Monday, April 19, 2010

Video on Web Application Development that Doesn’t Suck

Being a stereotypical SysAdmin, I tend to shy away from development topics. Partially because I attempted to program as a kid (HyperTalk, AppleScript, Pascal, C and the nail that sealed the coffin lid: C++) and found it to be an exercise similar to self mutilation except without garnering any sympathy from people.

Furthermore, being a SMB SysAdmin I tend to be ignorant to the unique challenges that SysAdmins who focus on web technologies have to face. Ironically, my latest contract is managing the technicals behind an upstart website that a friend is making… go figure. Looks like I’ll be having a nice, vertical learning curve soon.

Moving on, I found a video on YouTube that intrigued me. No, it wasn’t Hamster on a Piano, even though that amused me far more than I’m comfortable admitting.

It’s a well done video by a fellow named Sean Kelly (who has worked at places as diverse as NOAA and NASA Jet propulsion laboratory) titled “Better Web Application Development”. The video itself is a little old, circa late 2006 I believe. It starts with Sean’s frustrations with using C++ in the 90s to attempt to get various datasources unified in a single user interface at NOAA.

Moving forward into the 2000s (and a job at NASA), web protocols became the standard for the kind of application development he worked in. As a result, one of the sticking points that he felt in the 90s, that of slow UI development, started to become obsolete. However, not before some poor tools caused him to reach a breaking point.

The video is a 36 minute tour of Sean pitting various web app frameworks against eachother in a logical and fast-paced style. What happens when you pit J2EE (using servlets and hibernate), J2EE with JBoss, Ruby on Rails, Django, Zope and Turbo Gears? It’s a framework beatdown and while the front of the pack is a little crowded, the loser(s) are easy to spot.

The video is well done, with good audio and is fast paced. It’s obviously scripted so the speaking flows nicely and the whole video moves along well. Overall it’s great to listen to and the areas where computer work has been screencasted are sped up with a summary narrative given so there’s no excruciating waiting periods watching someone fumble at the CLI.


There were several good quotes and concepts from the video that I took away and applied to systems administration. Because, when you come down to it, we’re all in the same boat. We all have to create and support systems that are interacted with by people who just want to get their jobs done. Some of my favorite quotes from the video are these:

“Planning a UI is 1/4 of the battle. 3/4 of a UI comes from users playing with it”

The concept I took away from the above quote is that whatever a person has to interact with needs to be good. Furthermore, it needs to be good by their standards. If it’s good by your standards, that’s not enough. If the QA department’s interface is good by an accountant’s standards. That’s not good enough. If the sale’s teams interface is good by the art department’s standards… actually, that probably is good enough.

“It’s got to be fun. Why? C’mon! Fun don’t need a reason!”

Quoted for truth.

“Rapid turnaround is absolutely, unquestionably, irrevocably vital.”

Whatever we do, whatever is implemented, it must be modifiable and furthermore it must be easy and quick to modify. Things change, people and industries are different. Live with it and like it.

“You might recognize this as the n-tier architecture where n is always 3. I’m not sure why they don’t just call it the 3-tier architecture.”

Yeah, what’s up with that?

If you watch the video, let me know what you think about it. know of any better ones?

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