Python should be the first language you learn!

For the better part of the past 15 years, I’ve been a PHP developer. Really, I’ve developed everything in PHP, ranging from server side services, web services, backends – you name it, I’ve probably done it with PHP. Don’t get me wrong, I love PHP and it will always remain my language of choice for doing things really fast.

However, for the past year I’ve been increasingly developing with Python. I’ve always dabbled with Python, but never really had the chance to truly get down and dirty with it. Due to a couple of projects during the past year, specifically ones that involve Google AppEngine, I’ve had to sharpen my Python skills and get to a point where I can develop with the same agility that I have with PHP. Honestly, it wasn’t simple – sometimes I truly wanted to strangle someone with various errors a framework can spit at you. However, once you get around to reading the various cryptic messages Python may spit at you, getting around it and working with it is truly a delight.

So, why do I think Python should be the first language one learns? so here are my thoughts:

I started my coding days with BASIC, to be more accurate GW-BASIC (yes, I am that old). From that I moved to Pascal (Turbo Pascal to be more accurate), then C, then C++, C++ Builder, Visual C++ (yes, I did MFC at some point in my life as well). I then decided that my life is in the open source world – and thus, the track then went to PERL, JAVA and of course PHP. Honestly, somewhere around 2005, the mixture of C, JAVA and PHP truly gave me all the power I needed to do my job – so, I didn’t really find the time to learn a new language.

Then, about a year ago, I decided it’s high time to learn something new – specifically, I became increasingly interested in the Google AppEngine platform. Yes, I’ve been using Google Compute and other cloud platfroms for a few years now, I’ve used most of Amazon’s services, ranging from EC2 up to RedShift and their hosted Hadoop clusters. But when Google AppEngine came out, it only had Python, Java and GO to work with. Java is the least favorite language in my tool box – honestly, I hate it. I’ve never coded in GO, and didn’t really feel like starting out with it. And Python, well, I dabbled with it – but can’t say I’ve done something too serious with it. In 2014, Google added PHP support to Google AppEngine. Damn, that sounds cool – let’s play around with that. So, I built a few applications atop of AppEngine and the PHP SDK. I rapidly realized that while the PHP SDK gives you some power, Python is the more natural choice for AppEngine. So, I more or less sat my ass down for 3 days and decided to teach myself proper Python.

Took me about 3-4 days to get around the quirks of AppEngine and how to get it up and running using PyCharm (if you use Python, by far the best IDE I’ve seen). Then building up my first application, then migrating an existing application (a fairly big one), from PHP to Python on AppEngine. I then rapidly moved along to using easy_install, pip and the other Python tools that make life so easy for developers – honestly, right now, I can’t figure out why use anything else other than Python for shell environment tools. But, regardless of that, I honestly think Python is the first language you should teach students, not C/C++, not JAVA, not Ruby and surely not PHP (and I’m a huge PHP advocate).

Why do I say this? here are my main reasons:

  1. Python is objected oriented from the ground up, which means, that teaching object oriented programming using Python is easy and straight forward for new comers.
  2. Python is strong typed, which means that syntactical issues are dealt harshly – promoting proper usage of syntax, indentation, capitalization, variable handling – all the nice things that make good code – readable code.
  3. Python’s physical typing construct, where blocks of code must be tabulated in specific manner in order to make the code work in specific manner – is GENIUS. I’m very much a “Source Code Nazi” (Imagine that coming from a Jew, right?). For me, indentation, proper loop blocks, proper case blocks, making sure things are wrapped really tight without too many white spaces – this is what makes code look nice.
  4. Python is interpreted, not compiled – but yet, it is strong enough to hold the most complex multi-threaded of tasks.

In other words, if you take the above and teach to a new developer, someone who writes code for the first time in his life – your result will be a developer, that may not dish the best code at first (after all, a beginner), but it will be readable, manageable and maintainable. Python automatically promotes these by its structure, by its rigidness and by its agility at the same time.

