LangDev 2018: a meeting for Language Engineering enthusiasts

I had the great opportunity to attend the first LangDev Meetup. It was organized by Markus Völter and Tijs van der Storm and it was hosted at CWI, in Amsterdam.

Why was it great?

Because there you could meet a lot of different people working in the Language Engineering space from different angles.

There were all the actors that play a role in this field:

  • organizations using DSLs successfully, like Workday and the Dutch Tax office
  • organizations that produce Language Workbenches, like Jetbrains and the Whole Factory
  • organizations that use Language Workbenches in their consulting activities, like Itemis or, well, me
  • researchers who look at how to advance the field (or complicate it while trying :D). In particular there were a lot of people from the group of Eelco Visser (a.k.a. the Spoofax team)

Who was there?

Mostly because of the people attending. For example, I had to chance to meet among the others these persons.

Mikhail Barash, who is working on a very interesting system to teach DSLs to students. He has also created a website to collect some of the material he prepared for his course:

Oscar Rodriguez, who is working on organizing the first community meetup for Jetbrains MPS. By the way, it is already sold out and I am the lucky owner of one of those tickets 🙂 His work is important because he is finding ways to communicate to more people how they can benefit from DSLs and I think this is crucial: out there there are companies that could be 10 times more productive if they only adopted the right DSL. Sadly, they have no idea about this possibility.

Sergej Koščejev, a former developer at Jetbrains who is now working as a freelance consultant, mostly using Jetbrains MPS. I had the chance to work with him in the past and I had the possibility to learn from him technical insights on MPS. More importantly he is a good example of how a professional should interact in a remote team. He is always taking care of problems as they appear, following up and get them solved. He reminds me of the mentality I saw at TripAdvisor, which I could summarize with “No excuses, no waiting, just get things done.”

Markus Völter, it is no mistery that I am a huge admirer of his work. Not only he managed to organize this event but he presented also Convecton. He worked on it together with a great team at Itemis. I fully agree with the idea that we need projectional editors running on the web that can be more seamlessly integrated within existing application. This is one of my long term goals with building lightweight languages. While MPS remains a great solution in many contexts Convecton could become an interesting alternative for business users.

Andrei Chis, who presented an interesting environment based on Pharo. I had the chance to see a similar presentation by Tudor Girba a few years ago and it really impressed me. His presentation stressed the concept that basically we need to provide flexible views to manipulate data and then get out of the way, leaving users to work on those data using the most suitable views for each task. It really made me wondered about the border between languages and applications.

Riccardo Solmi and Enrico Persiani, who have been working on adapting their Language Workbench (the Whole Platform) first to target the iOS environment and eventually to run there. In some time we will be able to build languages from our iPad, while we sit comfortably on the couch. I am looking forward to it 🙂

Vadim Zaytsev, who is a great communicator and always a pleasure to listen. He is working on processing a very complex 4GL language. He is overcoming some very difficult challenges and he had to come up with new approaches to test his .NET compiler for the legacy language he is working with. Code processing is an area of great interest to me, as I think that companies have a huge value trapped in legacy code and they need better ways to work with it.

Other interesting talks

While I did not manage to talk to these persons I really liked their presentations.

Benoit Combemale, who presented GEMOC. What really stroke me was the ability to show animation and replay them. He sent a message a fully agree with: users need feedback. The shorter the feedback cycle, the more productive they can be. And I am also very fond of French research teams 🙂

Tyler Hodgkins, who presented how they transforming the interpreter for the DSLs used at Workday. It was definitely a very strong business case: Workday was born as a company in 2005 and now it employes over 7.000 persons. How did it manage to grow so fast? Well, because of it secret-weapon: DSLs, of course!

Gert Veldhuijzen van Zanten, discussed how the Dutch tax office is expressing the rules they use using DSLs (and MPS in particular). The way they express rules and the way they can test them by defining scenarios remind me of a project I worked on. I found this talk very fascinating.

And now

Now I am more excited than ever about the possibility of using languages to make reasoning easier.

The only issue is waiting for a whole year for the next meeting. Sure, there is the Jetbrains MPS Community meeting in a month but… I wonder if we could get more events like this one…

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