FUTURE PROOF

Fathym’s Low Code Data Solution

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Fathym is uniquely positioned at the intersection of these three evolutions: batched, wireless, and embedded. None of their competitors has been able to bend their story away from the supply-side technical development cultures, and this prevents them from clearly seeing this future. Fathym’s value is rooted in helping businesses evolve, not in specific technologies but rather in the network effects of the community and marketplace they’re creating.

INTRODUCTION

Neil Gershenfeld, the long-time director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT’s Media Lab, complains in one of his books about the habit most people have of adding the word “technology” to almost anything related to computers. We’d laugh if someone called a printing press “newspaper technology,” or a toothbrush “teeth brushing technology,” but we’re happy to call a router “communications technology” or a piece of software “Internet technology.” Automatically adding the suffix keeps those inventions in a “special” realm, even a “magical” one, separate from real-life. In subtle ways it legitimizes tech-sector innovations and stifles arguments against them, making them seem almost as inevitable as nature.

One can imagine similar criticism coming from Alan Kay, who worked for years at Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he had a role in developing the world-changing “WIMP” computer interface—short for “windows, icons, menus, and pointing device.” Kay himself personally invented object-oriented programming and designed the original laptop computer, and like Gershenfeld after him, he wanted computers to “disappear” from consciousness and simply become tools that people used without thinking about them as “technology” or anything else. He was, and remains, dedicated to education, and introduced a number of systems for young children to program computers with graphics and symbols.

For decades we’ve been hearing that we’ll eventually cross a chasm and computers will finally form-fit themselves to human beings, rather than humans form-fitting to computers. And yet, more than forty years after Xerox PARC, we still haven’t made computing invisible. We live in a world of “apps” (something the PARC scientists opposed, incidentally) created by a priestly caste of programmers writing obscure code illegible to ordinary civilians. If you want a tiny app for your local business, you have to hire an “app developer.” It’s something like insisting that people get an agricultural degree to plant a vegetable garden.

Alan Kay and Xerox PARC are important historical touchstones for the leaders of Fathym, Inc., a Boulder, Colorado company that has created a new and novel platform for building data applications. Fathym was originally started as a “no- code” vendor specializing, like Kay himself, in graphical software intended to make programming more accessible to young people. Today, after many twists and turns, Fathym is back to its original mission: to make computing “disappear” from the consciousness of most people in business. The difference today is that they have a mature environment to operate in.

Their objective is vital for a number of reasons. We don’t have the troops to continue on our current path, for one thing. There are millions of unfilled cyber- sector jobs in the U.S. at this moment, and we have no hopes of training enough sophisticated engineers to write obscure code like they did all through the 20th century. It’s also that the time for this has arrived: human-centric designers need to allow ordinary citizens to interact with computers at a deep level. It will be good for workers, for the economy generally, and it might even increase our chances of surviving other problems we’ve created, like climate devastation. And it’s not like professional programmers are going away. Society will continue to need them, just as it needs doctors and lawyers. But it will need programmers as specialists and technicians, not as priests.

IT IN THE ENTERPRISE

The problem with IT in enterprise is that its roots go back to batched processing. Think of a giant soup pot into which you’re always throwing more data. You’re trying to predict what will happen next week based upon what happened last week. Even if you add AI and machine-learning to that, it’s still batched processing. Then wireless carriers came along with real-time processing at scale. This was a huge development, but the carriers had no idea what an application was outside of a cell phone. Then we got embedded systems and automation, and enterprises finally had a thoroughly “stateful” awareness of the world—spatial, temporal, time-series, real-time. But they were still just trying to control things. They weren’t leveraging the valuable information that you inherently get from the data in these systems.

Squint your eyes and the story looks like this: Once there was enterprise, then there was enterprise plus web, then there was enterprise plus web and mobile. Today we have the enterprise plus literally everything, including IoT, but not ending there. IoT is simply the latest expansion of the domain, and it will eventually become just another transformational fact of life, much the way mobile has.

Fathym is uniquely positioned at the intersection of these three evolutions: batched, wireless, and embedded. None of their competitors has been able to bend their story away from the supply-side technical development cultures, and this prevents them from clearly seeing this future. Fathym’s value is rooted in helping businesses evolve, not in specific technologies but rather in the network effects of the community and marketplace they’re creating.

This blog posting is a brief excerpt from our white paper ”Future Proof: Fathym’s Low Code Data Solution.” 

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