Honouring the first Erlang Ecosystem Foundation Fellows, without whom, there would be no foundation.

The Ericsson Computer Science Lab

Back in the 90s, the Ericsson Computer Science Lab was a place where you were inspired to learn and share, regardless of age or seniority. It was innovation time, every day, all year round. Staff had the mandate to research and solve real world problems, be it programming languages, distributed systems, middleware, voice recognition or protocol stacks. As Bjarne had managed to employ some of the brightest minds outside of academia, the approach did not consist of writing papers with lots of incomprehensible Greek formulas. It was a hands on approach based on rapid prototyping, allowing them to fail fast by disproving their theories or show they were taking a step closer to success. They did not use existing web servers, preferring to hack their own so as to understand how the underlying protocols worked, and where possible, improve them. They did not implement a single virtual machine; three were implemented, with the best ideas of from each later integrated in a single solution. Most of the innovation, interaction and idea sharing happened during frequent coffee breaks or at lunch. Lunches always finished with a mandatory game of rock, paper and scissors. Whoever lost had to get the coffee for everyone else (It was often the intern or occasional visitor).

The First Fellows

One of the top innovations which came out of the Computer Science Lab was the Erlang Programming Language. There was a unanimous consent when electing our first fellows that the creators of Erlang, and the person who gave them the safe space to innovate should be chosen and put forward as one. Joe Armstrong, Mike Williams and Robert Virding on their own would not have been able to come up with Erlang. But together, they were the dream team. They were managed by Bjarne Däcker, who shielded them from random acts of management, allowing them to get on with their work. Joe was the inventor. He came up with the crazy ideas, implemented 80% of them and then put them away in his drawer for someone else to finish (The first problem is he did not always tell us about them, and the second problem is that whilst it took him a few days to do his 80%, it would take a mere mortal months to finish the remaining 20%). He came up with the idea to create a programming language. He came up with the idea to write a book. And he made sure any idea his colleagues came up with did not defy the laws of physics. Robert was interested in aesthetics. He wanted things to be nice, symmetrical and logical. He thought about problems long and hard, often missing deadlines whilst rewriting libraries that worked to test different approaches. Because of it, his boss rewarded him with the title of Sublime Hacker. Mike was the pragmatist. If you ask him what he contributed to Erlang, he would say he spent most of his time doing damage prevention; convincing Joe and Robert they did not need to add a particular feature to the Erlang just because it was cool or good to have. But you scratch under the surface, you find out that Mike was the only one of the three who wore a tie (and could thus speak to management), had extensive telecom experience and was a better C programmer than Joe. And he came up with the idea of process links and exit signals. An idea other concurrent programming languages still are not copying! Bjarne was the catalyst who, by giving them the space to innovate, allowed it all to happen. He had previously been involved in the creation of other programming languages, notably EriPascal, a concurrent version of Pascal used within Ericsson. At Code Beam Stockholm in May 2019, we announced Joe, Mike, Robert and Bjarne as the first fellows of the foundation. Without them, there would be no Erlang, Elixir or any of the other 15 languages on the BEAM! There would simply be no foundation. The board and work group felt it was important they were honoured as a team. Those who knew Joe was unwell had been pushing for a nomination for quite a while. But setting up the workgroup took time. Luckily, a posthumous nomination is allowed in the bylaws, which however stopped short of allowing Joe to become an active fellow (which we all agree would not have been possibly anyhow). The working group made their way around this limitation by creating the category of Fellow Emeritus, a fellow who is no longer active in the community, but whose contributions have had an important impact. Joe, Mike and Bjarne all technically fall in this category.

Nominating and Approving Fellows

We currently have a simple process that will be refined over time.To be eligible for membership as a Fellow, a member must be nominated by the Fellowship Working Group. Anyone is allowed to put forward candidates, but it is ultimately the work group which decides who gets nominated. We are today building the foundation on the work and effort put in place by a lot of individuals over 30 years. Future nominations will include a mix of past and present community members, also keeping a balance across communities.

Following such nomination, being elected a fellow requires the approval of two-thirds of the members entitled to vote. That means members have to vote, as abstaining will fall into the category of not voting. Upon election, a Fellow will remain a Fellow for the remainder of such person’s natural life. The bylaws clearly state it does not continue during any extension of life by non-natural means, such as zombification or vampirism. The foundation, however, has a category of Fellow Emeritus, where zombies, vampires and fellows who have passed away are allowed.

Joe, Mike Robert and Bjarne were the first. If you want to put forward a member you believe deserves to be nominated or want to find out more about our work, email the fellowship group on fellows@erlef.org