The Twelve Developers of Christmas: Phil Whelan, Nest Watcher
by Isabelle Groc

Isabelle Groc, December 31, 2012

This month, we celebrate twelve Stackato ActiveState developers who share thoughts about the product, little known facts about them, and what they want for Christmas.

Phil Whelan, Senior Software Developer, joined ActiveState in January 2012. Born in Birmingham, England, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Cybernetics from the University of Reading. Before making a home in Vancouver six years ago, Phil spent time in Australia and Japan, and worked in London, where he was busy building the BBC’s iPlayer. At ActiveState, he works on the Stackato console, the API, and the administration tool, kato.Because Phil and his wife are expecting a new baby girl in March, Phil feels much compassion for the hard work of the geese laying on the Sixth Day of Christmas.

How did you become a developer?

I have always been interested in computers since I got my first computer when I was five or six years old, which was a ZX81. It was released in 1991. My grandfather was an engineer, and he got it for me. It had a smooth and flat keyboard, much like an modern-day iPad.

Your favourite programming language(s)?

I currently work a lot with Ruby and Python. I am a big fan of the Tornado web application server for Python, as I like to write event-based software. At ActiveState we use Ruby’s EventMachine quite heavily.

What gets you excited about Stackato?

The fact that you can easily push applications to the cloud and “the cloud” can be whatever you define it to be. “The cloud” can be a virtual machine on your laptop, your own cluster on Amazon EC2 or Rackspace, or your own hardware in your own data center. Once an organization has a Stackato cluster up and running, it gives developers the freedom to work with languages and web frameworks that they wouldn’t be able to use otherwise. It removes a lot of headaches for the sysadmins, who would otherwise only have the resources to support one or two frameworks or data stores.

What do you think this product will look like in 5 years?

It is hard to say because it’s moving so quickly. I think the scope of what it can be used for will grow and may change. The app store is interesting, because it can be used to deploy any software that runs on Ubuntu Server and has a web interface. Already, you can deploy games. It’s a great development aid for developers, great platform for enterprise, and it’s starting to make sense for individuals, even though this is not the current focus of Stackato. I can see a time when iPad and Stackato will go hand in hand. You run all your apps in the cloud on Stackato and your lightweight tablet is a view into that.

Who else in the industry impresses you?

I am always inspired by pioneers. For example, what Heroku has built for developers was very new, and they built a great package that turned a lot of developers on to the idea of Platform as a Service. Amazon Web Services falls into this category too.

What do people don’t know about you?

I was involved in the opening and closing ceremony at the Winter Olympics 2010 in Vancouver. I was an “athlete marshal,”dressed all in white, greeting the athletes as they entered the arena. My family in England and Japan were able to see me on the TV. I also got to fire a flare during the ceremony.

What do you do when you are not developing?

I have a two-year old daughter, it takes a lot of time. I am also running at Queen Elizabeth Park. I try to do one half marathon a year.

Best show you've been to this year?

I recently saw the Broadway Church’s Singing Christmas Tree, which involves play, dancing, and music. We were sitting in the “geese a-laying” section, and it was very appropriate because we are having a baby in a few months. I also loved Amaluna, the latest Cirque du Soleil show. I enjoyed the amazing skills that performers have, singing, dancing, and playing instruments while doing these extraordinary physical feats all at the same time.

What you want for Christmas?

More time. I never have enough time.

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Isabelle joined ActiveState as a Technical Editor after several years as a freelance journalist, editor, and photographer, and has contributed to a variety of media outlets including PC Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Discover, Canadian Wildlife, Georgia Straight, and Scientific American.


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