Startup Edition is a curated gathering of bloggers in the startup community, sharing their wisdom and response to a single question each week.
Nina Totenberg’s voice is one of the most familiar sounds in public radio. Her work is so well known that NPR even sells a “Nina Totin’ Bag,” which pays homage to the legal affairs correspondent and pokes fun at public broadcasting for its classic pledge-drive gift.
Totenberg began her career at NPR nearly forty years ago, and she was covering the justice system for The National Observer even before that. When she began reporting about the Supreme Court—long before any woman had been appointed a justice — she was the only woman working in her newsroom.
I caught up with Totenberg to discuss how things used to be and how much they’ve changed. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.
Take me back to when your career was just getting started in the early 1970s. What would I have seen if I walked into your newsroom at NPR or at The National Observer? What was different compared with today?
Everything. It was all male except for me. When I started, I was the only woman. On the news desk, there were no other women. I think they came to be relatively fond of me but it was trial by fire for a while. They ignored me. It’s really simple. They just ignored me. I was not one of the guys. They didn’t invite me to lunch. They just didn’t acknowledge me.
I’m sure that motivated you to outwork them but I think it would also hurt my feelings.
I think my feelings were hurt but I was sort of used to it by then. There were so few jobs for women in those days, you just had to be grateful you had one. Every place was male dominated. Congress was almost entirely male. The White House was almost entirely male, and so was the staff. So it’s not like there were exceptions.
How did sources treat you differently than your male colleagues?
The bad news was you weren’t one of the guys so you didn’t chum it up with them and go drinking. The good news was they assumed you were young and stupid. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. They would very often say the most incredible things to me because they weren’t concentrating on the fact that I was concentrating on them.
I probably scored a number of scoops that way. It’s just hilarious. One time I was doing a story about junkets on Capitol Hill. I think Northwest [Airlines] had inaugurated a new line to Japan and Korea. They had taken on their maiden voyage most of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which of course controlled regulation of the airline industry.
So I did a bunch of interviews with people who went, and then I asked the people who didn’t go why they didn’t. I remember [Montana Democrat] Mike Mansfield said something of great integrity. He just said, “Don’t do that kind of thing.” But there was a senator, [New Hampshire Republican] Norris Cotton, who said, “Oriental food gives me the trots.” And that was the subhead in the story! It was just too good.
At one point, President Nixon had been considering naming Senator [Robert] Byrd to the Supreme Court. I asked Byrd to come off the floor and talk to me — it was a lot easier to get people to come off the floor and talk to you in those days. He was very thrilled to be considered and he just told me everything, absolutely everything, completely everything. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he probably wouldn’t have been quite that candid for a male reporter.
When you look around today, how much better is it for women in journalism now?
I just don’t think there’s any comparison. I think for the most part women have completely cracked the egg and the glass ceiling. Ten years ago, women were reporters and editors but not executive editors and not network chieftains, so to speak. But that’s not true anymore. I think that, really, for all practical purposes, [female journalists] can’t complain. Women have no basis for complaint.
There are times — over childcare issues or whatever — where there can come a moment, but for the most part it’s just night and day. More women really are equals in the workplace. Well, in the news workplace. That’s not true in a lot of other areas of professional life. It’s certainly not true in the business world.
I’m curious what it’s been like for you to cover an era in which we’ve gone from having had zero female Supreme Court justices to now having had four.
I guess I somewhat agree with what all the members of the current Supreme Court and Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor say. Women don’t make different decisions per se. But I do think that one’s experience does make a difference. And therefore, if you’ve experienced being discriminated against or not taken seriously or shut out of a discussion — and all women have experienced that, including today — it does change your appreciation for a situation. If you had those experiences, then when those kinds of cases come to you, you have some understanding of it that a male justice might not.
You’re friendly with some of the justices. What’s something you’ve come to learn about them that would surprise people?
I think people who meet Justice [Antonin] Scalia are most surprised because he’s such a charming and engaging and fun person. He’s the kind of person you want to sit next to at dinner. They have this idea of him as a dour conservative. He is a conservative, but he’s not dour. He has an interesting mind and he’s interested in all kinds of subjects from music to art. And he is very funny. And what surprises people about Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg most is she is this tiny little person and she is such a force to be reckoned with.
Can you imagine a time when the Supreme Court of the United States would have more justices who are women than men? All women even?
