How to Assess Risk in New Software and Technology: An Interview with Ellen Shapiro


Mobile Dev + Test keynote speaker Ellen Shapiro discusses how to determine whether it's worth bringing new tools, technologies, or languages into your company. She also covers when to select specific pieces of your app to move over to a new technology versus going all in.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I am joined by Ellen Shapiro, the director of iOS engineering at Vokal and a keynote speaker at our upcoming Mobile Dev + Test Conference. Ellen, thank you very much for joining us today.

Ellen Shapiro: Thank you for having me.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. First, before we dig into the meat of the presentation, could you tell us just a bit about your experience in the industry?

Ellen Shapiro: I am someone who has mostly worked in agencies. I actually don't have a background in computer science. My undergraduate degree is in radio, television, and film production.

Josiah Renaudin: Oh, wow.

Ellen Shapiro: I worked out in Hollywood for a few years before I got a little bit tired of that. I decided to do something completely different, so I went through some very basic programming stuff and then just started building stuff. Finally built enough stuff to convince a place called The Nerdery here—they're based in Minneapolis, but I worked at their office here in Chicago—to hire me and bring me back to the wonderful frozen tundra that is Chicago. I worked there for a couple of years and then I moved over to Vokal at the end of 2013, yeah.

It's been fun. Both The Nerdery and Vokal are agency-model places where you have a lot of different projects. You have a lot of different people working on projects and you get to see a lot of different ways that things can be done. It's been really, really interesting for me to see that, see a lot of what to do and a lot of what not to do.

Josiah Renaudin: Hopefully you're not having as awful weather as the East Coast in Chicago right now.

Ellen Shapiro: Oh, no. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and I feel for my mom. She's still there; I called her and she was like, "I can't even see the building next door to me." They're digging out, but it will be ... Here it's just kind of cold.

Josiah Renaudin: All my family is in Pittsburgh, so I'm just like, "I'm in Jacksonville and I feel almost guilty for being here when it's 60 degrees right now."

You know what? I made the right decision.

Ellen Shapiro: I was going to say, I think this is probably validating your decision.

Josiah Renaudin: Your keynote, which is titled “Balancing New Tools and Technologies Versus Risk,” really dives into how to evaluate new tools for benefits and possible hazards. First off, do you often find teams, and even yourself, overwhelmed by the sheer number of new programs, tools, and technologies that are constantly flooding the market?

Ellen Shapiro: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it's something where, I think it's not just overwhelmed, but also super excited by it. Programmers by their nature are always interested in “Is there a better way to slice this bread?” These new tools and technologies, a lot of them have this promise that, "Hey, we're going to actually do a thing that's been difficult and make your job easier." That's something that's real tempting to a lot of engineers. It's something where trying to weigh the promise of what these new opportunities are promising versus the risks of moving to these new technologies is always a real difficult thing to do. I'll be talking a little bit about my experience in doing that; in particular I'm going to be talking about switching from Objective C primarily to moving into Swift.

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