Home > Erlang > An interview with Michal Ptaszek (@michalptaszek)

An interview with Michal Ptaszek (@michalptaszek)


This is one of the last interviews I made to the speakers of  Erlang Factory London 2011. One of my favourite erlang developers is Michal Ptaszek. Michal works at Erlang Solutions Ltd in Krakow. He is pretty famous among ejabberd developers and XMPP lovers.

Ask and Aswer

Paolo – Michal, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Michal – Hello, I am Michal Ptaszek – Erlang passionate and evangelist, someone who became seduced by the beauty of logic of maths and algorithms in his early childhood. Currently I work for Erlang Solutions, trying to cope with the complexity of massive scale Internet Messaging systems. From personal perspective, I have done my masters in Krakow University of Science and Technology in Grid systems field (Erlang obviously!), currently I live in Krakow, Poland, love jazz and modern literature (especially latin). Some day would like to find some time to learn how to play sax.

Paolo – How did you “discover” Erlang?
Michal – It has started in the early 2008, when Joe Armstrong came to Poland to give a talk on Erlang concepts for Student’s IT Festival. Of course almost no one has ever heard of the language (or. even if, never touched it), and as Joe is such a great speaker, he planted some seeds of curiosity in my mind.

Paolo – How long did it take to you to master Erlang?
Michal – I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered Erlang. Comparing to such people as Ulf Wiger or Robert Virding, I’m still in my infancy🙂 The great thing in Erlang is that you do not have tons of code everywhere: language is simple, standard libraries are manageable, even VM: if you clench your fists you can read and understand the entire code in few weeks.
In my opinion people are in never-ending continuos process of developing themselves: when I look at my code written a year/two ago I feel ashamed of myself and would love to throw it away and rewrite it in some nicer way. I guess at the time when I discover there is nothing to improve I will be forced to change the profession (or at least the programming language)😉

Paolo – How did you find your first Erlang related job?
Michal – Few months later after Joe’s visit to Poland, Erlang Solutions (Erlang Training and Consulting back then) decided to open an office in Krakow: I did not hesitate a lot and applied for the internships. The office grew from 3 to 12 people since then and is extending all the time: I guess it was a really good choice.

Paolo – What are the things you love most of Erlang?
Michal – Just to name two most important things:
– built-in parallelism and distribution – I can not even imagine how do people distribute their applications and protect their critical sections using semaphores and mutexes. It’s so 1990…
– fault tolerance – one of the least appreciated things in the language: ability to isolate the errors, propagate them in the controlled way and recover automatically. In the systems that run on top of tens/hundreds of machines crash of one of them is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Paolo – During Erlang Factory, you will talk about Erlang and XMPP: can you give to our readers a brief description of your course?
Michal – Yes, together with Michal Slaski we are going to teach a one day course on Erlang and XMPP (ejabberd in particular). During those few hours we would like to show how the things work under ejabberd’s hood, why it is not a best idea to keep the default configuration, what are the
low hanging fruits for ejabberd, BEAM and OS enhancements, how can we monitor existing server, how to cluster several daemons together in one command and finally: what are the ways to extend the functionality programmatically.

Paolo – Who should follow your course and why?
Michal – Definitely people who are interested in Internet Messaging, even not necessarily in XMPP. Architecture of message/presence router, as well as the easiness of extending current functionality, federating with other protocols or finally scalability might be stimulative to someone who
plans to set up a startup or replace his current messaging server with something better.

Paolo – Why should an XMPP programmer use Erlang as development language?
Michal – Mostly because of the concurrency and scalability. Erlang actor process model fits perfectly in the concept of independent user sessions and communicating with each other using asynchronous message passing.

Paolo – In your opinion, what is the most important thing to keep in mind when developing with Erlang and XMPP?
Michal – Global state/shared data is a root of all evil. The less things you share – the better you can scale. XMPP systems have tendencies to grow rapidly: it’s basically the linear relation to the number of simultaneously connected users. Shared global state will not pop up as a bottleneck until it is too late: when users are storming our gates and we realize that things should have been done in a different way long time ago.
And there is also one more rule, that people often forget about: KISS. IM systems are really simple, let’s do not overengineer them

Paolo – Can you recommend to our readers some books, sites, or blogs that will help them in the world of Erlang and XMPP?
Michal – Definitely take a look at Jack Moffitt’s both book (“Professional XMPP Programming”) and webiste (http://metajack.im/). Another worth-reading blog is Stefan Strigler’s http://blog.jwchat.org/. To be honest: there is still no book on Erlang and XMPP in particular. Maybe it is a good time to change it?🙂

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