I don’t think that it’ll be all women. I certainly hope not. I thought it was a bad idea when it was all men and I think it would be a bad idea for it to be all women. The Supreme Court of Canada has had a majority of women and I would expect in the future the majority in the United States would be women. But I don’t know when.
It’s astounding to think how much has already changed in your career.
It’s been quite an interesting life to have lived. From a time when I was first looking for a job and people would say to you, “We don’t hire women,” to a time when that’s definitely not the case in our profession.
It’s not that sex discrimination is gone from the workplace. It’s hardly gone. But it is probably more gone from journalism than it is from a lot of professions. One of the stories I like to tell is when — and this was the late ’70s or early ’80s—I was thinking of leaving NPR. And I had lunch with a guy I knew well and liked and respected. He was bureau chief at a major newspaper chain. And I would lay odds that he doesn’t remember this because he would be ashamed to remember this. So I said I was thinking of leaving NPR, and he said, “But you know we already have our woman.” My heart sank on one hand, and on the other I thought, “You’re smarter than that! How can you even think that way?”
Well thank you for putting up with all of that B.S. for us — for the women who became journalists after you.
It’s a very great thing to have it not be that way any more. I go to talk to high schoolers and I tell them these stories. They look at me like I have three heads. They have just not experienced it at all.
Every now and then some sort of debate erupts in the tech world about gender imbalance, lack of diversity, what causes it, and how much it matters. I’m so past that.
Listen, it matters to me. If it doesn’t matter to you, then I don’t have real confidence that I’m the person who should or could change your mind. But given that it matters to me, what really stresses me out is how hard it is to achieve.
Why it matters (to me)
I’ve worked in a handful of diverse environments  and a smattering of bro-tastic environments and I’ve enjoyed the diverse environments more. I’ve heard two theories about why diversity matters to the success of your company.
One theory is based on the positive impact that cognitive diversity has on decision making. My friend Coda describes this theory and why this matters at Yammer.
The second theory is that if your design process relies heavily on intuition, then having designers who represent the full range of the population will be helpful. The catchphrase for this line of thinking was presented to me as, “Hiring Women Will Make You Rich.”
I basically subscribe to both of these theories, which boil down to a better definition of meritocracy based on actual impact on the company (rather than merely to have name recognition at a conference).
One of the first responses to a failed attempt at diversity is, “I put up a job posting (or call for papers) and no women applied.” There’s an implied, “So I’m off the hook, right?”
The standard remedy is to change your pipeline. That can mean advertising in different places, asking for referrals, or reaching out to people directly. Surprisingly, sometimes this can even be solved as simply as announcing directly that you do in fact consider people who look different than yourselves (for example, see “Apply to OATV” and “Solving the Pipeline Problem”).
Despite knowing these things, trying these things, and even trying other more outlandish things, we’re paranoid about ending up with a homogeneous team. We’re doing as well as I’ve ever managed to see at a startup, but we also had periods where we completely failed on this front. Those failures drive us to constantly question our hiring practices so that we end up with the most impactful team possible.
We’re up for putting the work in and doing whatever it takes to build the strongest team. We currently are actively recruiting for a designer role.
So first of all, if you’re reading this, think Lift seems like an interesting place to work, but have been hesitant to apply, please contact us. We look closely at *everyone* (including people of all genders, races, creeds, sexualities, ages, and geographic locations).
Second, this is harder than it needs to be because a lot of non-young-white-men tend to get overlooked. Could we all take a minute and think about who the talented people are who might not be getting the attention they deserve?
Now that you’ve thought of a few could you email me their names (again, email@example.com)? Or, if you care about the industry more than you do about our tiny little startup, maybe you could post their names to these Quora threads: Who are the best iPhone app developers, Who are the best iPhone app designers, and Who are the best software engineers alive today?
Thirdly, if you care about this issue and you think I can support you in some way (for example you are looking for career advice, want job or investor introductions, etc), I’d love to have breakfast with you. I live in the Mission in SF and am almost always free for a 9am meeting/breakfast at Mission Pie.
 I wanted to give credit to the two diverse environments. The first, O’Reilly Media, which, despite naming itself after a dude, is basically run by women. I was super happy there. The second, was a summer inside the Kapor Capital offices, which has more PhDs than anywhere I’ve ever been and yet manages to exude humility and reject entitlement. Everywhere else: yo, don’t take it personally.
