How Continuous Delivery Improves Mobile App Quality and Speed: An Interview with Prathap Dendi

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Ship.io general manager Prathap Dendi explores continuous delivery and the explosion of mobile development. He explains how we've applied the lessons learned from mobile development elsewhere, plus the most exciting trends now and looking forward.

Prathap Dendi: My name is Prathap Dendi. I'm a software engineer by training. Today, I'm the general manager for a very exciting business called Ship.io. We are the industry leader in mobile app continuous delivery. A bit of my personal experience and background here: Started as a software engineer, founding engineer in a few startups in Silicon Valley. I was part of the team that wrote up the first multi-tenant SaaS platform back in the year 2000. It's a Java-based platform. It's now in the ... It went into an acquisition of BEA, now part of Oracle. Did a security XML appliance called Westburn Technology that got acquired into Progress Software.

Then spent a few years at IBM driving their software group strategy. This is around the service-oriented architecture technology. I did a few strategic partnerships, acquisitions, and grew the business very nicely to be the number one in that space. Right after, I joined Electric Cloud. It was, again, a market leader in DevOps and continues delivery. As part of that, we had the opportunity to start Ship.io, which is primarily focused on delivering mobile apps in the continuous delivery fashion. That's a little bit of my background.

Josiah Renaudin: Well, thank you very much, Prathap. Thank you for joining us today. We're going to be mainly talking about the explosion of mobile development, as well as continuous delivery. Let's jump right into the questioning. How has the expansion of the mobile world really altered the development landscape? How different is this type of development compared to what you've worked with in the past?

Prathap Dendi: It's a great question. Something that I, personally, have spent a lot of time understanding. I wrote code, starting with Pascal as the language, and then C++, and Java. That's when I stopped, but if you look at today's mobile app development, it's significantly different. It, obviously, has a lot of commonalities in programming, but if you look at how the lifecycle of mobile app differs from a typical lifestyle of a multi-tier Java app, or a web app, or an IT product, it starts with release frequency. The mobile app updates these days are down to two weeks. If you look at your mobile phone, whether it's an Android phone or an iOS phone, I bet you that you had a couple of red dots that are telling you that there are, probably, twenty to a hundred mobile apps that are begging to be updated today.

The release frequency has really come down to two weeks and three weeks at best, both on consumer apps, as well as enterprise apps. What that does to development, in general, is, how do we write features, whether it's bug fixes or brand new features, how do we write code that is ready to ship, and that can go through your development process, testing process, and the release process in such a short interval? It's fundamentally changed the way you choose your software development practices, whether it's agile or other practices, or even the tools and services that go into making your software delivery much faster and in line with where the industry's going. That's for beginners, what I see as one of the biggest changes that we're seeing in mobile world compared to IT or the web, even.

Josiah Renaudin: In order to give more context, in short, could you kind of just give us your personal definition of continuous delivery before we move forward in the interview?

Prathap Dendi: Absolutely, and I'll make it very simple. I think there are a lot of books written about it. One of our advisors, Jez Humble, has a very well-respected book out there on continuous delivery, but, for me, very simply, it is, keeping your code to be ship-ready, right, so that any given time, there's no technical debt. You have code that you write that's gone through a continuous integration check-in and has seen ... Because the minimum continuous testing and continuous delivery steps so that the code is ready to ship. Shipable-ready is what I define as continuous delivery, for mobile apps anyway.

Josiah Renaudin: And like you had just mentioned, there are a lot of different books and articles written about it, so a lot of people are discussing it, they're digging into it, but why do you think this concept is often thought of as enterprise-centric only?

Prathap Dendi: Yeah. That's a great question, and that's the background I come from. I think the complexity of software in enterprise apps, multi-tiered enterprise apps, is a lot more than mobile apps as you know. I think, fundamentally, continuous delivery practices started in enterprise because there, to tame the complexity using continuous integration and continuous testing, ease of method that a lot of people use has become more of a standard now.

That's the reason why you get a little bit more of an enterprise-centric branding, but if you look at mobile, the complexity aside, I think the release frequency is what drives an option of continuous integration. We have seen ... There are millions of app developers now in the world and because there is a race to get your app to the app store very quickly, continuous delivery is just a natural fit for mobile app developers, designers, and testers. I think that definition has changed quite a bit. I actually see a lot of mobile app companies starting to use continue integration techniques and continuous testing as a practice today.

Josiah Renaudin: Shifting back to mobile development, from your point of view, have we taken the lessons learned from mobile development and intelligently applied them to other faucets of the industry? Now, mobile's still, in a sense, young. We've learned a lot from it. Do you really feel like we've taken, just in the short history, everything we've learned and started to spread that knowledge around?

Prathap Dendi: I believe so. We see that at Ship.io now. We have run over—just in the last six months or so—we have run over half a million or so builds, continuous integration builds, and tests in our system. We closely watch some of the development techniques and testing frequency.

What we learn are a couple of things I would like to share for your audience. Number one is, what we're learning and adopting in the rest of the industry is, mobile, as you know, five, six years ago when the app economy started, it was all about that getting the user experience right, I think. Nothing personifies the importance of user experience and the quick time-to-value more than a mobile app. These days you get, literally, forty seconds or so, as an industry benchmark, from the time somebody downloads and opens your mobile app, it kinda of gets that value, the initially value, out and, hence, the user experience is super important. We've seen, very quickly, even the web and other app developers absorb that importance of user experience to their design. That's number one.

