This Week in Modern Software: Amazon’s Workplace, Google’s Lightning, and Ashley Madison’s Leaks
Explore the latest software happenings, including Ashley Madison leaks, Google's data loss, and more.
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Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly roundup of the most important things happening in the world of software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and related topics.
This week, the Interwebs were buzzing with debate over the New York Times’ epic take on Amazon’s “bruising” work culture, Jeff Bezos’ passionate response, and the fallout on both sides.
TWiMS Top Story
Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace—New York Times
What it’s about: The New York Times spent 6 months interviewing 100 people about just how hard the giant online retailer and cloud services company pushes its white-collar workers. The story cites punishing hours, ferocious infighting, callous disregard for personal issues, and relentless data-driven reviews and culling of low performers. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos quickly disputed the thrust of the story, telling his workers, “I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.” Across the Internet, meanwhile, observers argued over the veracity of the portrait, and some were horrified while others called it old news. Still others wanted to invest or apply for a job.
Why you should care: The issues raised here go far beyond Amazon, or what kind of work environment prevails at any single company. As the Times noted in one of several follow-up stories, brutal competitive pressures often overwhelm attempts to create kinder, gentler workplace policies. At the same time, data-driven workplaces are enabling companies to more closely monitor what their workers accomplish and exactly how they spend their time—a situation already affecting workers in Amazon’s warehouses and other non-office environments. Ultimately, the wide interest in the Amazon story serves as a wake-up call to think about—and address—the powerful impact of workplace culture.
- Work Policies May Be Kinder, But Brutal Competition Isn’t—New York Times
- Jeff Bezos and Amazon Employees Join Debate Over Its Culture—New York Times
- Data-Crunching Is Coming to Help Your Boss Manage Your Time—New York Times
- Cramer: Investors Will Love Amazon More Now—CNBC
- Silicon Valley Thinks Amazon Sounds Like a Great Place to Work—Re/code
- Silicon Valley’s ‘Pressure Cooker’: Thrive or Get Out —ComputerWorld
- The Data-Driven Workplace: Developers and IT Workers Embrace Data—New Relic blog
- An Amazonian’s Response to ‘Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace’—Nick Ciubotariu on LinkedIn
What it’s about: Adultery site Ashley Madison (tag line: “Life is short. Have an affair.”) was hit with a giant data breach as hackers posted “a 10-gigabyte file containing emails, member profiles, credit-card transactions, and other sensitive Ashley Madison information” as a BitTorrent download, according to Ars Technica. The hack is getting widespread attention because the data identifies millions of users of the site, including public figures and many users of corporate and government email addresses. Observers expect divorces to follow.
Why you should care: Stealing financial data isn’t the only motivation for hackers. The Ashley Madison breach seems to be more about public shaming than financial gain, though blackmail remains a possibility. Other attacks may be politically or ideologically motivated. The key lessons? First, all data—not just financial information—is important and needs to be carefully protected. Second, as many wags have pointed out, if you’re signing up for an online site you’d prefer not to be identified with, use a disposable “burner” email account. Finally, not all leaked information is necessarily what it claims to be. In the Ashley Madison case, it’s not clear that all the data dumped online reflects actual accounts on the site, but that may not save the people connected with that information from public and private embarrassment.
- Hackers Make Good on Threat to Reveal Stolen Ashley Madison Data—Fast Company
- Ashley Madison Hack: Your Questions Answered—The Guardian
Google Loses Data: Who Says Lightning Never Strikes Twice?—InformationWeek
What it’s about: After not just two but four lightning strikes hit the power grid supplying a Google data center in Ghislain, Belgium, late last week, “in a very few cases, recent writes were unrecoverable, leading to permanent data loss on the Persistent Disk.” According to an August 18 Google incident report, “less than 0.000001%” of the total available disk space in the data center was permanently lost. What that figure means isn’t clear, though, as InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock points out: “A more meaningful figure would have been simply the total amount of data lost in kilobytes, megabytes, or terabytes or the percentage of writes lost.”