Well, that’s an unusual school assignment.
Colin Heilbut, who says he’s a student at the Draper University for Heroes, emailed TechCrunch earlier today to inform us that he’s selling Jimmyjane sex toys on Indiegogo as part of class. Apparently, today’s assignment in the entrepreneurial training program (organized by venture capitalist Tim Draper) involves sales — specifically, sales of Jimmyjane sex toys.
Heilbut said different teams are taking different approaches to the assignment. Some, for example, have been calling up escorts. His team, however, has taken a more familiar path in the tech world, posting a short campaign (less than 30 hours left as I write this) on Indiegogo, where they’re selling Jimmyjane products at a 30 percent discount. For example: You can buy “the Rabbit” for measly $110.
I asked Heilbut if he was surprised at all by the assignment, and he said, “I would’ve been more surprised at the beginning.” Apparently, the University for Heroes is full of “zany activities,” including a weeklong survival program in the wilderness — I’d tell you more, but students aren’t allowed to discuss it in detail with the outside world.
I’ve emailed Draper and the university for comment and will update this post if I hear back. Heilbut did put me on the phone with Michael Hom, who works in customer service at Jimmyjane (which was actually just acquired), and who confirmed that he’s speaking to Draper students to help train them in cold calling potential customers.
Apparently, Heilbut’s team isn’t doing quite as well as the competition, which is why he’s hoping TechCrunch can give him a boost. I’m not sure that I agree of his assessment of TC’s readership, but hey, I’m always ready to be pleasantly surprised.
Facebook just announced its buying WhatsApp, a global messaging platform with 450 million MAUs, for approximately $19 billion. It’s one of the biggest tech acquisitions since HP bought Compaq for $25 billion in 2001.
It means that WhatsApp, which raised a comparatively measly $8 million since its 2011 launch, is now worth nearly $20 billion.
Since $19 billion is a ridiculously large amount of money to wrap our heads around, we decided to compare that to other ridiculously valuable things, companies and people.
$19 billion is…
- 4x the market cap of BlackBerry
- Approximately one-third the market cap of Ford
- 2.8x the market cap of GroupOn
- Effectively equal to the market cap of The Gap
- Slightly more than Sony’s market cap (around 10 percent)
- Around 3/4 Delta’s market cap
- 7.5 Mark Cubans
- Almost precisely 1.3 of HP’s market cap
- 2 nuclear submarines
- 62 percent of Twitter’s market cap
- 76,000 trips to space on Virgin Galactic
- almost 60 percent of Sprint’s market cap
- 25 Instagram acquisitions
The above figures are calculated using the following metrics: The full, $19 billion dollar value of the deal, which takes into account RSUs to be given to employees following its closing; market capitalization of other companies sourced from Google Finance at close, not taking into account after-hours performance. In this way, we compare fair market rates for comparison companies, and the complete cost of the deal.
With resources limited and budgets tight, using every ounce of your employees’ talent is vital to your business’ success. While many entrepreneurs stress about running a lean ship, most are actually sitting on a treasure trove of untapped talent. In fact, if your team members are like the thousands of people we’ve surveyed in dozens of organizations, approximately 30 to 40 percent of talent is not being used. It’s not that employees aren’t working hard, it’s that their talent is not being optimized to its fullest potential.
So, what can you do to bring forth more talent from your team and not burn them out? Shift your approach from top-down to bubble up.
Here are three keys your team members can use to unlock their talent.
Power up your talent story. Talent is not simply your strengths or your skill set. It is your self-expression. The potential of that self-expression lives in the stories you tell — the stories you live by.
Victim stories sound something like, “I could be doing much more with my talent, BUT [we don't have a budget, my boss won’t let me or I don’t have time].” These kinds of statements are talent killers. Instead, lead the charge at your company and be the hero of your talent story. Heroes have hopes, capitalize on opportunities to overcome obstacles, surround themselves with supporters, fully use their resources and take bold actions.
While the leader can attempt to be the one and only hero in your organization, it is best to get everyone involved and have them power up their own hero stories. Invite them to go beyond their job descriptions and engage their passions. With clear questions and generous listening, a supervisor, manager or peer can be a talent catalyst to help a team member articulate his or her hero story around the themes of their hopes, opportunities and actions.
Accelerate through obstacles. You can’t afford to let obstacles stop you or even slow you down. Instead find inspiration by using obstacles as talent accelerators.