As part of my academic studies, I’ve studied education and how to teach computer science to high school students. I’ve learned that you should start with Pascal or C, then move to Object Oriented, then move to more advanced stuff. I have one thing to say: BULLSHIT! Honestly, the first thing you need to teach is Python, after Python, the rest are just syntax. Nothing more, nothing less – pure, simple, straight forward syntax.

Would love to hear your opinion on this one…

Source code and individuality

Developers! We are the modern day artists, the masters of the keyboard and the sculptors of algorithms and ideas. We turn obscure thought and imagination into real life creations, capable of doing things previously not done (well, at least not in the same form). As such, we are individuals and unique – each one of us in our own way. Whether we develop a mobile app or a web application, our unique style, way of thought, organization and coding style will be reflected into our creation – we can’t help it, this is who we are.

About 2 years ago I’ve done a project for a start-up company in Israel, where I developed a full blown switching environment for them. I worked on that project for around 9 months and how shall I put it, my name was all over the place. Normally, when I take a piece of code from the OpenSource/PublicDomain, I will document where it came from within the code – then I will add a simple remark next to my modifications.

So, the other day I met one of the new developers working on the project – who didn’t know I was the original developer. And he told me about some issue that he was having with his project – so, in a very natural way, I pointed out to him that the original code wasn’t meant to work like that, specifically, he should into a specific function to resolve the issue and add some additional code to make it work as he wanted. The guy was shocked – “What the hell? are you psychic or something? how can you know that?” – I replied – “Well, I wrote the damn code, I should know”, which followed by me showing him the original source code on my computer. The guy said: “Yes, that is the source code, but all the remarks of the original source code are gone”. Seems that following my departure from the project, someone went into great length in order to remove the various comments I’ve put into the code, to make its origins as unclear as possible.

So, on one hand, I truly understood it – after all, the guy running the show doesn’t want the new people to call up the previous developers and exposing new stuff to them – even if by mistake. On the other hand – Dude, are you really that lame? are you really the afraid that your team will know who wrote the original code?. Source code is a living organism, it is an unique as the person who wrote it and will evolve and change as more people write more code. The Asterisk project still contains remarks that Mark Spencer put back in 2002 – and they are no longer relevant to the existing code, but only to an obscure part of the original code – but it’s still there.

So, to sum up, I never remove remarks that other people wrote from my code – it’s rude, it’s bad practice and worst of all – it’s ugly and disrespectful. Developer will join and leave a project, show your minimal level of respect by respecting their code and their remarks, leave them where they are – removing them is just like performing an act of murder.

Can you say – antitrust?

Version control! one of the most controversial subjects in the software industry. Whether you’re a Subversion fanatic, a Git hard core or a mercurial elitist – everybody has something to say about version control. While in the past we had put our trust in local CVS and SVN repositories, today, most of use utilize cloud based services such as Github, BitBucket or Gitlab.

After spending much time this week setting up our new gitlab repositories – mainly for finished projects that are no longer in active development, and can be removed from our quota at Github, I cam to realize that all these companies are somewhat at a position to be considered as “anti-trusted”. Imagine a hypothetical situation where github starts examining the code we submit to it, not only the public one, but also the private one. Imagine what kind of intellectual property assets they have access to.

In 2001, Tim Robbins portrayed a software giant CEO that is so driven by ambition and greed, that he is actually willing to have developers killed for their code. Where in 2001 developers were very much working in closed quarters and sharing their work via privatized means, today, almost all of us use the clouds in some form. Can they be trusted? What happens if one of them gets bought out by a software giant?

Let us imagine the follow scenario:

The GitGiantCloud (GGC) service has been recently acquired by MegaGreedySoftwareCorp (MGSC). MGSC announces that it will continue to run GGC as always, however, in the background they start analyzing the code within the privatized repositories – completely violating their EULA. Would anyone know about it? the answer is NO. Is it considered a breach? well, they can always excuse it as: “we identified a potential breach, we had to take these measures to investigate it”. In other words, even if they are reading your code – you’ll never know if it’s true or not.

