Sebastian Golasch: Crazy hacks suit IoT just as much as frontend 👾

The Internet of Things is one of the hot topics that we're going to get into at the upcoming AmsterdamJS

We're bringing you an interview with Sebastian Golasch, one of AmsterdamJS's speakers and Specialist Senior Manager Software Developer at Deutsche Telekom. Sebastian is a JS / IoT pro you shouldn't miss out on!

How do you usually introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m Sebastian. I've done stuff with computers for almost 15 years and still have to google nearly every git command out there.

You’ve worked with IoT for over 6 years now, what has kept you excited for so long?

I think it's the same spirit that got me into web development almost 15 years ago, IoT is a widely undiscovered territory, there are so many opportunities for makers to create something nearly out of thin air. It only takes 5€ & a computer to get started with it, and the only barrier for projects is your own imagination.

Aside from that, controlling objects that interact with the real world are likely to be more invasive to our lives than the pure “Internet of Websites”, therefore we need more people to advocate for privacy andsecurity. I see myself as someone who gives those concerns a voice and advocates for concepts like “The Intranet of Things”, trying to have an impact on the products we built for our customers as well as in the open source community.

And, of course, it's just an amazing feeling to push a button on a website and see something happening in the real world thousands of kilometres away. 😃

Why is Node.js so popular in the IoT community?

I do believe that many people who work on websites and web applications can easily transfer their skills to the IoT world while stying in a familiar programming environment. I got to the impression that people who work on the frontend side of the web are more driven by practical solutions, solutions that might not be perfect examples of software architecture “by the book”, but just simply work. Pragmatic, hands on & not being afraid of crazy hacks are attributes that suit the IoT world as much as the web frontend space.

Nodes core principles, being async by default, embracing network & event driven computing do fit the IoT space so well, it doesn’t take much brain transmission capacity to think of Node when you look for a fitting solution to your IoT problem.

What has been the biggest boost for IoT’s growth and adoption over the last years?

Computers are getting more powerful, but also smallish & cheap at the same time. The Raspberry Pi is a wonderful example of it, we can attach a powerful computer for €5 to almost anything these days. Having connected devices to tinker with became affordable for everyone.

Also, even big companies like IKEA do produce products that work with standard IoT protocols like ZigBee, so battle-tested end consumer devices are available in your favourite stores. It doesn’t make much difference on the money side of things if you need to change a lightbulb in your home and, instead of getting a plain old regular bulb, you decide to spend 10€ more for a connected one.

There are many more factors, like better usability and new forms of interaction with the user (think Alexa) that make this technology so appealing to almost everyone.

You will be talking about multiple real-life issues with IoT development, but to give a sneak peak, what’s the biggest bottleneck?

Oh, there are so many…

We’re still in a phase where many protocols and companies compete with each other, so it's rather unlikely that your wall switch from vendor A is able to talk to your lightbulb from vendor B. If they are, then they mostly do it by Cloud to Cloud communication. I find it rather annoying that those 2 devices that are 3 meters apart from each other do need to dial out to some web service to talk to each other, and if you have trouble with your internet connection, sometimes they don't work at all.

And then there are companies that do see this technology as another way of harvesting user data, and just thinking about what those companies could know about you because you use 3 connected lightbulbs is very alarming.

We also have to deal with devices that run on batteries (or sometimes just by harvesting energy from the kinetic power of a button press) and therefore aren’t able to encrypt the data that they’re sending because the chips would need more energy to do that. There are lots of nightmare scenarios, but also many opportunities, and we as developers need to steer this into the right direction and can’t just close our eyes in front of debatable management or company decisions.

Talking about other your projects, we remember you starting Dalek.js. Tell us how you started and why you stopped.

A tiny tear just ran down my face reading that. 😉

I once started Dalek because there was no tool around that enabled people to test the UI of their websites and web apps with the same language they’ve created them. I always wondered about being able to code everything from A to Z in Javascript, but when it came down to testing the stuff E2E, you needed to dive deep into the Java ecosystem…

The aim of Dalek was to enable small teams or individuals to be able to test their websites, easy installation, no dependencies to other languages, jQuery-esque syntax. I loved working on it, but I was mostly alone, that's why issues and ideas to improve grew, but contributions didn’t. I was mostly alone when it came down to maintaining it, and later I realised that this was too much for one person to do in their spare time.

Around the time of the decision to abandon it, other test frameworks have been released and they were better, backed by companies, and they did provide a superb user experience. I sometimes still moan when people ask me about Dalek because I liked working on it, but in terms of mental health, it was the best decision to bury it.

How did you end up being a developer? What do you love the most about your work?

I was always interested in working with computers since I was a kid, but I was always afraid to start programming when I was young. Afraid of being too stupid to be able to understand it. So I then wanted to start a career in music journalism and while I was attending a design school to learn more about the producing side of newspapers, I learned to love HTML, CSS, and how easy it was to release your own content without needing a publisher or something.

Even if it's sometimes a love/hate relationship, I'm still in love with how easy it is to just start with a blank page in your editor and being able to create something out of nothing.

Are you excited about speaking at AmsterdamJS?

Of course I’m excited! 😃

Not only is Amsterdam one of the most beautiful cities in the world, also the spirit and friendliness of its citizens is soooooooo wonderful. All I can say about having the opportunity to be on stage at AmsterdamJS is: Bedankt. Bedankt a lot.

#JavaScript community organizing confs and meetups, gathering 20K+ people online & 1K attendees in-person. #JSNationLive #AmsterdamJS