Talent needs obstacles to realize its full potential. Whether it’s a high velocity serve in tennis, the Sunday Times crossword or a scientific conundrum like “what’s the universe made from,” it is the big challenges that demand our full attention, intelligence and dedication.
There are plenty of everyday obstacles that we can use to bring out our best and instigate a leap forward.
For example, a high-tech company manager encountered a time obstacle to implementing her hero story when her boss denied her request for a few hours per week to pursue some innovative ideas. Instead of abandoning the initiative, she designed a template that she and some team volunteers could execute by dedicating only 15 minutes each day. It turned out to be a better solution that created faster results and broader buy-in with her team.
Multiply the payoffs for yourself and others. It’s not enough to express your talent. In order to have a lasting impact, you need to focus your daily actions and ideas on creating tangible career and organizational assets. This notion may be so natural for entrepreneurs that they don’t realize it is a blind spot for other members of the team.
For instance, an aspiring supervisor found herself blocked from supervisory roles, because she didn’t have the experience of giving performance feedback. She was about to give up hope, when she shifted her focus from what she could do about it to what she could create concretely with her talent and benefit the company. The result was a document of guidelines for first-time supervisors on how to give performance feedback. She showed concretely what she had learned from the best practices of others as well as her own experience in both mock situations and project settings. As a result, she landed a supervisory job and provided a valuable, tangible asset to the organization for other first-time supervisors to use.
When you engage your employees’ self-motivation and invite talent to bubble up in your organization, everyone benefits.
Engaging Images, but With Little Text, Now Get the Best Exposure on News Feeds
By David Serfaty. Published on February 19, 2014.
The days of brands expecting high user engagement on Facebook from posting a blurry event photo or a stock image in a wall post are quickly coming to an end. Facebook has made it clear to marketers, through numerous algorithm changes, that it wants — and its users expect — a compelling reason to engage with a brand’s ad.
This means that marketers need to jettison generic ad creative and text-heavy wall posts in favor of high-quality, engaging ad creative with smart imagery and limited text. Facebook will reward them for doing so with greater exposure in users’ News Feeds.
Here are three ways marketers can get smarter with their Facebook ad creative.
Embrace News Feed Algorithm Changes. Facebook noted in a recent blog post that it is decreasing the exposure it gives to brands’ text-based posts in favor of image-based posts. It urges marketers to use the link-share button rather than sharing an embedded link to display larger images in wall posts. So marketers need to put more research and focus into the images they use in Facebook ads because the ad size is so large on Facebook (especially in the News Feed). The relatively short lifespan of a Facebook ad means that brands must have a vast quantity of unique, constantly refreshed images at the ready to keep their ads and content near the top of users’ News Feeds. This is especially true for direct-response advertisers, who must rely on engaging, creative ads to entice a consumer into making a purchasing decision.
Here’s an example of the type of text-heavy, image-deficient wall post that Facebook wants marketers to move away from:
Here’s an example of the types of image-based wall posts that Facebook wants marketers to use and that will deliver better results for direct-response advertisers:
Learn Facebook’s Custom Audiences Service. Facebook recently expanded Custom Audiences to give marketers the ability to target specific users across any device. The service relies on splitting users into specific groups, based on how they have previously engaged with your brand. For instance, a travel website could use Custom Audiences to reach consumers who searched for flights on the website but never made a reservation with a targeted message in their Facebook News Feed: “Come back for 10 percent off your next flight reservation.” The ad creative and copy need to be specific to both the user group and its stage of the buying cycle.
Combine Custom Audience Targeting with Lookalike Audiences. Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences, a cousin of Custom Audiences, enables advertisers to target new users who are likely interested in the business because they are similar to customers on a list already cultivated. With Lookalike Audiences, marketers can get very close to ensuring that every piece of ad creative they produce with Facebook is targeted at a specific user group based on those users’ similarities to the advertisers’ existing customers.
As marketers we need a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to Facebook ad creative. A “create-an-ad-and-be-done-with-it” mentality isn’t going to work.
PayPal continues its push to be the payment platform app developers build upon.
PayPal is opening up its mobile software developer kit to the global community today, enabling app makers everywhere to more easily integrate the company’s payment solutions.
The PayPal mobile SDK will enable app developers to integrate PayPal in much the same way they already do on the Web. User accounts will be saved so they don’t have to log in every time they want to pay through and app and the interaction flow is simplified so users are not taken to a new page when they want to make a transaction. The new mobile SDK will allow developers to accept both credit card and PayPal accounts for payment.
