Podcast Blog: Tech Buzzwords, hype or flop?

We (the UTM White Van discord server) recently had a podcast with Dr. Michael Liut, an instructor from the Computer Science faculty at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. Along with him, we had 3 Computer Science students currently working in technology corporations, namely me, Krish (Chowdhary), and Lukasz (Dworakowski). Our podcast host, Nivy (Niveditha Kani) mentioned some tech buzzwords that we hear commonly and asked us whether we thought they were hyped for the right reason or overhyped.

This blog has some excerpts from our conversation about these buzzwords.

Buzzword 1: Cloud Computing

Lukasz: the power you can leverage using cloud computing is something you can’t get using a local system. My brother is doing his masters, and he needs a 1080 ti. But using my work (at AMD), we could in theory split a 1080 ti into multiple gpu’s that other people can use. So the amount of hardware you can leverage using cloud computing is very important.

And there’s also the problems of networking. You can use cloud computing and it’ll handle networking for you if you want to host a website.

Michael: It’s super neat because you as an end-user don’t have to bear the entire cost of the hardware. So you can say “I need it for this small project” and this small project ends up costing you $10 whereas the hardware could cost hundreds.

The other really big thing is that you can scale applications quickly and sort of on-demand. So if all of a sudden your server reaches a peak I can spin up 5 instances across the world that serve my needs. So it’s definitely not all hype.

Naaz: Cloud computing itself has so many buzzwords… Many companies such as AWS, Google Cloud, IBM too, have their own cloud services so they have their own certifications. Other than that you have different technologies such as Kubernetes, Docker… There’s just so much for students to process before they graduate. The reason I find it interesting is that there’s all this technology to learn right now, but a lot of it isn’t taught in undergrad courses. Do you think there are some certifications that are more important for students than others? Like learning AWS vs. Azure?

Lukasz: Azure is clawing it’s way to the forefront. It’s capabilities look good. From this conference I attended, I believe they’re looking into auto-load balancing and auto-Kubernetes setup. So there are a lot of things for Azure that you can use which makes it an ideal candidate.

Krish: I wouldn’t just learn something for the certification. I don’t think you learn enough for it to be that valuable as a certification because 90% of the time they’ll make you answer some questions like “what is this concept?” and then you’ll spin up a VM and spin it down. That’s the certification. That by itself doesn’t add much value. The real value for me is: once you learn the concepts, be it in Azure, GCP, or AWS, you’ll find a lot of similarities on other platforms. Amazon (AWS) has H3, and Microsoft (Azure) has Blob store and Google (GCP) has its own object-store. The names are different — which can be confusing to a new developer. But the concepts pretty much the same in my experience.

Michael: One thing to be said there too with your computer science knowledge and background you have an easier time distinguishing the difference theoretically behind why I use a container vs. why I use a VM. This is something that can carry over regardless of the term. So if you’re working with Azure or AWS, it doesn’t make a difference. Take the ideas and roll them into another platform.

Krish: If students find it confusing where to start, I’d recommend looking at these concepts historically. They can try looking into why we need containers, why VMs, what was the predecessor to VMs, why are we moving to Kubernetes and the cloud as opposed to what we had before, why can’t every company just buy a bunch of servers and use those. Seeing the progression historically is really useful as you can assess the value of these new technologies. You don’t need to pair it off the buzzwords.

Michael: A lot of people don’t know that GitHub has a developer account where students can sign up and get a lot of services for free and that’s a huge benefit. Just try playing with the Azure, and Amazon credits they offer.

Buzzword 2: Microservices

Lukasz: it can bring in lots of important things together. It adds stability. You won’t have cases like a separate part having a null pointer exception impacting your service.

Michael: It’s sort of funny because microservices transition from a design principle: low coupling, high cohesion. That’s been a pinnacle software design principle for decades and microservices is basically that approach to application development for a large scale application. It’s like a fancy term for this design principle that’s existed for decades. So I don’t think it’s “all hype”, but it’s just a rebranded term that sounds sexier and gets people’s attention.