Mobile VoIP OTT is Dead! – Long Live Mobile VoIP OTT!

What do the following have in common: Skype, Viber, Whatsapp, Line2, Tango and Kakao? Yes, there are all OTT apps for your mobile phone that enable you to communicate with your peers. Skype, Viber, Line2, Tango and Kakao actually enable you to call one another. Each one dominates a section of the world, where Kakao and Line2 are dominant in the far east, Viber dominates Japan and Eastern Europe and Skype kind’a says: “Look at me bit**es, I’m all of you combined”.

What do the following have in common: VoipDiscount, Nymgo, WiCall, VoIPstunt, Vox Mobile, Cloud Roam, Skuku? All of these are VoIP Mobile OTT apps, similar to the above and yet – no one truly heard about these or is using them. Each one of the above is more or less a replica of the previous one, maybe with one or more added features – but all in general are the same pitch and bit**, make cheap calls over VoIP via our service.

So, what does it all mean? it means one simple thing, no one truly cracked the formula to make money on the Mobile VoIP OTT business – everybody is still looking for the killer business model/VoIP OTT Application. What is the right way? providing low cost calls? providing business oriented services? providing simple roaming solutions? maybe bundling roaming data plans and SIM cards? or maybe, all of these are sooooooo passe that the world just says: “Stop fu**ing about and create some truly new, change how think and how we work completely. Paying 1 or 2 dollars more per month, I’m not gonna change my service for that – it’s pointless.”

So, what are the true killer apps that will truly say: “this is a game changer, from this point onward, VoIP OTT will no longer be the same!” – Here is a list that I believe will make the difference:

1. Make calls completely social – Phone numbers are so 18th century, they are pointless

2. Make your phone aware – Presence and availability is key

3. Drop the stupid things – call recording, visual voicemail, funny sounds, funky tones – stop the bullshit, give me proper services than stupid features

4. Make your service reliable – stop behaving like a website operator and thing like Ebay, every minute your service is down or affected by bad service you are loosing money

5. Make work, then make pretty – application design is important, product design is important, but not more than the product itself

6. Invest in support and monitoring – relying on your suppliers to do it for you is stupid and childish

7. Only blame yourself! – when something fu**s up, it means that you did your job wrong and you cut corners. Don’t start blaming your colleagues or your contractors, they are only doing what you asked them to do

And most importantly, remember the following statement: “I’ve seen the furthest, because I sat on the shoulders of giants.” – don’t tell the world how you’re going to obliterate Whatsapp and Skype, look at them, strive to be them, and then do it better.

I wish all of you good luck.

Building your Asterisk based Business – Part I

** Cross posted from: http://www.greenfieldtech.net/blog/2014/03/building-your-asterisk-based-business-part-i **

Since the inception of GreenfieldTech, back in 2007, we’ve assisted over 20 different VoIP companies to bootstrap their activities and launch their products. During that period, some of these companies had become a great success and some had disappeared from the face of the planet. This series of posts will bring the story of some of them – and we’ll try to analyse what made each company into a success or a failure.

Making the case for Asterisk based business

Let’s be honest and truthful with ourselves, we’re all capitalists. Yes, we are first Open Source evangelists and promoters, but at the end of the day, we do need to pay our bills and make ends meet. Thus, we monetize open source (in our case Asterisk) to the best of our abilities – there is no shame in that, and honestly, we take high pride in our ability to assist companies in monetizing open source tools and project in a productive and lucrative manner.

When people talk about Asterisk based businesses, normally they will consider one of the following tracks:

1. Asterisk PBX Integrator – Integrating Asterisk based PBX systems for companies of various sizes. Normally, this will include infrastructure installation, cabling, server support, hardware sales, etc.
2. Hosted PBX Service Provider – Providing VoIP PBX services, without any in-door server equipment, relying on the Internet or leased lines only. Normally this will include similar activities as the Asterisk PBX integrator.
3. Hosted IVR Service Provider – Providing Hosted Interactive Voice Response services to content providers and enterprises that can’t sustain their own IVR infrastructure.
4. Hosted Premium Services Provider – Identical to “Hosted IVR” with a focus on premium services content and adult content.
5. Telecom Carrier – Whether you are a mobile carrier or a landline CLEC, Asterisk applications can benefit a carrier of any size.
6. Value added services provider – Providing complimentary services to Asterisk and its derivatives.

