Dave Anderson is wearing a blue T-shirt and standing against a pale backdrop.
Dave Anderson. Image: Liberty IT

Serverless computing: An ‘exciting space for engineers to play in’

23 Mar 2020

Dave Anderson, director of technology at Liberty IT, explains serverless computing and highlights how it can help a company.

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Going serverless could be in store for a range of companies in the future as they seek out more efficient methods of computing and communication. To learn more about it, we spoke to Dave Anderson, director of technology at Liberty IT.

Anderson recently organised a conference in Belfast on the topic, and is a firm believer in the capacity of serverless technology to make cloud computing more cost effective with lower maintenance.

‘Serverless allows us to reuse a lot more and continue to innovate and be incredibly creative’

For someone who has never heard the term ‘serverless’, could you explain what it means?

Well, first of all, it’s a terrible name! Serverless does not mean there are no servers – there are always servers. The big difference is that you never see them, log on to them or access them.

Serverless is the next phase of cloud computing, but everything you use is managed by the public cloud vendor. For example, on Amazon Web Services, AWS Lambda is an approach where you can write a small block of code – say a 30-line function – and it is only executed when it is called by a customer.

You write the code and deploy it, and you are done. And you only pay when it is called. You also get 1m free requests per month. It’s easy to maintain as AWS will patch, upgrade and run it, and it’s pay-per-use.

I have analysed the running costs of serverless applications to reduce overheads from thousands to mere cents – it’s really quite incredible.

You recently organised the ServerlessDays Belfast conference. How did this come about?

At Liberty IT, we have been experimenting, learning and working in serverless since the first AWS service – Lambda – released in 2014. We have a serverless-first strategy that’s revolutionising how we write software – so much so that many of our engineers have spoken at previous ServerlessDays events all over the world.

It’s a community event that we follow closely and I was really passionate to bring the event to Ireland as soon as possible. With Dublin already claimed (and hopefully coming soon), we ran the event in Belfast. I asked a group of friends and colleagues – Gillian Armstrong of Liberty IT, Garth Gilmour of Instil and Peter Farrell of Kainos – to help and we got to work, leveraging the global assets and learning from past events.

Since ServerlessDays is truly a community event, we organised it in our own time. But we had great support from each of our companies and there is an international community, so we had lots of friends from the UK, Ireland, Europe and the US come to speak and attend, which was amazing.

Will serverless have a big impact on technology careers of the future?

We are seeing a massive impact already in Liberty IT. We believe you must become more human-centric when creating software – to do less boiler-plate programming and focus on adding value.

Serverless allows us to reuse a lot more and continue to innovate and be incredibly creative with the solutions we deliver. It’s an exciting space for engineers to play in.

Is serverless dependent on a specific technology, or is it a combination of technology and practices?

Great question. As technology evolves, we start to combine more things. The days of a single technology changing all the rules are becoming less. Serverless is a combination of cloud, event-driven architecture, API calls and design.

That’s the technology – the practices are really interesting and only just evolving. We are finding that practices such as impact mapping, event storming, Wardley mapping, chaos engineering and evolutionary architecture, which we have been toying with for years, are now adding real business value.

Will serverless require upskilling for software professionals?

I guess it depends on how you think of your skillset. I always thought of myself as an engineer, not a programmer. I worked in telecoms for 10 years before Liberty IT and had to build systems.

I believe a software professional should be an engineer – that means you need to create solutions, you are always learning, you have humility and empathy, you collaborate, you test, you code, you design. You basically take full responsibility from the first ask to running the software. If you always did that, then serverless is dead easy.

In your opinion, is serverless something that every company will introduce?

It may not. I believe it depends on the company strategy and goals. Successful tech has a very long lifespan – that’s cool and should be celebrated. There’s a lot of COBOL running today making a lot of money.

But if I was starting a new company, I would use serverless all day long. If you care about time to market, low maintenance, low running costs and using the latest cloud services, such as AI, data, visualisation, IoT and mobile, then serverless is a no-brainer.

More traditional companies might build a serverless app adjacent to their traditional core, for a value-add. That’s also a great place to start.

What are some resources you would recommend for someone interested in learning more about going serverless?

Of course, I’m going to say Serverless Days Belfast! We held our event in January, and we’ve had such great feedback that we are likely to run again next year.

In the meantime, check out the AWS user groups in Dublin and Belfast. I would also follow the AWS Serverless Heroes on Twitter. We are delighted to have two AWS Heroes in Liberty IT, Gillian Armstrong and Gillian McCann. There’s no stopping us!

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