Krish: there’s the network overhead with microservices though. Like each request has to go over a network. But there are tradeoffs when you work on a big scale.

Buzzword 3: AR/VR

Lukasz: it depends on which one. AR and VR have the same general idea but are very different concepts. AR is displaying the real word with some sort of enhancement. Whereas VR puts you in a different world.

If you’re interested in working with it, you can join a hardware company like AMD. But in terms of software, there’s not much opportunity.

Krish: I think Google glasses left everyone with a sour taste for AR/VR. It turned out to be kind of a gimmick

Michael: The one thing about AR specifically is that it’s mostly research right now. How can I role it out into cars? How can I use it to perform precise surgery? There is tonnes of stuff that exists in that space and AR in itself is really really cool. Right now a lot of the work being shown to the public is gimmicky, but the application in the long term is there. The problem is: no one coming out of their undergraduate degree is going to be able to work in that field. Not to develop the new stuff in that field, maybe to utilize it but unless you have full exposure with an expert in that area it’s going to be way too long before you’re going to be able to make an impact in that space.

If you’ve ever travelled in Asia you’ll realize that it’s very compacted. To navigate streets for example could be very complex. If you’re using Google maps, you don’t know if you’re in the exact location. But one big thing that AR will come in to play is once you’re able to take photos or use the camera to direct your exact location it’ll help pinpoint you. So that’s definitely another benefit that I could see coming sooner as a commercially available product.

Buzzword 4: Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency

Lukasz: Don’t invest in it.

Michael: It’s funny you say that because investing is like high stakes gambling and throwing your readily available cash.

Lukasz: I think cryptocurrency has a nice place in the future with a decentralized banking system because privacy is important and the government knowing everything may not be a good thing.

Krish: I think Blockchain has a lot of applications, just as a form of validating authenticity. I know some countries have already started implementing blockchain for medical records which is super useful because medical records are very important; you never want to lose medical records and want to make sure they’re valid. So blockchain seems like a great application for that.

Michael: Blockchain is definitely not hype. There are lots of benefits because you have a public transaction log that can never change. You have a ledger that exists which everyone can see. They are actually doing this for degree verification. For example, McMaster is the first institution in Canada to implement blockchain as a means for verification of their degree. A lot of universities like MIT and Stanford are trying to come up with an international standard for degree verification using blockchain.

Buzzword 5: Self-driving Vehicles

Michael: Self-driving vehicles hits like 6 different Computer Science categories. It hits artificial intelligence and machine learning, AR, software engineering, graphics, safety-critical systems, and others. It is an applied project that utilizes a tonne of CS systems.

Naaz: I think the Robotics courses at UTM give you an intro to this, somewhat.

I don’t think this is hype because we’ve had announcements from Uber and Lyft on using self-driving vehicles because they won’t need to pay people money to drive cars. Additionally, for safety, this will help prevent incidents like having creepy taxi drivers which should make it popular.

Krish: Ya I don’t think it’s hype, but I think it’s too early. Like Tesla for so many years has been saying we’ll have level 5 self-driving next year. I think because it’s such a big topic, fully self-driving vehicles is still a couple of years away.

Michael: Ya thing is self-driving cars exist now, it just depends on what degree we want them to function at. And also what degree they’ll be made available to the public with certain rules in place because they need to go through ethics and laws. I don’t see a full-scale rollout happening in under 5 years.

For ethics, you have issues like, if there’s an accident who do you save. The owner, the pedestrian, the elderly, younger person? All kinds of things come into play there.

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For the full podcast, check the following links:

Anchor: https://anchor.fm/utmwhitevan

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6BcR8UyPdFQgGLxtWtMcOV

Apple Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/utm-white-van-podcast/id1526206234

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8tzZnwFhlFYMhy3ff1g9ty7kAilBNuUD

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