[erlang-questions] Question about erlang history at Ericsson

Joe Armstrong erlang@REDACTED
Tue Jan 13 22:34:18 CET 2009

2009/1/12 Ed Korsberg <ed.korsberg@REDACTED>:
> I am new to this Erlang forum so please excuse any 'newbe' errors on my
> part.
> I recently learned of the power of Erlang while attending a conference and
> while I find the technology
> of the Erlang language interesting, I am really curious how Ericsson
> engineering and management had the
> courage to produce a real revenue generating product on a radical previously
> unproven design.
> Many companies have internal engineering resources to create innovative
> research projects but it is
> rare for these research projects to make the transition to shipping products
> complete with all the quality
> control and field support required.
> I would be curious to learn how Ericsson managed this transition from an
> internal R&D development to
> a real shipping product.

The transition was easy - they paid to do this. It became a real
shipping project when they decided to
use Erlang for the AXD301 - at that stage they put in the necessary $$$'s.

Now why did they choose Erlang for this project? - because all other
alternatives had failed - ie it
was not the strength of Erlang that was the deciding factor - rather
the non-existence of alternatives.

Now how come the Erlang stuff was developed in the first place?

This was a happy accident - In the early 1980's a computer science lab
was formed - most of
the guys in the newly formed lab had zero experience with technology
transfer, so we
all thought that all we had to do was "invert stuff" and then "sell
the idea to the management"
nobody told us that this was like permanently banging your hand
against a brick wall.

Inventing stuff is the easy bit ...

The selling stuff was tricky - we were very bad at this but very
optimistic (still am :-) -
we made all the classic mistakes - insulting people - getting into
technical wars -

The turning point came when Erlang was banned - at the time we were
very pissed off
but like most carefull considered management decsions the net result
was the exact opposite
of what was planned - the consequences of the ban were difficult to forsee - but
chaos was created - so things changed rapidly.

Thinking back the *important* things were:

    - enthusiasm and optimism (believe in what you do)
    - serendipity
    - chaos
    - smart people
    - finance

I think we systematically under-rate the significance of chance and
chaos.  Most significant change
takes place in very short time periods of chaos. Erlang had many
periods when nothing happened for years
then rapid changes could take place in very short time periods, always
when a crisis occurred
(ie Erlang was banned, a big project failed etc).

Moral - forget about careful planning and move quickly when a crisis
occurs - trust your gut feelings.


/Joe Armstrong

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