The first company to integrate the PayPal mobile SDK was Uber last November. The trial must have gone well as PayPal is opening up the SDK today to more than 30 markets across the world.
PayPal has made a big move into making itself not just a plugin service for developers but a platform to build upon in the last year. PayPal acquired payments portal Braintree last year for $800 million and has shifted its developer relations and resources to the Braintree wing of the company. PayPal also acquired mobile backend-as-a-service company StackMob in December to fill out its developer platform and team. PayPal will be shuttering StackMob’s service later this year.
Top image: PayPal’s David Marcus and Braintree’s Bill Ready via David Marcus
(Note: It goes without saying that views expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my current employer TechCrunch.)
Another day, another take-down of tech journalism. This time it’s tech-blogger-turned-VC (and sometimes TechCrunch columnist) MG Siegler, who, in a post published on Medium, proposes a thesis that he rather conveniently calls the “75–20–5 Rule”.
“On any given day,” writes Siegler, “I’d say 75 percent of what you read in the tech press is somewhat accurate, 20 percent is complete bullshit, and 5 percent is actually true.”
His advice to readers — and the sub-heading of his post — is “Don’t believe everything you read. Or anything, really.” As someone who has worked in the media on and off for almost a decade, I don’t think that’s bad advice on a painstakingly obvious and generic level. Of course media consumers should be sceptical. But Siegler proceeds to conflate so many of the issues pertaining to tech journalism that I’m tempted to apply his 75–20–5 Rule and file this particular missive under all three: somewhat accurate, complete bullshit, and actually true.
Filed: Somewhat accurate.
First, let’s deal with Siegler’s slightly wonky methodology. He says that his newfangled thesis came about after some time off gave him a chance to “double-down” on tech news. “I set out to achieve ‘Pocket Zero’ and catch up on nearly everything I had saved to read later but never got to over the past year or so,” writes Siegler. A few dozen articles in and a pattern emerged that gave birth to his rule.
But let’s be clear, despite amounting to “a few hundred articles,” this wasn’t a random sample of tech journalism. This is the world according to Siegler’s ‘read later’ habits, and I’d wager he erred on the side of stories that were self-selectively more risky, speculative, headline-grabbing and, therefore, with the potential to be later proved somewhat accurate or even complete bullshit.
Or — surprise, surprise — actually true.
In other words, even if we accept the 75–20–5 Rule, the whole premise is based on Siegler’s personal tech news filter only.
Filed: Somewhat accurate.
Siegler says he knows that some of the news stories in his sample were inaccurate from “first-hand” knowledge. This points to one of the most challenging aspects of tech-news reporting. Journalists rarely have the kind of first-hand knowledge that a VC and insider like Siegler will be privy to. Take for example acquisition talks, an undisclosed investment or a startup imploding. That’s the kind of inside knowledge you’d expect a VC to have on one of their portfolio companies. VCs also share a lot of information with one another; they are both competitors and co-investors after all. And despite the smoke and mirrors, VCs share the same end game.
The trick, of course, is for journalists to get VCs and other insider sources to talk, but by definition, even when they do, it’s always going to be second-hand knowledge, off the record, and often with dubious motivations. That’s where a mixture of a source’s track record, corroboration and good-old-fashioned gut instinct comes into play. It’s far easier to know you’re right the second time you report news based on a particular source. The first time can feel a bit like rolling the dice.
Conversely, VCs are often some of the worst offenders when it comes to obfuscating information, an irony that is almost lost on Siegler as a tech blogger-turned-VC. That said, he hits the nail on the head when he writes:
And, quite often, there’s an inverse situation where a company/investor actually wants an inaccurate story circulated for various reasons (spur a bidding war, etc). It’s gamers being gamed by gamers. The only losers are the truth and us, the readers.
Except, the only losers aren’t readers. Tech reporters take a huge amount of care and pride in hopefully not being gamed. It’s more often sweat, blood and sometimes tears, literally. I know because on this occasion I do have direct knowledge of the process involved to publish a delicate story, and the angst felt when things don’t pan out. Reputation is a reporter’s only currency.
The other losers, though, are starry-eyed entrepreneurs who, when the truth is obscured, are inadvertently mis-sold a dream.
