An open letter to Heroku regarding the end of free micro-plans

To: Bob Wise, Heroku EVP

Dear Bob:

I am writing on behalf of the worldwide community of instructors who make use of our free and open materials for teaching full-stack software engineering, as explained on the website saasbook.info.

These materials, created by Turing Award winner Dave Patterson and me, were first introduced in 2013 and updated numerous times since then. They have reached over 100,000 students via an initially free and now very-low-cost online course on edX, and are used by over 300 instructors around the world free of charge. The textbook Engineering Software as a Service (saasbook.info) has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, and Greek; was recognized by the Association for Computing Machinery as sufficiently significant contribution to CS education that one of its co-authors (me) received the Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding CS Educator Award in 2015 largely on the strength of this effort; and was selected as “Most Promising New Textbook” by the Textbook Authors Association the year after its release. The book’s approach and content have been praised by both academics (including Turing Award winner Fred Brooks) and influential industrial practitioners (including senior engineers and hiring managers at Google). The content and methodology were deeply influenced by our own professional relationships with engineers at leading SaaS companies, including Heroku itself, GitHub, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AWS, and Pivotal Labs, all of whose practices influenced the book’s content. In short, the materials have been highly influential in providing a “ready to run” course for teaching modern, realistic, full-stack agile/XP software engineering to anyone with OOP experience and access to an Internet-connected browser. And Heroku deployment is a key part of the entire methodology.

Part of the materials’ goal is to expose learners to the same tools and practices professionals use—no “walled gardens” for developing code, but GitHub for team-based version control, CodeClimate for code quality, Coveralls for test coverage, and Heroku for full-stack deployment. Key to the materials’ success is the availability of a free tier in each of these services, since student-developed projects are non-proprietary and open and have very low resource needs. Very often, these projects serve as prototypes or even small-scale in-house production systems for nonprofits and campus units. And many of these learners are in resource-poor environments where even a few dollars a month for each tool in the stack would put learning opportunities out of reach.

Hence we were dismayed to hear that Heroku is discontinuing all free tier offerings in a couple of weeks. This reversal is especially saddening since the only announced student option of which we are aware requires a credit card for signup. We are aware of the Student Dev Pack offer Heroku currently has, but many of us teach at public universities where (a) there are non-negotiable restrictions around what students can be required to pay for materials for a specific course, and (b) it cannot be assumed that most students have access to a valid personal credit card. These conditions are often even more common for international learners. Even if these issues were addressed, thousands of learners use our open materials to self-teach parts of the course, or are professional learners accessing the curated materials on their own in order to re-skill in an economy in which formal courses are unavailable to them, and so are not full-time students.

Of course we understand that a business has to make money, the economic situation is not what it was a few years ago, and adjustments must be made. Nonetheless we hope a creative solution can be found that allows software engineering learners—the industry’s seed corn, as it were—to continue to use Heroku’s category-leading PaaS in a modest but key capacity in their learning. For example, perhaps Heroku would consider a free-trial period that a learner could use for three to six months, the typical time it takes to complete the entire course. (Full-stack deployment is featured from the very beginning of the course, not just in a capstone project. Nearly every homework assignment involves deploying to Heroku.) Salesforce has already set an admirable example through its generous support of nonprofits with a free tier for its flagship product, not to mention the company’s other highly visible philanthropy in the Bay Area; could a philanthropic “gift” from Salesforce to Heroku specifically to underwrite free learner usage work here?

To make things worse, the proposed change is scheduled to occur just as final exams and final projects for the semester are approaching (for most universities this happens in early to mid December). Suddenly losing access will play havoc with students and instructors using Heroku in their classes.

I would be happy to come to Salesforce/Heroku and talk about this in person, to an audience of any size, to describe our approach and the impact of our work in more detail and make the case for keeping a simple Heroku stack free to use for learning purposes. We know that other free-to-use cloud computing is available—AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure all offer some free use for nonprofit and academic purposes, and we do have strong connections at all of those companies—but our teaching goals are most effectively met, by far, with Heroku’s signature easy-to-use PaaS.

As the co-authors of these materials and as influential computer scientists invested in making high-quality software engineering education accessible to all, we and many of the colleagues who use our materials respectfully ask Heroku to consider delaying the withdrawal of the free tier until a widely-accessible, logistically-feasible alternative for learners can be identified.

I look forward to the opportunity to visit and make this case in person with whoever will listen. Please don’t hesitate to email me at your earliest convenience and I’ll be right over. I’ll even bring a copy of the textbook autographed by its Turing Award-winning co-author. Dave and I consider this contribution to software engineering education as part of our legacy, and we would very much like Heroku to remain part of it.

