Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Erlang history summary by J. Armstrong

Joe Armstrong posts nice summary of Erlang history.

The transition was easy - they paid to do this. It became a real shipping project when they decided to use Erlang for the AXD301 - at that stage they put in the necessary $$$'s.

Now why did they choose Erlang for this project? - because all other alternatives had failed - ie it was not the strength of Erlang that was the deciding factor - rather the non-existence of alternatives.

Now how come the Erlang stuff was developed in the first place?

This was a happy accident - In the early 1980's a computer science lab was formed - most of the guys in the newly formed lab had zero experience with technology transfer, so we all thought that all we had to do was "invert stuff" and then "sell the idea to the management" nobody told us that this was like permanently banging your hand against a brick wall.

Inventing stuff is the easy bit ...

The selling stuff was tricky - we were very bad at this but very optimistic (still am :-) - we made all the classic mistakes - insulting people - getting into technical wars -

The turning point came when Erlang was banned - at the time we were very pissed off but like most carefull considered management decsions the net result was the exact opposite of what was planned - the consequences of the ban were difficult to forsee - but chaos was created - so things changed rapidly.

Thinking back the *important* things were:

  • enthusiasm and optimism (believe in what you do)
  • serendipity
  • chaos
  • smart people
  • finance

I think we systematically under-rate the significance of chance and chaos. Most significant change takes place in very short time periods of chaos. Erlang had many periods when nothing happened for years then rapid changes could take place in very short time periods, always when a crisis occurred (ie Erlang was banned, a big project failed etc).

Moral - forget about careful planning and move quickly when a crisis occurs - trust your gut feelings.


/Joe Armstrong

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