Filed: Somewhat accurate.
Aside from the inaccurate stories where Siegler claims direct knowledge, he says that “time simply exposed the inaccuracies.” He later acknowledges, however, the role of process journalism — “get something out there and let the truth reveal itself” — and the wider “speed versus accuracy” debate. His worry, despite admitting that he was very much in the “speed camp” when a full-time tech blogger, is that speed has won.
“My fear now is that we’re veering too far into the world of half-truths and straight-up bullshit,” he writes. “Everything reported on, no matter how inaccurate is often taken as gospel and spread further. Speed and exaggeration have won, accuracy and nuance are nearly dead.”
The truth is, speed won a long time ago in lots of ways; the medium is the message, but not necessarily at the expense of accuracy or nuance. Instead, nuance comes in the many, many follow-up posts that spring up after news has broken. That’s when a story is endlessly sliced and diced.
Accuracy, on the other hand, should never be compromised in favour of speed. In my experience, speed isn’t usually the main culprit when a story ends up being wrong. We invariably sit on news of a delicate nature for days if not weeks. If anything, we kick ourselves for not publishing more quickly, rather than publishing too soon.
Siegler also makes the argument that it’s “increasingly rare” that tech news sites are “held accountable for inaccuracies.” I share his viewpoint, though I disagree with his reasons why. “Those with knowledge of the actual truth rarely speak out because, what’s the point?” writes Siegler. “In our age of breakneck news cycles, a story will likely be forgotten about the next day unless you make a stink about it.”
It’s true that today’s news is tomorrow’s fish ‘n’ chip paper, as we say in the U.K. However, those with knowledge of the “actual truth” rarely speak out because it’s not usually in their perceived interests to do so and they’re too afraid of getting burned. And not because they think nobody is interested. That’s why journalists shout loudly about protecting sources. Everybody says they’d like the tech industry to be more open, but very few of the same insiders are willing to make the first move.
Don’t be lazy
Filed: complete bullshit.
Towards the end of the post, Siegler rather lazily implies that tech journalists are lazy. Time-pressured, yes. But lazy is the exception. (Seriously, most tech reporters work crazy hours.) It also completely ignores the economics of online news, which he would understand more than most.
I’ll propose a different thesis: The tech news sites with the highest proportion of straight-up press release rewrites and the least original reporting are the ones with the fewest resources — i.e. fewer or inexperienced writers and editors — or a business model that incentivises quantity over quality. In fact, I suspect that the best so-called “churnalists” in the business are also some of the hardest-working.
Filed: Actually true.
Finally, Siegler quite rightly says that the “best way to get to the truth is often to triangulate.” That’s journalism 101. “The likelihood that you’re going to get all the information you need from one source is infinitesimal,” he writes. “Get bits at a time. Play that information off each other. Get creative.”
Of course, it’s a lot harder to triangulate when there’s a whole army of people trying to jam your signal.
In signing off, however, Siegler issues the following salient advice:
Don’t write something because you can. Write something because you should. Or don’t write anything at all.
That’s something that we would all do well to remember.
It’s Summer So Tech News Bitchmeme
— “One downside of being in a visible leadership position is that you often have a bulls-eye on your back.” These words were written exactly five years ago, to this very date even, in response to the incessant critiques of the day about TechCrunch and its symbiotic aggregator Tech…
Aaron Contorer created FP Complete, a commercial Haskell IDE and deployment platform.
Software drives the innovation economy, from big data and software-defined networks to mobile applications and social media.
Yet literally billions of dollars are wasted due to excess project failures, bug fixes, and maintenance nightmares. Surveys and studies have consistently shown that 50 to 75 percent of software projects are consumed by bug fixes and maintenance. One underlying root cause of this significant problem is the use of traditional imperative languages (Java, C family, Python, Ruby etc.), whose manual, low-level approach is very error-prone and generates spaghetti code that eats up the backend costs.
High level but hands-on
Our upcoming DevBeat conference, Nov. 12-13 in San Francisco, will have a lot more on this topic. Featuring hacker legends like Stallman, DHH, Rasmus Lerdorf, and Alex Payne, it’s a hands-on developer event packed with:
- teck talks
- live Ask-Me-Anything
- hardware hacking
It’s all aimed at boosting your code skills, security knowledge, hardware hacking, and career development. Register now.
