While It’s Compiling: Skills Matter interviews Dean Wampler

dean-wamplerFor an insight into Skills Matter’s Scala eXchange 2014 at the Business Design Centre on 8th and 9th December, we caught up with recognised Scala author and expert, Dean Wampler. Giving the keynote speech on day two of the Scala eXchange, he’ll reveal why those dealing with Big Data are increasingly being won over by the power of Scala. But in this pre-conference interview, he offered an insight into balancing his roles as evangelist, strategist and hacker, his changing focus within Typesafe, and his love for traveling, cats…and traveling cats. Read on to find out more!


You’re a software developer, a new data scientist, a technical author, and a frequent public speaker.  Which aspect of your work would you say defines you the most?

I’ve had a circuitous career path. For my dissertation (Physics PhD), I modeled complex decay processes in nuclei to look for signatures of exotic behaviours. I discovered a love of programming during that time and made the decision to pursue a career in software development. Fast forward to a few years ago, I moved into the Big Data world because of several appealing factors. First, I knew that Scala and Functional Programming were the right tools for the job – something the rest of the industry is learning now! Second, lots of the mathematics used in Machine Learning and analytics are the same tools I used in physics. Finally, it’s a growing, exciting field with lots of hard problems to solve and lots of opportunities to explore. So, I see myself as part evangelist for how Big Data should be done, part strategist for Typesafe on our place in the ecosystem, and part hacker to help make it all happen.

Tell us about Scala’s relationship with Big Data and why you think this is important.

From the beginning, Scala has been a great “upgrade” for Java developers who want to use a language that exploits cutting edge thinking about language and software design, while at the same time leveraging an existing JVM-based infrastructure. One of those cutting-edge ideas is Functional Programming for writing robust concurrent software. However, I now think that interest in FP and Scala are being driven more by Big Data applications than concurrency concerns. Working with data is fundamentally about Mathematics. Since FP is also based on Mathematics, the match is natural. Furthermore, many Java developers who otherwise saw no need to move from Java to Scala discovered Big Data tools like Scalding and Spark, which were eye-opening. The elegance, the concision, and the expressiveness of these tools made the move to Scala far more obvious than before.

In your talk at the Scala eXchange, you’ll explain why data-centric applications are driving Scala adoption. Can you give us a few insights into this now?

In a nutshell, every language, tool, library, or environment needs a “killer app” where adoption is without question. Just as the Web was the killer app for Java, Big Data is the killer app for Scala. The fit is so obvious on many practical levels.

You consult for Typesafe, the company behind Scala. What does your work there involve?

I’ve taught courses on Scala and Akka and I’ve worked with clients on Akka projects and more recently, Spark projects. I’ve developed our initial set of training materials for Spark and delivered those materials to clients around the world. However, I’m now moving into the engineering organisation as Architect for Typesafe’s strategy for Spark-based products and services. As the Scala experts, we are uniquely positioned both to help make Spark better and to help our customers use it most effectively. Stay tuned 😉

Your Flickr page shows a love of travel and a love of cats. Do they trump your love even of Scala?? And where is your favourite travel destination?!

The ultimate is love of travelling cats, I guess, but they are as rare as Unicorns. I travel a lot, which is a privilege, and I like to record my experiences. When I return home, my cats keep my wife and I entertained. If I say that I love Scala more than them, there will be hell to pay, so you won’t get me to say that on the record…A lot of those pictures are from backpacking trips around North America. Yosemite National Park in California, the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest, and many places in Utah and Arizona are hard to beat. Do come over and see them! For more civilized adventures, is there any city in the world more interesting than London? I don’t know of one.

While It’s Compiling is a continuing series of interviews with experts across a range of bleeding-edge technologies and practices, exclusive to Skills Matter. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for future interviews, or follow us on Twitter.

Find out who we’ll be interviewing next, and get a chance to put your questions forward with the hashtag #whileitscompiling.

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