Saša Jurić Interview

A little while ago we asked Saša Jurić a few questions about his upcoming talk: Basic guarantees of Erlang virtual machine (BEAM) at Partial. Here is the interview in a raw, unedited form.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Saša, and I’ve been writing code for some 25 years (15 of which as a full time professional). My current professional focus is on developing backend systems using Elixir/Erlang. Previously I’ve used various other languages/technologies, such as C++, C#, Ruby, JavaScript. Although I’m now mostly doing FP with Elixir/Erlang, for the most of my programming life I’ve actually used OOP.

How did you get into programming?

My parents bought our first computer way back in 1991. I wanted a computer for a long time, but to my disappointment the one they bought was not a gaming computer, but a PC machine which was mostly useful for office type of work. A lucky coincidence was that a friend of mine also owned a PC, and he was already into programming. So he showed me some basics of BASIC and I started writing some simple programs. It was love at first sight, and I immediately knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Some 25 years later I still feel the same :-)

How did you get into functional programming?

Back in 2010, we needed to implement push notifications for an online betting system, and at that time Erlang was one of the few available technologies which made that job easy. So I really wasn’t looking for a functional language. I reached for Erlang because we needed concurrency and scalability, and learning FP was a necessary consequence. It took a while to adapt to that mindset, but now I’m definitely a fan of FP, and prefer it to OOP.

Why that tech?

For me, the best thing about Elixir is Erlang :-) It is a fantastic piece of technology, with a very strong focus on the challenges inherent to practically every backend system. Couple that with a 20+ years of constant development, and you get a very unique piece of technology. I’m not aware of anything else that has such long tradition and is built from the ground up with such concrete goals in mind.

That being said, Elixir definitely brings a lot of useful things to the table. By aiming to improve developer productivity Elixir simplifies our job of reaping all the great benefits of Erlang. And in my opinion it definitely succeeds in that goal! I’ve worked with plain Erlang for 7 years now, and with Elixir for about 4, and I definitely prefer Elixir/Erlang combination over plain Erlang.

Not everyone will agree with that, and that’s fine, but for me I think they complement each other perfectly. Erlang, in particular the BEAM virtual machine and the OTP framework, revolves around scalability, fault-tolerance, distributed systems, and ultimately high-availability. Elixir revolves around features in the language and tools around the language to simplify our day-to-day job. With such focus, I think that Elixir is not a “different Erlang”, but more an Erlang with the missing pieces.

So to summarize, as a mere user of Elixir and Erlang, I have a huge respect for both technologies because they have a very strong and particular focus, a sense of purpose if you will, which in my opinion is a quite rare trait these days.

Why that talk?

In this talk I’m trying to cut to the core of what makes Elixir/Erlang special, compared to other technologies out there.

There are some fundamental differences between Elixir/Erlang and most other technologies, including those which are occasionally mentioned as “Erlang alternatives”. These differences can have a large impact on your system in production, and on your whole development process. However, the problem is that you don’t usually see these differences at a casual glance.

I certainly wasn’t aware of that when I reached for Erlang, but I was lucky that at the time there were not so many mature competitors in that particular space. Today the story is different, and with more choices of mature languages and technologies, it’s not immediately clear when should Elixir/Erlang be chosen over X (or vice versa). I have the feeling, that people frequently pick their technology stack based on some superficial factors, such as language syntax or shallow synthetic benchmark comparisons, TIOBE index, or comments made on Hacker News.

With this talk, I’m trying to make the audience aware of these, not so obvious, but very important differences. After the talk they should have a much better grasp on what makes Elixir/Erlang special, and therefore should be able to make a more educated guess when choosing the technology for their future projects.

We’d like to thank Saša, for taking the time to do the interview. We hope you liked it as much as we did! Keep an eye on the blog as we’ll be posting more interviews in the following weeks. Also make sure to get your Partial ticket, so you can see Saša live. ❤️