This problem is relatively unknown and perpetuated because the vast majority of programmers, reporters, and managers do not know of a viable alternative and just accept that this is the way things always are. They try to improve around the edges with better tools, Agile Development, better requirement definitions etc. These aren’t root solutions; they are workarounds.
The Haskell alternative
The solution is Haskell, the purest functional language that has been in development for over 20 years. Haskell’s approach is fundamentally different from the imperative languages dominant today. Haskell programs are a series of high-level generalizable functions that define what the program is intended to do. A strong type safety and inference system produces code with little side effects. The programmer focuses on the objective, the best design and correct logic to meet a specific desired outcome. The compiler produces clean, concise and correct code from the outset. Haskell produces many technical benefits:
- Cuts code size by 50 to 80 percent
- Dramatically cuts errors
- Significantly reduces time for finding and fixing errors at compile time, not run-time
- Easy code maintenance and rework without introducing new errors (no more spaghetti code)
- Much more secure, many fewer holes to exploit
- Built-in concurrency and parallel processing boosts performance
These features generate the following game-changing strategic benefits:
- Accelerates time to market by 30 to 50 percent
- Lowers cost by 25 percent or more
- Increases programmer productivity by 30 percent or more
- Improves product quality
While Haskell is a general-purpose language that can be applied everywhere, it is only beginning to be used commercially. Two commercial applications Haskell is ideal for stand out:
- Enhancing existing software environments such as Ruby and Python.
- Proprietary business logic and data analysis.
Enhancing existing software environments such as Ruby and Python
Ruby and Python are popular because they enable quick prototyping, especially in web apps. But they sow the seeds for major future problems in performance, reliability, scalability, and dependency making maintenance a nightmare. The problems are well-known and there is ample evidence that Haskell can solve them:
- After experiencing high failure rates with Ruby, Janrain began using Haskell and was able to cut 75 percent of the time they spent on bug fixes. They switched their backend from Ruby to an entirely Haskell-based platform. Phillip Weaver, senior engineer: “We didn’t have to worry about breaking our Haskell code. We try not to touch Ruby very much, out of fear of crashing the API.”
- For Bump, Haskell easily enabled them to grow their application from one based on 6 to 8 cores to more than 250 cores over 70 to 100 machines. Bump started out on Python, but switched to Haskell after experiencing high errors and spaghetti code running amok. Jamie Turner, lead developer: “The Haskell compiler provides multiyear life of the code other solutions like Python couldn’t offer, while scaling up to support millions of users.”
Proprietary business logic and data analysis
This domain fits Haskell’s algebraic and logical foundations perfectly. You’ll see it being increasingly adopted in enterprises, especially in data-intensive industries and domains such as financial services, Big Data apps, Big Pharma and biotech, oil and gas, and consumer data. Barclays’ “Functional Payout Framework” is written in Haskell. One large bank rewrote a large Java application in Haskell and reduced the code from 5 million to 1 million lines.
It’s all about speed — get to market in half the time
Another noteworthy Haskell benefit is performance. Silk credits Haskell for getting them to market in less than half the time it would have taken otherwise. Haskell allowed them to concentrate more on innovation and actual programming, and much less on repetitive testing and debugging. If an early-stage startup has a $100,000 per month burn rate, this acceleration could be the difference between life and death.
The New York Times recently ran a blog post on how they used Haskell to present fashion week, which is a very processing-intensive app given the massive amounts of images and analysis involved. Erik Hinton the developer wrote, “We chose Haskell because we anticipated doing a large amount of fine-tuning to get the analysis to work well.” Compared to the Ruby prototype, the Haskell code ran considerably faster, in part because “the mathematical assurances made by Haskell’s type system meant they could automatically parallelize the operation over multiple CPU-cores without changing a single line of code.” Bottom line: Haskell enabled this intense data analysis app to crank through hundreds of full-resolution photos a minute, doing a considerable amount of statistical analysis on each.
Haskell is changing how we think about software development
Haskell is the new way to make software that changes the economics of software development. Very recently Dr. Dobb’s editor-in-chief Andrew Binstock tweeted “I’ve noticed several times when someone says, ‘X really changed the way I think about programming,’ frequently X=Haskell.” He’s not alone. Karthikeyan Mani, Cofounder of Byteally in India told us “This is the natural way to program. It’s the first time I am at peace when I code. With Ruby, it’s always headaches and nervous times. We are moving away from all traditional programming.”