Will Software that Writes Code Alter Tech’s Script?

19It is an axiom of the internet age that almost nothing done by human hand cannot be done better by or with software. But what of the business of writing software itself? Much of it is repetitious, bug-riddled grunt work. Cannot this be made more efficient by software? In fact, cannot code write code?

To do this would be to turn the unofficial slogan of Silicon Valley in on itself: software will not only eat the world but software will eat software.

This is the direction of a team of University College London computer scientists, whose work does not just aim to take the inefficient slog out of programming but also to transform the role of most programmers.

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Stop Calling Yourselves Engineers

18I’m commiserating with a friend who recently left the technology industry to return to entertainment. “I’m not a programmer,” he begins, explaining some of the frustrations of his former workplace, before correcting himself, “—oh, engineer, in tech-bro speak. Though to me, engineers are people who build bridges and follow pretty rigid processes for a reason.”

His indictment touches a nerve. In the Silicon Valley technology scene, it’s common to use the bare term “engineer” to describe technical workers. Somehow, everybody who isn’t in sales, marketing, or design became an engineer. “We’re hiring engineers,” read startup websites, which could mean anything from Javascript programmers to roboticists.

The term is probably a shortening of “software engineer,” but its use betrays a secret: “Engineer” is an aspirational title in software development. Traditional engineers are regulated, certified, and subject to apprenticeship and continuing education. Engineering claims an explicit responsibility to public safety and reliability, even if it doesn’t always deliver.

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Exploring the Software Behind Facebook the world’s Largest Site

17At the scale that Facebook operates, a lot of traditional approaches to serving web content break down or simply aren’t practical. The challenge for Facebook’s engineers has been to keep the site up and running smoothly in spite of handling close to half a billion active users. This article takes a look at some of the software and techniques they use to accomplish that.

Facebook’s scaling challenge

Before we get into the details, here are a few factoids to give you an idea of the scaling challenge that Facebook has to deal with:

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How Solar Software Can Save The World

16VCs have avoided solar deals ever since Solyndra became a four-letter word. But while their attention has strayed, the industry has been on a tear. In 2010, U.S. solar installers hit a milestone of 1 GW per year. Five years later, they’re installing more than 1 GW per month. This tremendous growth has fed a swelling herd of solar unicorns populated by the likes of SolarCity, SunEdison, SunPower and more.

Recently, the industry has been buffeted by a variety of tailwinds that should drive even faster expansion. The landmark Paris climate accord promises stronger regulatory support across the world. Concurrently, a group of billionaires led by Bill Gates announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to fund this roll out. And the U.S. Congress has extended the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which has raised installation forecasts through 2020 by more than 50 percent. Add to this mix innovation in large-scale battery manufacturing and the future of distributed power generation looks bright indeed.

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Using Computer Software to Develop Switch Skills

15Some computer programs have been designed to be operated directly by using a single switch, two switches, mouse clicks, overlay keyboards and touch screens. Many of these programs can also be operated by key presses on the keyboard, using the space bar and return keys.

These programs are commonly used by learners with physical difficulties, those with severe learning difficulties and young children or those at an early developmental stage. They can be used for developing early interaction with the computers; developing a concept of cause and effect; providing activities for the development of switch skills; stimulating and encouraging movement and hand function; developing visual skills; providing children with access to a range of learning situations, particularly those limited in physical movement who are unable to access many traditional methods.

Programs designed to provide these kinds of experiences. These include the Big Bang, Switch Skills 1 and the SwitchIt! series.

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