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15 technologies changing how developers work

Peter Wayner | Aug. 12, 2014
The very nature of programming is evolving faster than you might think, thanks to these powerful tools.

Developer tool No. 6: Browsers

There was once a time when people wrote software for desktops, software for servers, and software for devices, and it would all be different. Each had its own way of communicating with the user. Now everything goes through the browser. When I set up a local file server on my house to hold music, I go to a URL and work with a website. Widgets for Apple's desktop have been written in JavaScript and HTML for years. Many cross-platform mobile apps begin as HTML and JavaScript that's bundled with Apache Cordova.

Sure, there are holdouts. The best games are still custom work that doesn't need a browser, but that's changing, as more and more JavaScript developers figure out how to write the screen canvas object. Angry Birds, for instance, will run in a browser window.

Developer tool No. 7: Application containers

Building a server used to be hard work. The programmers would get their code running, then send a memo to the team of server curators who'd install the right software. Sometimes they got the right libraries and sometimes they didn't, but eventually we converged on something that worked.

Now application containers like Docker allow us to push a button and ship off a container with all the right libraries. If it runs on our test machine, it will almost certainly run on the server. Everything is bundled together, and most of the incompatibilities between our desktops and the server are gone.

Developer tool No. 8: Infrastructure as a service

Did I mention the teams of server curators? Those guys were fun to hang out with at lunch or after work, but now they've been abstracted away into the cloud layer, working as they do in a data center across the globe for another company that fancies itself a leader in the world of cloud this or cloud that. Few programmers need to ask the infrastructure team to build them a new server for a new project. They simply log into a website, push a button, and get a machine running for them. It's so much easier, but these IaaS administration Web pages won't buy you a drink after work. Of course, that saves you from ever having to get the next round.

Developer tool No. 9: Node.js and JavaScript

Before some of you were born, Web servers spit out static HTML. Then someone figured out how to create dynamic servers that could interact with databases. Every team needed one person to program the database in SQL, one person to write the server code in PHP or Java, and one person to design the HTML templates. Once everyone fell in love with AJAX and JavaScript running on the client, the sites needed yet another person to speak that language.


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