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Track Changes

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Jul 24, 2018
 

Two Jabrons Shooting the Shit: Source management, change management, version control — is there a better, more modern way to track changes in software? This week, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade hash it out. For decades, change management has been a huge part of computing, but how has it developed over time? What works, what hasn’t, and where are we heading? 

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Paul — 3:00: “Really what it’s about is that life is not linear, work is not linear. Two people need to work on one thing at the same time.”

Paul — 3:25: “Code tends to be simple text files. Version control and change management of code have been a huge part of computing for decades and decades.”

Rich — 4:00: “The internal network, or the shared network, was a pivotal point. Because you wanted that productivity of having a shared network.”

Rich — 5:00: “You’re spewing out the key requirements of what’s gonna make decent version control. Keep versions — huge. Don’t just overwrite. Absolute requirement. Mark who did what.”

Paul — 6:10: “Here’s what’s tricky to remember. We need to track lots of files. We’re not just talking about one. It might be a big directory with lots of sub-directories and lots of files… You could lock a file and say no one else could get this. In some different kinds of version control systems, especially in publishing workflows, that’s the primitive version. You’re in a world of pain. Every time somebody tries to do locking in version control, it just means everyone is like, ‘Can I get the file?!’”

Rich — 6:45: “So locking’s not a good idea. You would think, rationally, that it would be a good idea.”

Paul — 7:10: “Locking still shows up. You still see it in marketing content management tools where it’s like I’m gonna go in and edit that file but only I can edit it.”

Paul — 7:35: “One of the reasons they like to lock in content management is that the content is really kind of arbitrary. If I give you two text files, it’s actually pretty easy for a computer to be like ‘this line isn’t in this file but it is in this one.’”

Paul — 10:35: “The modern way is decentralized version control systems. What makes them decentralized is that you have a copy of the code and you have a copy of all the changes that came before it. You download everything, and that sounds like it would be huge but actually it’s not.”

Paul — 11:20: “I want the latest version. I enjoy reading the source code. I have a twenty-year relationship with this piece of software at this point. One of my better, closer relationships in life.”

Paul — 12:15: “You don’t necessarily get every change that was ever made, except that if there was a change that lead to the current state of that software — like here’s what it took to get us to today, you’re basically guaranteed to have that version and all the versions going backwards.”

Paul — 12:45: “The nice thing about having everything is that you can make your own changes and you can compile your own software and that’s all good. If they do something you don’t like, you can roll back and work from the old version.”

Paul — 13:25: “What Github provides — the thing about version control systems is that there actually is no canonical version, and this is really hard for people to understand. I had my copy of the software, you had your copy… The whole thing that makes your text editor, including the icon. That’s all in a folder that I got from somebody.

Paul — 14:00: “There’s no owner, you and I are just sharing.”

Rich — 19:55: “In a way the revelation here is policing at the top level. Let everyone work. Nobody can step on anyone else, but to maintain order up at the top — very low coordination.”

Rich — 20:20: “There’s actually something very social about GitHub’s software.”

Rich — 22:50: “[Why did Microsoft buy GitHub?]To reconnect Microsoft to a new way of working.”

Paul — 23:00: “Microsoft has always been great about developers. For all of their faults and their justice department shenanigans, no one ever doubted that they truly cared about giving people a good experience writing software. This is keeping with the core ethos of the company. They want people to be more productive making and doing things with computers at a low level.”

A full transcript of this episode is available.

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Track Changes is the weekly technology and culture podcast from Postlight, hosted by Paul Ford and Rich Ziade. Production, show notes and transcripts by EDITAUDIO. Podcast logo and design by Will Denton of Postlight.

 
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