Erlang

20 years of open source Erlang: OpenErlang Interviews with Co-Creators Robert Virding & Joe Armstrong

by Erlang Solutions

Erlang has been open sourced since 1998 and this year marks the 20th anniversary. We’ve been celebrating with parties, conferences, webinars, meetups and other delicious content so far.

To celebrate this milestone we kicked off with launching a new family of tech conferences called Code Sync - do you remember Erlang Factory San Francisco and Erlang User Conference in Stockholm? As from 2018, Code Sync consolidates all the conferences that we’ve been organising since 2008 retaining their individual personalities and focuses. So if you are on a look out for Erlang Factory or EUC - check Code BEAM conferences aimed at ‘Discovering the Future of the Erlang Ecosystem’.

Shortly after we kicked off with a party in March held in San Francisco in partnership with TigerConnect, and then we continued with our Stockholm party in May where we’ve partnered with WhatsApp, Ericsson and aeternity. Taking the Erlang Party around the world!

These two epic #OpenErlang parties invited local communities for an evening of 1998 flashback. It was great seeing old friends, and welcoming a large number of new faces too. So yes, the Erlang and Elixir community continues to grow, getting more followers and vibrancy year by year… Next party will be held in London on 8th November and we will share more info in the upcoming weeks.

We also partnered with a great number of Erlang and Elixir enthusiasts on a series of #OpenErlang webinars that we are rolling out throughout this year. The next one is coming up in September with Ben Marx from Bleacher Report.

And next up is our exclusive #OpenErlang Interview Series with some of the biggest names within the Erlang, Elixir and Open Source community. We’ve been all working hard behind the scenes and we are finally ready to share some great personalities, stories and uses of Erlang that even Robert, Joe and Mike never dreamed of when creating the language!

So what better individuals to kick of the interview series with than the co-creators of Erlang?

Two-thirds of the Erlang Creator Dream Team Robert Virding and Joe Armstrong talk their favourite topic…Erlang!

From how Erlang developed into a programming heavyweight to the benefits of the language becoming open sourced, Robert and Joe share their highlights over the past 20 years including the community it has created and how important it is to a number of huge global companies.


We have the transcript listed at the bottom of this blog post.

#OpenErlang; 20 Years of Open-Sourced Erlang

Erlang was originally built for Ericsson and Ericsson only, as a proprietary language, to improve telephony applications. It can also be referred to as “Erlang/OTP” and was designed to be a fault-tolerant, distributed, real-time system that offered pattern matching and functional programming in one handy package.

Robert, Joe and Mike were using this programming language at Ericsson for approximately 12 years before it went open sourced to the public in 1998. Since then, it has been responsible for a huge number of business big and small, offering massively reliable systems and ease of use.

About Robert

Robert Virding is one-third of why Erlang exists; along with Joe Armstrong and Mike Williams, Robert developed Erlang in 1986 and continued to use it solely at Ericsson before the language was released as open sourced in 1998.

Robert originally worked extensively on improving garbage collection and functional languages but has since developed his entrepreneurial spirit having began the first Erlang startup - Bluetail.

The co-creator was an early member of the Ericsson Computer Science Lab and currently works as the Principal Language Expert at Erlang Solutions, as well as a keen speaker and educator.

About Joe

Robert’s partner in crime over the last 3-4 decades is Joe Armstrong. He too has an eye for business, having debugged programs in exchange for beer whilst studying at University College London.

Along with Robert Virding and Mike WIlliam, he developed the programming language Erlang in 1986 at the Ericsson Computer Science Lab.

Joe is the author of a number of key books on the topic of Erlang and beyond this including Concurrent Programming in Erlang, Programming Erlang: Software for a Concurrent World and Coders At Work.

As part of our #OpenErlang celebrations, we’ve been interviewing key influencers behind the language, and those who have had a key involvement in the process of making Erlang open sourced and a key programming language of over the past 20 years. Keep your eyes peeled each week as our key influencers of Erlang give exclusive interviews regarding the programming language and its development over the last few decades.

If you’re interested in contributing and collaborating with us at Erlang Solutions, you can contact us at general@erlang-solutions.com.

At work with the boss breathing down your neck? Or don’t want to be one of those playing videos out loud on public transport?

The transcript is below, although not as exciting as the real thing…

Interview Transcript

Robert Virding: Hello, Joe.

Joe Armstrong: Hello, Robert.

Robert: And there is no Mike.

Joe: There’s no Mike.

Robert: There’s no Mike. Joe and I, we were two of the original three developers of Erlang. The third was Mike, who is not here now.

Joe: 20 years since it’s open sourced.

Robert: 20 years since it became open sourced. Erlang was the first open source software that Ericsson released. Definitely, some of the highlights over the last 20 years is Bluetail. This was a company that was formed after Erlang became open sourced with people from Ericsson, amongst others, Joe and myself. That was definitely a big win. Then it spread.

Joe: Yes, it spread.

Robert: It spread quite a lot actually. The community’s important because, yes, you get feedback about what you do and you get new ideas, you get things like errors. They spread knowledge about using the system and how it’s being used to think like this. What’s good about it and what’s bad about it as well too. You need an active community to get something up, get useful information about it.

Joe: It’s kind of important for Erlang because Erlang is rather different to a lot of languages. It’s concurrent language, but most languages aren’t concurrent, they’re sequential. People don’t really understand what it is until they join in a forum and they start participating and they get some understanding of what it is. You have to build a culture as well. It’s building that culture that’s the important thing.

Robert: Yes. That can take time as well to do. It’s not always obvious that it will happen. The Erlang community–It has happened. There’s quite a lot of activity on it and quite a lot of the major users are an active part of the community.

Joe: They ask questions like, “How can I persuade my boss to use Erlang?” That’s not a technical question and that’s the sort of answer you can get from the community by socialising. As much as the technical forums where we talk about technical stuff, what we do outside those sessions is equally important, because we’re building social relationships there.

Robert: One of the problems if you’re trying to sell the language into your company– We get questions. Someone comes and asks us how to do it. You need at least one enthusiast inside the company to do it, otherwise it won’t work. The issue is, how can they describe Erlang, the benefits of Erlang in such a way comparing it to other languages? What it’s good at and also what it’s not good at, so they don’t make a bad mistake. We can help them do that. We can give references to other companies that use it, for example. That’s one thing that we definitely can do.

Joe: What was really impressive was the WhatsApp people, because they didn’t go on any courses or anything, they just sat away in a little room somewhere doing WhatsApp. A dozen of them created WhatsApp on the server. Fantastic!

Robert: Have a system with over a billion users!

Joe: Yes. That’s cool.

Robert: Which is quite fantastic and it works!

Joe: It works!

Robert: It’s a very impressive system.

[00:03:08] [END OF AUDIO]

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