I’ve worked in various sectors of tech since graduating college in 2014 with a Russian literature degree and an appetite for something entirely new post-graduation. After meeting with a handful of Portlanders in various sectors of business, I landed a PR and branding role at The Linux Foundation where I stayed for years. At the risk of using a platitude, joining the open source community was like “drinking from the firehose” for someone used to reading novels all day.
Since then, my career has taken other unexpected turns but always within technology. Because I am primarily a writer, I’ve often lacked the hands-on experience that would make new concepts like cloud-native, Node.js, and yes, serverless, come naturally. While my right-brain sometimes limits my ability to follow along in this particular realm without asking 10 million questions, I do believe an outsider’s perspective is an asset to a tech company’s communication strategy. Since I approach most technological concepts as an outsider, the content I produce is positioned for a more general audience. If you enjoy learning, technical writing from a non-technical background is really a dream job.
I applied to work at Stackery in Fall 2018 for that reason: Serverless is a fascinating new corner of computing and much of the landscape is still burgeoning. Working at Stackery would mean I’d be challenged every day and surrounded by pioneers in the field. I thought it would be a humbling opportunity and indeed it has been. Every day is a crash course in modern software development, tech history, and the variegated nature of startup life.
Throughout the interview process, everyone was kind enough to assure me that it was ok if I didn’t fully “get” serverless that day. They all told me that the space itself was relatively new and that, if I were hired, I’d have lots of resources to call upon. While I was grateful for the team’s reassurance, it didn’t quell my anxious desire to better understand serverless computing right that second. I had created an account with Stackery and played around in the demo, which really helped me frame things. But I still had fundamental questions. It was clear I had to lay some major groundwork to be a worthwhile candidate. I did, however, come up with a few serverless comparisons while I was researching the company. This made the concepts easier for me to digest before interviewing with the team.
“I wouldn’t risk throwing any of those out there,” my friend said the eve of my final interview. “What if you’re way off-base? You’d look like an idiot.”
Since trying to avoid looking like an idiot is the soulful principle that guides my life’s path, I was planning to take this advice to heart. But when I actually met my interviewers, I quickly understood that this was an experimentative culture that encouraged trying things before judging them. When I met with Stackery’s VP of Product and Engineering, Sam Goldstein, I actually felt empowered to test out a few of my serverless metaphors to see whether or not I was on the track to understanding. I was pleasantly surprised that he said they were (at the most general level) apt.
If you’re an expert, do not take this too seriously. What I am about to say will, best case scenario, make me look like a newb. Worst case scenario, it will make me look like a n00b. For anyone non-technical who might have found our blog without a drop of serverless understanding, you have permission to use my Cliff’s Notes below. I hope this will clarify serverless computing and get you started with this amazing technology!
At the risk of defining a theoretically new concept with another theoretically new concept...dropshipping!
Dropshipping uses platforms like Shopify to allow hopeful online sellers to only tackle the parts of eCommerce they want. In most cases, this means curating and designing the layout of their store. They pick from a vast library of products that appeal to them/gel with their brand vision and get to outsource the headache of managing inventory to a warehouse. People have been doing this in eCommerce for a while but new platforms make it accessible to more people or at least help them get it up and running faster. Serverless is similar in that engineers are able to focus on their application rather than infrastructure. Like dropshippers, serverless engineers don’t have to worry about their “inventory” (i.e. implementing and maintaining infrastructure.) Both are something of a jackpot for those who want to focus more on the art and science of their work instead of the logistics or administration.
This comparison is for those who don’t understand what precisely the “less” in serverless means. Imagine you are an average American in 2003: right around when WiFi was solidified as the home internet solution. You want faster internet in your home and to access it easily and without complications. You’ve known about wifi for a while and finally decide to hook your home up but can’t quite conceptualize how the wireless part works. Will you still need a router? Will you need to become a sysadmin to use it? We now know the answers to be a vehement yes and no, respectively. Yes, you still need a router, but it won’t take up space; you’ll basically never interact with it. It’s upstairs in a spare bedroom or hidden in your TV stand. Out of sight, but still enabling you to check your email and watch Ebaum’s World videos (it’s 2003, after all.) Serverless is the same. There is still a server, it’s simply elsewhere and not your problem as an engineer on a daily basis.
Stay with me here. Let me say upfront that serverless is obviously more interesting than car insurance but the latter is creating relevant shockwaves in the industry. Ever heard of pay-as-you-go car insurance? Essentially, the provider sends you a small device to implant in your car. This allows them to track how much you drive and you only pay for the miles you use. This differs from traditional insurance because a) it’s cheaper and b) it’s a more lightweight solution. What I mean by this is, it’s there when you need it and not your problem when you don’t. Serverless is similar. You never pay for idle time, however, the tools are reliable and available when in use. Both are also beneficial in inconsistent traffic scenarios (... you promised to humor me.)
What’s the point of publishing all of the above, besides indulgently breaking down how my brain works? Well, the undergraduate class of 2019 gets their diploma in just six months and I can guarantee you that serverless will have expanded even further by then. I believe it to be the future of software development and writers are, of course, needed in this space. It doesn’t serve people like me to hear terms like “serverless” and write it off as a buzzword that’s above our paygrade; to do so would mean missing out on a fascinating subject to write about. So, if you work in marketing at any kind of company, I encourage you to start a dialogue with your engineering team. Learn from them and ask questions, no matter the beat you decide to cover.
It’s time for all of us to get involved in new technology as it develops. Serverless is a great place to start.
If you manage a software team and are interested in Stackery, set up a call with our serverless engineers today.