. The panelists were Anand Deshpande, CEO of Persistent Systems, Shridhar Shukla, MD of GS Lab, Monish Darda, GM of BladeLogic India (which is now a part of BMC Software), and me.

Anand asked each of us to prepare a list of 5 technology trends that we felt would be important in the year 2015, and then we would compare and contrast our lists. I’ve already published my own list of 5 things for students to focus on last week. Basically I cheated by listing a just a couple of technology trends, and filled out the list with one technology non-trend, and a couple of non-technology non-trends.

Here are my quick-n-dirty notes of the other panelists tech trends, and other points that came up during the discussion.

Here is Shridhar’s list:

  • Shridhar’s trend #1: Immersive environments for consumers – from games to education. Partial virtual reality. We will have more audio, video, multi-media, and more interactivity. Use of keyboards and menu driven interfaces will reduce. Tip for students based on trend #1: don’t look down on GUIs. On a related note, sadly, none of the students had heard of TED. Shridhar asked them all to go and google it and to checking out “The Sixth Sense” TED video.
  • Shridhar’s trend #2: totally integrated communication and information dissemination.
  • Shridhar’s trend #3: Cloud computing, elastic computing. Computing on demand.
  • Shridhar’s trend #4: Analytics. Analytics for business, for government, for corporates. Analyzing data, trends. Mining databases.
  • Shridhar’s trend #5: Sophisticated design and test environments. As clouds gain prominence, large server farms with hundreds of thousands of servers will become common. As analytics become necessary, really complicated, distributed processes will run to do the complex computations. All of this will require very sophisticated environments, management tools and testing infrastructure. Hardcore computer science students are the ones who will be required to design, build and maintain this.

Monish’s list:

  • Monish’s trend #1: Infrastructure will be commoditized, and interface to the final user will assume increasing importance
  • Monish’s trend #2: Coming up with ideas – for things people use, will be most important. Actually developing the software will be trivial. Already, things like AWS makes a very sophisticated server farm available to anybody. And lots of open source software makes really complex software easy to put together. Hence, building the software is no longer the challenge. Thinking of what to build will be the more difficult task.
  • Monish’s trend #3: Ideas combining multiple fields will rule. Use of technology in other areas (e.g. music) will increase. So far, software industry was driven by the needs of the software industry first, and then other “enterprise” industries (like banking, finance). But software will cross over into more and more mainstream uses. Be ready for the convergence, and meeting of the domains.
  • Monish’s trend #4: Sophisticated management of centralized, huge infrastructure setups.

Anand’s list:

  • Anand’s trend #1: Sensors. Ubiquitous tiny computing devices that don’t even look like computers. All networked. And
  • Anand trend #2: The next billion users. Mobile. New devices. New interfaces. Non-English interfaces. In fact, non-text interfaces.
  • Anand’s trend #3: Analytics. Sophisticated processing of large amounts of data, and making sense out of the mess.
  • Anand’s trend #4: User interface design. New interfaces, non-text, non-keyboard interfaces. For the next billion users.
  • Anand’s trend #5: Multi-disciplinary products. Many different sciences intersecting with technology to produce interesting new products.

These lists of 5 trends had been prepared independently, without any collaboration. So it is interesting to note the commonalities. Usability. Sophisticated data analysis. Sophisticated management of huge infrastructure setups. The next billion users. And combining different disciplines. Thinking about these commonalities and then wondering about how to position ourselves to take advantage of these trends will form the topic of another post, another day.

Until then, here are some random observations. (Note: one of the speakers before the panel discussion was Deepak Shikarpur, and some of these observations are by him)

  • “In the world of Google, memory has no value” – Deepak
  • “Our students are in the 21st century. Teachers are from 20th century. And governance is 19th century” -Deepak
  • “Earning crores of rupees is your birthright, and you can have it.” – Deepak
  • Sad. Monish asked how many students had read Isaac Asimov. There were just a couple
  • Monish encouraged students to go and read about string theory.
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Web Scalability and Performance – Real Life Lessons (Pune TechWeekend #3)

Last Saturday, we had TechWeekend #3 in Pune, on the theme of Website Scalability and Performance.  Mukul Kumar, co-founder, and VP of Engineering at Pubmatic, talked about the hard lessons in scalability they learnt on their way to building a web service that serves billions of ad impressions per month.

