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The possibilities of Elixir

09 Mar 2020 by Maria Kotaniemi

This text, The Possibilities of Elixir, is written by Marjaana Annala and Antti Laitala from Boija Works.


On 26th of February Talented kicked off the event year of 2020 in Oulu with a fully booked after-work session on Elixir. Thomas O’Rourke, our expert of the evening, gave the audience an evening full of insight on a topic somewhat controversial – Elixir, safe yet practical. Eh, is it really? 

With great Nepalese food and refreshments boosting up the energy from the get-go, the evening ended up being an almost 2-hour intensive yet insightful session. In his presentation, Thomas covered the following: What sets Elixir apart from other functional programming languages, what strengths does it have, and how you can use it today. If you want to skip the introduction, scroll down for the recording.

The fundamentals of Elixir

We started off with covering some fundamentals on Elixir’s placement in the Erlang ecosystem and had discussions about this particular language in comparison to the field of functional languages as a whole. While one of the best-known features of Elixir as a programming language is its scalability (due to being run on isolated processes), we learned that there is much more than the obvious features that set it apart in certain circumstances and practical situations.

The performance of Elixir became apparent with the funniest anecdote of the evening. Someone had previously complained about the slowness of performance measurements done on a REST API with a request taking 400 ms to complete. This was, in fact, incorrect as the request took 400 μs instead. Not many languages or frameworks can boast sub-millisecond speeds even with the simplest of examples.

Learning through engagement

Our keynote speaker Thomas O’Rourke appreciates participation and interaction and knew exactly how to keep the audience engaged. Every now and then a chocolate bar would be passed on in the audience to the most eager participants while sharing opinions on topics ranging from the usability in complex problem solving to the safety each portrays. During these over three years of Talented events, we have not come across a situation where there is a race who answers the fastest. 

In addition to rewarding the audience for their active participation, Thomas kept his fellow developers engaged by sharing his own experiences, live examples and jokes. We also had a quiz on the different features of Elixir, Java, Go, C++ and Ruby. Would you know which one of those fits the features dynamic, lightweight, object-oriented and functional, virtual machine-based and memory safe?

1,5 hours into the event (and three full memory cards of recorded video material later) and it still felt like the end of the session came way too early. An audience full of developers with a vision of their work is definitely not easy to convince, but Thomas’ message became loud and clear – use Elixir, or at least try today. It will give you a shortcut around, for example, the reliability or scalability issues that rise from similar frameworks like Akka or Scala that you may not have known you even had.

A huge thank you to Thomas and the whole Oulu tech community for joining us and See you at our next after-work session!

Talented x Thomas O’Rourke: Elixir, safe yet practical – the impossible future


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