Dear Mark: Here’s why your LLC should support Parse

Yesterday, Parse announced that they would be shutting down the service in a year’s time. By all accounts, developers could not have asked for a more graceful and gentle exit: A year-long advanced notice has been given, their core technologies are being open-sourced, and already yesterday they had published detailed guides on migrating an existing app to a self-hosted solution.

Needless to say, they didn’t have to do any of this. And because Parse has been incredibly tactful and respectful of their users, the community response has been overwhelmingly one of deep appreciation for everything the Parse team has been doing — and rightly so.

Further, all the professional developers out there are hardly left alone to fend for themselves. From AWS Lambda for Cloud Code-like operations, to Amazon’s SNS for Push, from MongoDB for the database to Node.js for Parse Server, Parse’s shutdown is annoying but hardly something that will stop professional developers in their tracks.

But beyond the professional programmer, Parse’s shutdown is a far more devastating blow. Until now, Parse has undoubtedly been the simplest, cheapest, and quickest way for anyone to go from idea to simple, working prototype. If you were someone learning the ropes of app development — or coding, for that matter — you would have been wise to look to Parse to help you with the heavy lifting.

Paradoxically, this certainly contributed to Parse’s shutdown. I suspect that the vast, vast majority of users utilized the service well within the free tier. Parse was incredibly friendly to hobbyists. 1M push deliveries a month? You should be so lucky to hit those quotas! If you couple that with the fact that many developers of large applications might have skirted the service precisely because of vendor lock-in issues, this makes Parse a very, very difficult business to run.

But a lack of revenue does not mean lack of value. As a business, Parse has been a failure. As an educational tool, Parse could have been one of the most important technologies in the world.

I used to work at a K-12 school, and I noticed a pattern with the middle school students that I worked with: For the vast majority of students, the coding initiatives we offered were things they’d fondly remember, but would never pursue. A select few, though, would constantly bug me about what to do next. And, for some of them, they’d persist until they used “real” technologies to build simple applications to show their friends. This last step was crucial: it separated the kids who were going through the motions to those whom I knew would have coding with them for the rest of their lives.

This is not restricted to kids, of course. RaspberryPi is a great example of a technology that has pushed coding literacy for all kinds of folks: While it was designed for schoolchildren to use, it flourished in the hands of older hobbyists and ushered in a true explosion of interest in DIY computing and robotics. Isn’t Parse — or couldn’t Parse be — the RaspberryPi of web and mobile apps?

Mark Zuckerberg has invested considerable time, energy, and money into initiatives to promote coding. Nowadays, there is a seemingly endless collection of courses and tutorials and guides on how to get started for virtually anything you’d like to build. However, the surest way to inspire anyone, to get someone to be bitten by the coding “bug,” is to help them make “real” apps. And, as an educator (and hobbyist developer myself), I couldn’t think of a better technology to suggest than Parse.

So, here is my plea to Zuckerberg: With the newly minted LLC, investing in Parse (or a Parse-like service) is the single greatest contribution you can make to coding literacy in the world. For the 13 or the 30 year old, there is something undeniably powerful about launching a working application. When you stood up a simple LAMP stack over a decade ago, you quite literally changed the world. Surely you fully understand the power that comes from being able to get started quickly, to try something out, to explore an idea without risk, and to share it with the world. Parse was the single best service out there to let anyone do that. Don’t let it die.

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