Why you should care: The interesting angle on this story of lightning striking the same placemore than twice is how Google and other cloud providers prepare for situations like this. Any data center can be hit with a freak accident, but cloud data centers are typically far better protected and much more resilient than even the largest proprietary data centers. At cloud data centers, according to InformationWeek, “Data sets are routinely copied three times, so that a hardware failure will still leave two intact copies,” but the right set of black swan circumstances can lead to at least some data loss no matter what protections are taken.
Just don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater—public cloud data centers like Google’s remain much more secure and reliable than just about any private alternative. The big difference is that you probably wouldn’t hear about incidents like this when they happen at private data centers.
Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Identifies the Computing Innovations That Organizations Should Monitor—Gartner
What it’s about: Every year, Gartner releases a report on where various technologies fall on the firm’s progression of hype categories, beginning with Innovation Trigger to Peak of Inflated Expectations to Trough of Disillusionment and then on the Slope of Enlightenment and Plateau of Productivity. This year, Gartner adds technologies around so called “digital humanism—the notion that people are the central focus in the manifestation of digital businesses and digital workplaces.” The report puts autonomous vehicles at the very summit of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. Wearables and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, meanwhile, are among the technologies beginning the slide into the Trough of Disillusionment even as virtual reality and enterprise 3D printing are moving up the Slope of Enlightenment toward the Plateau of Productivity.
Why you should care: The point isn’t that the technologies Gartner puts in various places in the cycle don’t or won’t have real value—you can bet that just about every important technology will end up on every position in the cycle at one time or another. Instead, the Hype Cycle makes it easy to see how a technology’s promise can quickly get separated from the current reality. Paired with Gartner’s separate-but-related “maturity ratings” that indicate how far away a given technology may be from reaching its Plateau of Productivity, the Hype Cycle offers a snarky but helpful way to cut through the buzz surrounding much-talked-about technologies.
- Here Are the Five Most Over-Hyped Technologies of 2015, According to Gartner—VentureBeat
- How to Read Gartner’s New Hype Cycle Graph for Emerging Technologies—ITBusiness.ca
- Hype Circle 2015: Gartner Stares Groggily into Crystal Ball—The Register
How the Cloud Will Devour Open Source—InfoWorld
What it’s about: The rise of Software-as-a-Service is crowding out the open source software business model. Make no mistake—open source has arrived, often displacing proprietary software, and powering everything from data infrastructure to mobile to the cloud. And yet, no new large-scale, stand-alone open source software companies have emerged after Red Hat. The problem, argues author Matt Asay, is that the Software-as-a-Service business model appears to generate a lot more revenue than the “open source support model” exemplified by Red Hat.
Why you should care: As legacy on-premise software giants move to the cloud and SaaS, they are increasingly competing against the open source startups with which they once partnered. According to Asay, this approach “will make for better software service offerings for customers, but also create an exceptionally difficult market for stand-alone open source startups.”
The Strange Appeal of Watching Coders Code—Medium Backchannel
What it’s about: For reasons unfathomable, watching other people play video games has become a thing on sites like Twitch and its competitors. But now we’re moving to the next level with Livecoding.tv, a site started last winter to let programmers livestream their programming efforts (similarly, Twitch has a category for game developers). According to Medium author Scott Rosenberg, streaming coders include introverts “who sit in a dark room and mumble into their mikes” and extroverts who “stream from busy rooms, talk a blue streak, and drag other people, along with the occasional pet, into the frame.” It’s working, the site says, to the tune of 60,000 registered users and 400 streams a day (about 700 hours of video).
Why you should care: The founders of Livecoding.tv say the goal is to share programming tips and techniques, but Rosenberg says it could transform “the solitary, frustrating act of coding into something more convivial. They’re making programming less lonely.” And that, in turn, could help lead to better code by helping coders share the moment-to-moment experience of coding.
- Watching Live Streams of People Coding Is Now Officially a Thing—VentureBeat
- Now You Can Watch People Code, Live, 24/7—CNN Money
- Watch People Code in Real Time with Livecoding.tv—Mashable
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