Software Development Environments Move to the Cloud

Illustration of software development in the cloud.
Illustration: iStockphoto

By: Rina Diane Caballar

If you’re a newly hired software engineer, setting up your development environment can be tedious. If you’re lucky, your company will have a documented, step-by-step process to follow. But this still doesn’t guarantee you’ll be up and running in no time. When you’re tasked with updating your environment, you’ll go through the same time-consuming process. With different platforms, tools, versions, and dependencies to grapple with, you'll likely encounter bumps along the way.

Austin-based startup Coder aims to ease this process by bringing development environments to the cloud. “We grew up in a time where [Microsoft] Word documents changed to Google Docs. We were curious why this wasn’t happening for software engineers,” says John A. Entwistle, who founded Coder along with Ammar Bandukwala and Kyle Carberry in 2017. “We thought that if you could move the development environment to the cloud, there would be all sorts of cool workflow benefits.”

With Coder, software engineers access a preconfigured development environment on a browser using any device, instead of launching an integrated development environment installed on their computers. This convenience allows developers to learn a new code base more quickly and start writing code right away. It also makes it easier to update the different components of a development environment, maintaining consistency across the team. Moreover, this setup could benefit companies shifting to a remote workforce, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to work from home.

Because Coder’s development environments run in the cloud, software engineers can take advantage of more processing power to perform intensive computing operations. “Even doing something as simple as cloning a repo[sitory] happens in a matter of seconds because you’re using the cloud network rather than your local Internet connection,” Entwistle says.

Yet cloud-based platforms have their limitations, the most crucial of which is they require reliable Internet service. “We have support for intermittent connections, so if you lose connection for a few seconds, you don’t lose everything. But you do need access to the Internet,” says Entwistle. There’s also the task of setting up and configuring your team’s development environment before getting started on Coder, but once that’s done, you can share your predefined environment with the team.

To ensure security, all source code and related development activities are hosted on a company’s infrastructure—Coder doesn’t host any data. Organizations can deploy Coder on their private servers or on cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform. This option could be advantageous for banks, defense organizations, and other companies handling sensitive data. In fact, one of Coder’s customers is the U.S. Air Force, and the startup closed a US $30 million Series B funding round last month (bringing its total funding to $43 million), with In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm with ties to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as one of its backers.

“We’re a solution that helps [the U.S. Air Force] keep security measures in place while also enabling their engineers to be more productive,” Entwistle says. “All development is done on their infrastructure, which means there’s no source code on computers and an engineer’s laptop is no longer part of the cyberattack surface. Because of the way we’re deployed and the benefits of moving sensitive intellectual property away from the end user, we’re a good fit.”

For future releases, Coder is looking to expand into data science and add more features to support collaboration among teams. But their main focus will always be bringing software development to the cloud. “We want to remove the friction an engineer experiences so they can get back to doing what they love—which is to write code,” says Entwistle.

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 22 May 2020.