Is Serverless the New Visual Basic?

With Serverless hiring less experienced developers can work out better than hiring experienced cloud developers. That's an interesting point I haven't heard before and it was made by Paul Johnston, CTO of movivo, in The ServerlessCast #6 - Event-Driven Design Thinking.

The thought process goes something like this...

An experienced cloud developer will probably think procedurally, in terms of transactional systems, frameworks, and big fat containers that do lots of work.

That's not how a Serverless developer needs to think. A Serverless developer needs to think in terms of small functions that do one thing linked together by events; and they need to grok asynchronous and distributed thinking.

So the idea is you don't need typical developer skills. Paul finds people with sysadmin skills have the right stuff. Someone with a sysadmin background is more likely than a framework developer to understand the distributed thinking that goes with building an entire system of events.

Paul also makes the point that once a system has built experienced developers will get bored because Serverless systems don't require the same amount of maintenance.

For example, they had good success hiring a person with two years of vo-tech on-the-job training because they didn't have the baggage of working with frameworks and servers and all of those kind of things. That baggage gets in the way.

So hire younger, hungrier developers who don't have that experience behind them.

Obviously "younger, hungrier" and "less experienced" also means cheaper, not that there's anything wrong with that. Developers are hard to find.

We've seen this kind of thing before. Using Visual Basic lots of systems were built that did real and important work for companies by relatively inexperienced people because VB made it so easy to write a Windows program. It was really difficult and time-consuming to write a Windows program, like it's really difficult and time-consuming to write a cloud program today. Like VB, Serverless radically reduces the expertise needed to write a cloud program.

Though they got the job done, most of those VB programs were technical debt bombs. Over time as more and more functionality was bolted on they became hard to understand, hard to change, hard to test, and were poorly designed. Your classic Big Ball of Mud.

A lot of the problem was VB made it easy to include business logic in event handlers, so there was no layering, the GUI was the orchestrator. This made VB programs hard to test. Serverless also has this problem. Inexperienced programmers also used a lot of global variables in VB programs so there wasn't a clean separation of concerns. Coupling was high and cohesion was low. Serverless also has this problem, though obviously there are no global variables in the code, the database effectively becomes a store for global variables that can be accessed from any Serverless function.

It will be interesting to see if Serverless can avoid VB's fate.

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