Respectfully,

Armando Fox, Professor, UC Berkeley EECS
Winner, Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award
ACM Distinguished Scientist

David A. Patterson, Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley EECS
Winner, ACM A.M. Turing Award
Winner, Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award
ACM Fellow

And the undersigned colleagues who use our free materials to teach the course:

Iván Alfonso, PhD Student, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, id.alfonso@uniandes.edu.co
José Luis Álvarez, Professor, Universidad de Huelva, Spain, alvarez@dti.uhu.es
Scott Anderson, Lecturer, Wellesley College, USA, scott.anderson@wellesley.edu
Weerachai Anotaipaiboon, Associate Professor, Thammasat University, Thailand, wa@engr.tu.ac.th
Solomon Antony, Associate Professor, Murray State University, USA, santony@murraystate.edu
Michael Ball, Lecturer, University of California,  Berkeley and Former Salesforce Employee, USA, ball@berkeley.edu
Marty Barrett, Teaching Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, USA, martinba@cmu.edu
Curt Bridgers, Graduate Student of Computer Science, Appalachian State University, USA, bridgerspc@appstate.edu
Janet Burge, Associate Professor, Colorado College, USA, jburge@coloradocollege.edu
Cristina Cachero, Lecturer, Universidad de Alicante, Spain, ccc@ua.es
Marcos Chaim, Associate Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil, chaim@usp.br
Hung-Fu Chang, Assistant Professor, University of Indianapolis, USA, hchang@uindy.edu
Jaime Chavarriaga, Lecturer, Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, Colombia, jaime.chavarriaga@javerianacali.edu.co
Victoria Chávez, PhD Student,  Former CS Lecturer, Northwestern University,  Formerly University of Rhode Island , USA, vcchavez@u.northwestern.edu
Kwanghoon Choi, Professor, Chonnam National University, Korea, kwanghoon.choi@jnu.ac.kr
Drew Clinkenbeard, Full-Time Lecturer, California State University Monterey Bay, USA, dclinkenbeard@csumb.edu
Daniel Cordeiro, Assistant Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil, daniel.cordeiro@usp.br
Janet Davis, Associate Professor, Whiman College, USA, davisj@whitman.edu
Peter DePasquale, Industry Associate Professor, New York University, USA, pd80@nyu.edu
Marios Dikaiakos, Professor, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, md@ucy.ac.cy
Mohsen  Dorodchi, Full Teaching Professor, UNC,  Charlotte, USA, Mohsen.Dorodchi@uncc.edu
Helga Duarte, Full Professor, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colombia, hduarte@unal.edu.co
Robert Duvall, Senior Lecturer, Duke University, USA, rcd@cs.duke.edu
Marcelo Eler, Associate Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil, marceloeler@usp.br
Javier Enciso, Lecturer, Univerdad de los Llanos, Colombia, jenciso@unillanos.edu.co
Brett Ennis, Undergraduate Student, Appalachian State University, USA, ennisbh@appstate.edu
Babak Esfandiari, Professor, Carleton University, Canada, babak@sce.carleton.ca
Juan Fajardo, Professor, Universidad de los Llanos, Colombia, jfajardo@unillanos.edu.co
Carles Farré, Associate Professor, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain, carles.farre@upc.edu
James Fenwick, Professor, Appalachian State University, USA, fenwickjb@appstate.edu
Pablo Fernandez, Associate Professor, Universidad de Sevilla, Spain, pablofm@us.es
Eric Fouh, Assistant Practice Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA, efouh@cis.upenn.edu
Armando Fox, Professor, University of California,  Berkeley, USA, fox@berkeley.edu
John French, Lecturer, Atlantic Technological University Galway, Ireland, john.french@atu.ie
Adam Gaweda, Assistant Teaching Professor, North Carolina State University, USA, agaweda@ncsu.edu
Edward Gehringer, Professor, North Carolina State University, USA, efg@ncsu.edu
Nadeem Hamid, Associate Professor, Berry College, USA, nhamid@berry.edu
Deborah Harding, Instructor, Colorado Colorado Springs, USA, dharding@uccs.edu
Jonathan Hardwick, Associate Professor, Minnesota State University,  Mankato, USA, jonathan.hardwick@mnsu.edu
Ryan Harvey, Instructor, Loyola University New Orleans, USA, rharvey@loyno.edu
Thomas Hastings, Lecturer, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, USA, thasting@uccs.edu
Robert Hawkey, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, Canada, rhawkey@dal.ca
Mark Holliday, Professor, Western Carolina University, USA, holliday@wcu.edu
Cay Horstmann, Professor, PFH Göttingen, Germany, horstmann@pfh.de
Tom Horton, Associate Professor, University of Virginia, USA, horton@virginia.edu
Benjamin Hottell, Student, Appalachian State University, USA, hottellbt@appstate.edu
Luis Iribarne, Professor, University of Almeria, Spain, luis.iribarne@ual.es
Georgia Kapitsaki, Associate Professor, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, gkapi@ucy.ac.cy