The above is a very short list, as each item on that list can be expanded to 6 more sub-categories – however, these represent the major business types (not including consultants and developers, who fall under category number 1). There are similarities between these and significant differences as well. What may be true for one, maybe completely wrong for another – it all depends on your business goals and product development life cycle and life span. We will limit ourselves to discuss options 2 through 6.

Case I: Long Distance Calling Cards Operator in the US

June 2007, a representative of a calling cards operator in the US approached. The operator was back then using a hosted service from a company called Solegy (long gone) and was fairly unhappy with the service. Their main complaints were: lack of support responsiveness, lack of feature set, inability to expand existing feature set – and most importantly, inability to sustain a proper business model (unlimited calls), due to high termination and hosting prices.

At that time, the calling card operator had put the following restrictions as to creating the service:

1. Bootstrap pricing should not exceed the $10,000 USD.
2. All existing customers should be migrated to the new system.
3. All existing access numbers should be migrated to the new system.
4. New system should be based upon ready-made software – not customized development.
5. New system should enable additional service development and scalability.
6. New system should allow hosting on hosted servers, without any need for proprietary hardware.

The solution that was chosen (after all, it was 2007) was a mixture of OpenSER, coupled with Asterisk 1.4 and A2Billing. Calls will hit the OpenSER SIP proxy, which will then load balance to the various Asterisk servers. The solution met the various constraints listed above – and later on included a monthly support/maintenance cost that was sustainable for the business. The company continued on to provide direct DID numbers, VoIP termination services, Roaming SIM cards solutions, Hospitality Mobile phones and additional services. In 2010, the company had sold its operations to another company – which was a disaster. During the recent changes in the roaming market in the US and other regulations, the company had seized its operations and is no longer operating.

Was this company a success story? – Complicated Answer

Between the years 2007 and 2010, the company had grown from 1000 customers to a whopping 15,000 customers, paying a monthly service fee ranging from $15 USD to $59 USD. Roughly calculated, that’s an average of $550K USD per month turn-over. In deed, termination costs and operational costs rose up to around $450K USD a month, but considering the fact that the company had only 4 employees and two additional outsourced support resources, a monthly Net revenue of $100K USD is not bad – we can surely mark this as a success. The company realized that in order to sustain its business, they would require proper customer care and support services and they made sure these resources were clearly managed and sourced.

Following the company’s purchase in 2010, the new owner had decided that customer care and support structure aren’t really required, as the sales staff can handle customer care and support can be rendered by an outside resource on a per-incident base, with no binding SLA service.  Within less 12 months, the company customer base shrunk from 15,000 to around 3,000, bringing the entire operation to a stand-still. The new owner tried focusing on new business tracks, without preserving and maintaining the existing lucrative tracks.

So, what went wrong here?

The primary answer would be: failure of the new management to understand the business. Calling cards and VoIP services are customer oriented services. This applies to Mobile VoIP OTT services as well. Asterisk is a solid tool to use when building your business, it will take you a long way and make sure your ROI and TCO will remain as low as possible, while preserving your knowledge and experience in-house as much as possible. When a successful company is acquired by a financial outfit, that has no valid experience in the market sector, in many cases – it will fail. The lack of understanding of customer care structures, proper support, proper monitoring, proper NOC, ticketing handling, NOC liaising and proper technical escalation are the main attributes of a successful service and product in this industry.

In our next post

In our next post we’ll discuss the world of “ad-revenue financed calls” and the “call-back industry”, as it was in 2008, 2010 and what happened to it today.