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Our involvement in the IT and Digital sector givs us an insight into emerging trends and requirements from Sheffield businesses that we are keep to share. In the first of our new 'Creative, Digital and IT Talks' we do just that - our blog pieces are aimed at profiling some of the people and organisations behind Sheffield's growing tech scene.
In the first of the series, Benchmark talk to John Stovin of Epitomy Solutions about the best development teams, the original Commodore PET, and Microsoft's biggest gamble...
Benchmark: Hi John, why don't you start by giving us a short bio?
John: I've been a professional software developer for around 25 years now, but i've been a hobbyist for around 25 years now, but I've been a hobbyist for around 40 years. I have a BSc in Computer Engineering and an MSc by research in Computer Science, both from Manchester University. I started learning BASIC on the original Commodore PET, and moved on to C and C++ on DOS and Windows, the C# and .NET, and now I'm moving into Functional Programming in F#.
Benchmark: Fantastic, I think many developer's stories started with either the Commodore or the ubiquitous Raspberry PI! With technology obviously changing, what motivates you as a developer?
John: Tech moves fast you can't survive in this business without continuous learning. I divide my learning into two parts: some stuff I learn just so I can do my job today, but I find the things that are really interesting are those I learn with the intention of pursuing them in a future role.
I also find that the best way to validate my learning is to teach it to other people - the best test of the depth of your understanding is how well you can explain it to other people. This is partly why I teach part time at the University of Sheffield and give talks at local user groups.
Benchmark: It's great that you're able to give something back and invest in the next generation of coding enthusiasts. So when you're advising younger developers, do you think it's more important for developers to specialise in a particular technology or concentrate on devising creative solutions to problems across different platforms?
John: I don't think this an either or question. Tech moves so fast that it's impossible to be an expert in everything, but most developers have some area of expertise that they pursue more vigorously. In my experience, the best development teams play to the strengths of the individual members, allowing each person to contribute and to grow and develop their individual expertise. On the other hand, you have to keep abreast of general trends and new developments in the industry, or you stagnate and miss opportunities.
For small software companies in particular, it can be hard to maintain existing products and update your technology base at the same time, but those that don't inevitably limit their long-term viability
Benchmark: So clearly it's important to have an eye on the future to survive and thrive - what do you seen as the emerging trends within tech / development?
John: The big trend currently is the move to the cloud. Software as a service is causing huge upheaval in this business. Microsoft are betting the company on Azure, and are expecting a significant fall in revenue from Windows. In the short term, they are re-engineering .NET to run cross-platform, and expect to run the majority of Azure instances on Linux. In the longer term, widespread adoption of containerisation, as exemplified by Docker, will make the choice of underlying operation system largely irrelevant.
Benchmark: And anything on your own personal wish list?
John: Well I'm also hoping to see a rise in the adoption of functional languages across the industry. This will take longer to happen, and is less inevitable. The sort of software we need becomes complex over time, and history shows that we deal with that complexity by adding more levels of abstraction. Historically we have put that abstraction into software libraries, but functional languages allow us to abstract award from traditional loops and branches and develop a more mathematically based approach to software development.
Benchmark: Plenty to get excited about then John, we'll watch this space and revisit it with you soon to hear on new developments. Thank for taking the time to talk to us, hopefully we'll see some of your predictions become reality, with Sheffield being at the front of the charge into new developments in tech.
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