Burning out on Rust

Today: another dust-up on the Rust Project, CIOs are worried about a downside to AI-powered coding machines, and the quote of the week.

Burning out on Rust
Photo by Zdeněk Macháček / Unsplash

Hello and welcome to Runtime! Today: another dust-up on the Rust Project, CIOs are worried about a downside to AI-powered coding machines, and the quote of the week.

Forget space. Open source is hard

Rust emerged as one of the most important programming languages of the cloud era by correcting the technical mistakes of languages past. Yet the people advancing the project keep making the same mistakes that can turn open-source projects into privileged cloisters.

Last Friday, JeanHeyd Meneide turned heads in open-source and enterprise tech circles by announcing that he would no longer be speaking at RustConf, the biggest event on the Rust calendar, after his proposed talk had been abruptly demoted from a coveted keynote slot to a less prominent spot on the program.

  • The subject of the talk, which would have discussed ways to improve Rust's compiler, apparently displeased two unnamed team members of the Rust Project.
  • Those people prevailed upon the organizers of RustConf to change Meneide's speaking slot without informing the rest of the leadership team.
  • Understandably, Meneide backed out of the conference entirely after learning of the bait and switch, and several people resigned from the Rust Project in protest of the way the entire situation was handled.
  • It was not lost on several people involved with Rust that Meneide likely would have been the first keynote speaker of color at the big event.

For as long as there have been open-source projects, there has been drama, but this incident really caught the attention of the developer community.

  • Meneide's talk would have proposed some ideas to improve some aspects of the way Rust works, which naturally involves pointing out the flaws in the way things currently work.
  • The process for balancing multiple, competing interests in an open-source project is known as governance, and it's always tricky, especially as corporate money has inundated open-source software.
  • But Rust is unique, in that it is managed by an uneasy partnership between the Rust Project — which has a history of friction — and the Rust Foundation, which was formed after Mozilla laid off a number of key contributors to the project.

The Rust Project later apologized for the whole affair, but it once again raises many questions about the way decisions are made involving technologies that might be the foundation for the next ten years of computing.

  • Graydon Hoare, who founded the Rust Project but has not been involved with it for many years, posted a thoughtful examination of the choices involved in exercising leadership power over what are fundamentally community projects and offered some advice on how to move forward.
  • "I guess my main suggestion is a don't-listen-to-me suggestion: 'hire and listen to professionals with training in the subject,' where 'the subject' covers everything 'a bunch of compiler nerds' are typically bad at," he wrote.
  • He continued: "The Project is now a decently large (and very diffuse) organization, and humans have studied how to run those for a long time, have categories of professionals who are expert in each topic. Listen to them. Don't try to work each out from first principles, and don't pretend that because you're a bunch of compiler nerds on the internet you get to dodge all the mechanisms of a normal organization."

It's not surprising that there are strong, competing feelings involved when discussing the future of one of the most important programming languages of our time.

  • But open-source projects that make it difficult for people to express those feelings in a constructive way run the risk of losing the very vibrancy that made them thrive in the first place.

Feed Copilot prompts and whaddya get

Software development managers have no choice but to wade into the generative AI waters, because their developers are going to embrace tools like GitHub's Copillot one way or another. But they are increasingly worried that these tools will generate too much code that they'll be stuck maintaining for years, according to the Wall Street Journal, a problem known as "technical debt."

“I think it makes the CIO’s task a lot more complex, even as it makes the programmer’s task easier,” Vivek Jetley, executive vice president and head of analytics at EXL, told WSJ in response to questions about how companies are embracing these tools. MIT's Armando Solar-Lezama articulated that concern: "People have talked about technical debt for a long time, and now we have a brand new credit card here that is going to allow us to accumulate technical debt in ways we were never able to do before."

However, earlier this year Paul Kedrosky and Eric Nolin of SK Ventures invoked the term in service of the opposite argument when describing how generative AI tools will forever change software development: "Software production has been too complex and expensive for too long, which has caused us to underproduce software for decades, resulting in immense, society-wide technical debt. This technical debt is about to contract in a dramatic, economy-wide fashion as the cost and complexity of software production collapses, releasing a wave of innovation."

Either way, it's probably best to be the bank.

Quote of the week

"I've also been asked numerous times this quarter, by our investors, and our customers, how we're able to make so much progress so fast and deliver these incredible numbers. It's very simple. It's our Ohana culture, it's our superpower." — Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who actually achieved those profit numbers by throwing thousands of members of the "Ohana" out of work earlier this year.

The Runtime roundup

Security experts issued warnings that a zero-day flaw in the MOVEit file-transfer software is being used to steal data.

VMware rolled out version 5.0 of its Cloud Foundation hybrid cloud platform, with new features focused on security and managing updates.

Alphabet shareholders expressed concerns over proposed Google Cloud data center locations in countries like India, where the government has increasingly demanded data from technology providers, according to The Economic Times.

Thanks for reading — see you Tuesday!

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