Amanpreet Kapoor, Instructional Assistant Professor, University of Florida, USA, kapooramanpreet@ufl.edu
Fabio Kon, Full Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil, kon@ime.usp.br
Jay Kunin, Adjunct Professor, University of San Diego, USA, jkunin@sandiego.edu
Anastasia Kurdia, Senior Professor of Practice, Tulane University, USA, akurdia@tulane.edu
Miguel Lara, Associate Professor, California State University Monterey Bay, USA, mlara@csumb.edu
Juan Lavariega, Associate Professor, ITESM- Monterrey Campus, Mexico, lavariega@itesm.mx
Mark Lewis, Professor, Trinity University, USA, mlewis@trinity.edu
Tomer Libal, Assistant Professor, American University of Paris,  Paris, France, tlibal@aup.edu
Ali Madooei, Senior Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, USA, madooei@jhu.edu
Eric Martinez, Adjunct Lecturer, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley, USA, eric.m.martinez02@utrgv.edu
Matias Mascazzini, Independent Consultant, Independent Software Developer, Argentina, matiasmasca@gmail.com
Michael McCarthy, Teacher, Carnegie Mellon University, USA, mm6@andrew.cmu.edu
Monica McGill, Researcher, CSEdResearch.org, USA, monica@csedresearch.org
Massimo  Mecella, Full Professor, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy, mecella@diag.uniroma1.it
Joseph Mertz, Teaching Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, USA, joemertz@cmu.edu
Marcelo Morandini, Associate Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil, m.morandini@usp.br
Jaime Navon, Associate Professor, Universidad Catolica de Chile, Chile, jnavon@uc.cl
Alexandra  Papoutsaki, Assistant Professor, , USA, apaa2017@pomona.edu
Dennis  Park, Computer Scientist, Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery,  Falls Church,  Virginia , USA, dennis.b.park2.civ@health.mil
Cesare Pautasso, Professor, University of Lugano, Switzerland, cesare.pautasso@usi.ch
Samson Petrosyan, PhD Student, University of California,  Berkeley, USA, sm3@berkeley.edu
Kai Presler-Marshall, Lecturer, Bowdoin College, USA, k.preslermarshall@bowdoin.edu
Hernan Quintana, Professor, University of Lima, Peru, hquintan@ulima.edu.pe
Paul Ralph, Professor, Dalhousie University, Canada, paulralph@dal.ca
Samuel Rebelsky, Professor, Grinnell College, USA, rebelsky@grinnell.edu
Tim Richards, Senior Lecturer II, University of Massachusetts Amherst, UCA, richards@cs.umass.edu
Brad Richards, Professor, University of Puget Sound, USA, brichards@cs.pugetsound.edu
Philip  Ritchey, Instructional Associate Professor, Texas A&M University, USA, pcr@tamu.edu
Christian Roberson, Associate Professor, Florida Southern College, USA, croberson@flsouthern.edu
Genaína Rodrigues, Associate Professor, University of Brasilia, Brazil, genaina@unb.br
Pam Russell, Instructor, University of Colorado,  Colorado Springs, USA,
Raghav Sampangi, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, Canada, raghav@cs.dal.ca
Sarah Sanders, Lecturer, University College London, London, sarah.sanders@ucl.ac.uk
Juan Pablo Sandoval, Assistant Professor, Universidad Catolica de Chile, Chile, juanpablo.sandoval@ing.puc.cl
Bruce Scharlau, Senior Lecturer, University of Aberdeen, UK,
Michael Shafae, Associate Professor, California State University Fullerton, USA, mshafae@fullerton.edu
Aedan Simons-Rudolph, Researcher, Appalachian State University, USA, simonsrudolphaj@appstate.edu
Mark Smucker, Professor, University of Waterloo, Canada, mark.smucker@uwaterloo.ca
Roberto  Solis, Professor, Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, México, rsolis@uaz.edu.mx
George Thomas, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, USA, thomasg@uwosh.edu
Colin Tiller, Undergraduate Student, Appalachian State University, USA, tillercj@appstate.edu
Panayiotis Tsanakas, Professor, National Technical University of Athens, Greece, panag@cs.ntua.gr
John Ultra, Assistant Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College, Philippines, jdultra@up.edu.ph
Prabhat Vaish, Professor of Practice, NJ Institute of Technology, USA, pvaish@njit.edu
Olga Lucero Vega-Márquez, Professor, Universidad de los Llanos, Colombia, olvegam@unillanos.edu.co
Michael Verdicchio, Professor, The Citadel,  The Military College of South Carolina, USA, mv@citadel.edu
Kristen Walcott, Associate Professor, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, USA, kwalcott@uccs.edu
Hank Walker, Professor and Associate Dean, Texas A&M University, USA, d-walker@tamu.edu
David Weintrop, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, USA, weintrop@umd.edu
Junfeng Yang, Professor, Columbia University, USA, junfeng.yang@columbia.edu
Jian Zhang, Professor, Texas Woman’s University, USA, jzhang@twu.edu

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