IT Life: Taking On Development Donkey Work

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ross mason mulesoft

Ross Mason invented Mule to make development easier. As strategy VP at Mulesoft, he says don’t taken anything for granted

Back in 2003 Ross Mason, a computer science graduate from Bristol University, found himself frustrated by integration “donkey work”. In response, he founded the open source Mule project to provide an enterprise service bus (ESB) and integration framework that would solve this problem.

Mule takes an “assembly” approach, rather than repetitive coding, won an instant following and quickly “went supersonic” so there are now over 150,000 developers in the Mule community, servicing 35 percent of the Fortune Global 500. Mason is responsible for MuleSoft‘s product strategy, open source involvement, engineering alignment and direct engagement with customers.

Mule mulesoft development work payload © Lilac Mountain Shutterstock

Don’t take the cloud by default

To cloud or not to cloud?
There isn’t a ‘not to cloud’ today, the challenge is figuring out how to get there. I often see companies that started in the last five years are cloud only by default. For everyone else, Hybrid IT is now the norm. They need to figure out how to leverage the years or decades of data and digital assets built up in the data centre, while taking advantage of new technologies and models in the cloud. Every enterprise needs to figure out how to connect the old and the new.

Going to the cloud isn’t just about moving workloads (which I see too often) it’s about re-thinking how companies deliver software to serve the business and customers. That re-thinking starts by creating APIs to deliver data and functionality, rather than blindly moving it to the cloud. Companies should be striving to look more like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and less like a mirror image of their current state in the cloud.

What is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?
The IT landscape has become incredibly fragmented with cloud, mobile and social dramatically increasing the things IT needs to connect. This comes at a time where many IT organisations have become slow and rigid to respond to the needs of the business. IT needs to transform itself from a delivery function to a service partner for the business.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most, and why?
It’s hard not to admire Amazon for transforming commerce, raising the bar for customer experience and challenging everyone to think bigger. You may not agree with the company culture or the competitive tactics, but Amazon is a force of nature with Jeff Bezos at the helm. It’s not clear to many yet, but Amazon is now showing enterprises how to compete. AWS is the blueprint of how IT needs to organise themselves to serve the needs of the business through delivering IT services as APIs.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? And which do you use most?
Like most people, my phone is the gateway to my digital world. It has set a new level of expectation that everything should easily connect. Applications that connect to my information, the things I care about or the services I need are the apps that will be successful longterm. Companies now compete by how well they can connect their systems to their consumers.

Keep an open mind

Who is your tech hero (and why)?
That would have to be my grandfather. He was a radio ham, tinkerer and maker of his time. He built the family TV, he lectured on the theory of computers in the 1950s, and family legend has it that he exchanged the design he created for the quartz clock for a crate of champagne. I never met him, but I have some of his designs, notes and his old equipment. He played with everything from electronics to photography to boat building. He reminds me that you must always keep an open mind, try things and make things.

windows XP default broken security flawWho is your tech villain (and why)?
Villain is a strong word but the pain that Microsoft Windows has caused over the years is almost criminal.

Tell us something about your IT career?
I have always worked with companies that needed to reliably integrate disparate IT systems together. One of my roles in the early 1990s was at an insurance company. We had to connect more than 100 sites to collect reporting data over dial-up connections. As you can imagine, it was very painful because dial-up was so slow. However, I learned a lot about building reliability in very unstable environment.

Lego bricks toys colours © hxdbzxy ShutterstockWhat did you want to be when you grew up?
For many years I wanted to be a Lego designer. I guess my fascination with connecting things started at a young age. Then one day my brother and I got a Commodore 16 and it shifted my focus to computers.

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