The second thing we've seen is, fundamentally, there's a lot of needed preference in mobile app developers to use cloud-based services. That demographic, because they're fast, and they want to make decisions quick, and they get to market really quickly, they are ... Their preference is to use a cloud-based service rather than an installed software or on-premises software. They look for that, but the little we've seen, whether it's testing services for mobile, or distribution services for mobile, the entire ... Or I would say, the majority of development and testing, including Ship.io, is SaaS first or cloud first. What I've seen, the enterprise market and other apps are also adopting that very quickly. The propensity to look at cloud-based options first is quickly growing and that SaaS market is showing the result because of that.

The last one is the speed and agility. I think we talked about it. The mobile, by definition, is short release cycles and people, by nature, use agile methodology there. We've seen, even the laggers in enterprise, very quickly move on to adopting agile and DevOps processes today. I would think those were some three things that were very needed, and mobile was the first to jump into it. We are now seeing the rest of the industry also beginning to adopt.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. In terms of mobile trends, what do you find to be the most exciting? Branching off of that, taking the temperature of the community as a whole, what have you found to be the most popular trend in the app development world?

Prathap Dendi: Great question. The mobile app developer demographics is very quickly shifting. Just a few years ago, there was estimated to be about two to three million app developers focusing on mobile. Now, this year already, according to Vision Mobile Report, you're looking at north of five or even six million focused mobile app developers. It's continuing very quickly.

I've had an opportunity in the last few months to be interviewed at South by Southwest. Ship.io was a finalist at one of the competitions there. We had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of other mobile app developers. I also had the opportunity right after that to travel to China and meet with a lot of app developer community there. A couple of things that show up that are super exciting, both in terms of their skill, as well as just the technology that's involved in it, as follows. One is the rise of interactive things, whether these are drones, or home automation, or available technology, all of that has just seen an explosive growth and opportunity for mobile app developers.

If you can image the five million developers that wrote, that contributed to, I would say that about two million apps, in all, in counting all in app stores today, now they are shifting their focus, or expanding, to all these available technologies and internet devices. That’s super exciting. I think there's a lot of modernization there. There's a lot of data. There's a lot of context for innovation there. That's number one, by far.

The second one, and I know you are into this, is gaming. Gaming has changed quite a bit. There's a lot of integrative companies. Today, for example, on Ship.io there are game developers, and mobile has become the number one industry already on gaming, even on top of platform gaming and other devices, so that's very exciting.

The rise of augmented reality and virtual reality, I think, that opens another frontier for our app developer community. That's total new real estate, in terms of AR and VR. There are platforms there that are coming to market this year and next. We just heard Google announce their own embedded operating system called Brillo, so I think we expect that to grow. There will be a lot more platforms for mobile app developers to write to. That's new innovation for us, and at Ship.io we're super excited to see that from the app developer community.

Josiah Renaudin: Looking at these current trends is really fun, but, maybe even more so is being able to look at the future. What do you see in continuous delivery's future? How high will the adoption rate be? Can you see it evolving into something that's even more effective? Can the process continue to improve?

Prathap Dendi: That's a great question. This is something that we, our engineers, R&D, and everybody at Ship.io and Electric Cloud, we wake up and think about every day. We believe it's a very big market today, and it's growing double digits every year. In terms of adoption rate, and what we see as some of the interesting trends, there is, we believe, that as mobile explosion happens and a ton of devices, smart devices, happen in the world, there will be a challenge around skill, a little bit of challenge around security and vulnerabilities that come with it.

Imagine the situation, a few months ago we heard about a security breach in Target, the retail store. The breach happened, apparently, through a Wi-Fi ... through H-Vax system. When you have smart connected products on your auto mobile, on home automation technology, and everything's being connected through a mobile app or a set of mobile apps, you need to be very careful about, one, scaling up, and making sure it works, and the data is secure. You also have to watch out for vulnerabilities. We believe that there is a quick emergence of standards there around how that interaction, and the information that's being collected around the data how the device, is going to be managed.

For businesses such as Ship.io, we see a very large opportunity there where we provide for our developers an ability to test and go through checking and code scanning all the way to the release of the apps in a standard that those device manufacturers would like to see. We see that as both as a challenge, as well as a huge opportunity. Continuous delivery, in that sense, becomes almost a must-do because that's what keeps your code check-ins happening, the frequency going, security becomes an automated step, compliance and checks and balances become part of the continuous delivery pipeline.

That's excitement. Ship.io is seen as the pipeline, or the app factory, for the mobile apps whether they're headed to consumer devices or industry infrastructure. We see ourselves as that pipeline that allows mobile developers to freely innovate and sub into apps so we can, then, help them with the testing, and security, and the release process all the way to the app store or the destination device. That's what we're looking forward to, Josiah.

Josiah Renaudin: It sounds very exciting. Thank you very much, Prathap. That's all the time we have for today. I really appreciate you taking the time with us and discussing all these very interesting topics. I'm looking forward to speaking with you in the future about many other things.

Prathap Dendi: Same here. Same here. Thanks for the opportunity.

Prathap DendiIn his role as vice president of business development at Electric Cloud, Prathap Dendi drives strategic partnerships that help Electric Cloud deliver broader solutions to customers. Electric Cloud has forged strategic partnerships with companies providing industry-leading tools and services in order to deliver software production automation to customers.

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