Here are the slides used by Mukul. If you cannot see the slides, click here.
Web Scalability & Performance

The talk was live-tweeted by @punetechlive and @d7ylive. Here are a few highlights from the talk:

  • Keep it simple: If you cannot explain your application to your sales staff, you probably won’t be able to scale it!
  • Use JMeter to monitor performance, to a good job of scaling your site
  • Performance testing idea: Take 15/20 Amazon EC2 servers, run JMeter with 200threads on each for 10 hours. Bang on your website! (a few days later, @d7y pointed out that using openSTA instead of JMeter can give you upto 500 threads per server even on old machines.)
  • Scaling your application: have a loosely coupled, shared nothing, stateless, distributed architecture
  • Mysql scalability tip: Be careful before using new features, or new versions. Or don’t use them at all!
  • Website scalability: think global. Some servers in California, some servers in London, etc. Similarly, think global when designing your app. Having servers across the world will drive architecture decisions. When half your data-center is 3000 miles from the other half, interesting, non-trivial problems start cropping up. Also, think carefully about horizontal scaling (lots of cheap servers) vs vertical scaling (few big fat servers)
  • memcache tip: pre-populate memcache with most common objects
  • Scalability tip: Get a hardware load balancer (if you can afford one). Amazon AWS has some load-balancers, but they don’t perform so well
  • Remember the YouTube algo for scaling:

    there’s no alternative to this.
  • Scalability tip: You can’t be sure of your performance unless you test with real load, real env, real hardware, real software!
  • Scalability tip – keep the various replicated copies of data loosely consistent. Speeds up your updates. But, figure out which parts of your database must be consistent at all times, and which ones can have “eventual consisteny”
  • Hard lessons: keep spare servers at all times. Keep servers independent – on failure shouldn’t affect other servers
  • Hard lessons: Keep all commands in a script. You will have to run them at 2am. Then 3am. Then 7am.
  • Hard lessons: Have a well defined process for fault identification, communication and resolution (because figuring these things out at 2am, with a site that is down, is terrible.)
  • Hard lessons: Monitor your web service from 12 cities around the world!
  • Hard lesson, Be Paranoid – At any time: servers can go down, DDOS can happen, NICs can become slow or fail!

Note: a few readers of of the live-tweets asked questions from Nashik and Bombay, and got them answered by Mukul. +1 for twitter. You should also start following.

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Seminar on Google Wave: Intro, Gadgets, Robots – Pune GTUG Meet – Sept 12

Pune Google Technologies User Group GTUG logoWhat: Google Technology Users Group (Pune GTUG) presents a seminar on Google Wave – Introduction, Gadgets and Robots
When: Saturday, 12th Sept. 4pm to 6pm
Where: Synerzip. Dnyanvatsal Commercial Complex, Survey No. 23, Plot No. 189, Near Mirch Masala Restaurant , Opp Vandevi Temple, Karve Nagar (Map).
Registration and Fees: The event is free for all, no registration required.

Google Wave is a new model for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year.

What is a wave?

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.  A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

Seminar Topics

  • Introduction to Google Wave
  • Building Extensions to Google Wave
  • Building Gadgets – Walk through of building a Gadget
  • Building Robots – Walk through of building a Java based Robot
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5 things that Computer Science Engineering students should focus on

What should students be really focusing on? Somebody asked me this question recently – Imagine students who are in 2nd or 3rd year of their degree course right now. They’ll spend a few years finishing college, and a few years just learning the ropes at their first job. So it will really be about 5 years before their career really starts. What will the software technology world be like at that time, and what are the skills that students can work on acquiring right now to ensure that they are well positioned to thrive?

Of course, 5 years is a long time, and to quote Neils Bohr, prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Still I think some general trends are clear, and there are some other timeless skills that are worth looking at. Based on that I’m giving my list below.

Click on this icon to see all PuneTech articles related to tech education in Pune
Click on this icon to see all PuneTech articles related to tech education in Pune

But wait!

Let me not bias your thoughts. Before you read my list, skip to the comments section below, and put down your list. Then read my list and critique it again in the comments. Hopefully we can have a good discussion that will benefit students.

So, here’s my list of areas students need to be thinking about:

  • The next billion customers: The IT revolution has probably reached a billion people of the world so far. In the next 5 years, it will reach the next billion. These will be a very different set of people. Many of them will be illiterate – so you need to focus on non-text, non-English interfaces – video, animations, voice recognition. Search for “English Seekho” to get an idea of what I mean. Most won’t have money or electricity for computers, so mobile devices will rule – so you need to start playing with mobile platforms like Android. In general, search for the “the next billion” and you’ll find some interesting material put together by the likes of Nokia, and MIT giving you ideas on what to focus on.
  • Usability: As IT touches the lives of more and more people, less and less of them will be “computer savvy”, and less and less of them will view computing devices as something that needs to be learnt. Consequently, the products that will succeed, will be the ones that are easy to use. And making something easy to use is rather difficult. It is a sub-discipline of computer science, and there is a lot of theory, and a bunch of well-defined algorithms and practices you can use to make things easy to use. The whole area is called HCI (Human Computer Interaction), and UCD (User Centered Design) is a part of it. It’s an area that you must be familiar with
  • Computer Science Fundamentals: This will never go out of fashion, and yes, when I look at students coming out of our colleges, this appears to be a rather neglected area. Far too much emphasis on specific programming languages, and specific “technologies” is a mistake. Whatever the future holds, you will be well served by knowing the basic theory of computer sciences. Learn data-structures and algorithms. If you don’t have a favourite data-structure, and an algorithm that you find beautiful, then your computer science education is incomplete. If, after seeing an algorithm, your first thought is not about the complexity of the algorithm (O(n), O(log n), etc.), then you need to hit your books again. If you’ve only learned Java and C#, and you don’t really understand pointers, heaps, stacks, you will sooner or later be at a disadvantage. Understand the basics. And while you’re at it, also learn mathematics and statistics.
  • Presentation skills: This is not a computer science skill, but this is one of the most important skills that computer science students are missing. You must treat presentation as equally important, or more important than your program, design, and algorithms. And you must spend as much time learning presentation (from books, in classes, and in practice) as you spent on programming languages, and computer science subjects. I’m sure you haven’t done that, hence this item in my list. You should know how to write well. Not just papers and documents, but much more importantly, emails, and blog posts, and facebook wall postings, and tweets. You must think about what the user/reader/client wants to know (instead of what you know and want to tell). And of course, you must know how to speak well. How to tell a story instead of listing some arcane facts about your work. How to leave out stuff that you find extremely interesting, but the listener doesn’t.
  • Economics: Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert says: “When you have a working knowledge of economics, it’s like having a mild super power.” Basically, if you understand the fundamentals of economics, you can see and understand what drives people and technologies and success and failure a lot better than people who do not understand it. I hated the fact that I was made to study economics in IIT for my computer science course. It seemed like a complete waste of my time. Now, looking back, I think it was probably the most important course.

What do you think students should be focusing on?

(Note: I’m supposed to be participating in a panel discussion in MIT on Monday, 7th Sept, on this topic. Instead of going there and spewing my gyaan, I thought I would take this opportunity to have a larger discussion on this topic, and your comments will help me do a better job (or go there with a better list), so please leave comments. Thanks.)

(Update: Please note: Many comments on this article are by 12th std. students who want to know how to select an engineering college or branch. In response to all of those, I’ve written an article on how 12th std students should select an engineering college/branch. Please read that article, and ask your doubts there. I will be deleting any comments on this post that are related 12th std choices.)

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TechWeekend #3: Website Performance, Scalability and Availability: Sept 5

Scalability (Source: Domas Mituzas, Wikipedia)
Click on the image to see other PuneTech articles on Scalability (Image Source: Domas Mituzas, Wikipedia)
What: TechWeekend featuring “Website Scalability and Performance” by Mukul Kumar, VP Engineering at Pubmatic, and “Website Availability and Recovering from Failures and Disasters” by Sameer Anja, Associate Director at KPMG
When: Saturday, 5th Sept, 4pm
Where: Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research, Atur Centre, Model Colony. Map.
Registration and Fees: This event is free for all to attend. Please register here.

Website Scalability and Performance – Mukul Kumar

Mukul will talk about the various aspects of what it takes to run a very high traffic website – something that he has a lot of experience with at Pubmatic, the ad optimization service for web publishers, where they serve over a billion requests per month.

Mukul Kumar (mukul.kumar [at] pubmatic [dot] com) is a Co-Founder and VP of Engineering at Pubmatic, and Mukul is responsible for PubMatic’s engineering team and resides in Pune, India. Mukul was previously the Director of Engineering at PANTA Systems, a high performance computing startup. Previous to that he joined VERITAS India as the 13th employee and helped it grow to over 2,000 individuals as Director of Engineering for the NetBackup group, Veritas’ main product. He has filed for 14 patents in systems software, storage software, and application software and proudly proclaims his love of Π and can recite it to 60 digits. Mukul is a graduate of IIT Kharagpur with a degree in electrical engineering.

Website Availability and Recovery from Disasters – Sameer Anja

While everyone looks at security and focuses on confidentiality, privacy and integrity; an oft neglected parameter is of availability. While “neglected” may be seem like a strong term, the truth is that we overlook basic data on availability and do not even implement simple to-dos which would help in remediating the situation. The session is aimed at identifying such simple remedies, look at impacts, the assessment model and put forward various scenarios and possible solutions available. The session does not focus on specific products and instead endeavours to use existing technologies used for web site development and how they can be used for ensuring availability. Some principles of disaster recovery will also be covered.

Sameer is a Senior Manager in the IT Advisory practice and is working with KPMG since January 2007 and has 12+ years of work experience in the areas of Information Security, Product design and development, system and network administration. Worked on process and technology areas of Information Security. Worked on Governance and Compliance areas like SOX, Basel II, ISO 15048, SSE -CMM, Data Privacy apart from ISO 27001, Identity Management and Business Continuity design and testing. Experience working with startups and established setups. Speaker at various conferences/ seminars within India and abroad. Trained for six sigma green belt.