Haskell and the rise of functional programming
2000 - 2015
A major pro-Haskell change in culture has been the rise of functional programming (FP). While much of FP’s contemporary popularity has to do with its value to FinTech, it wasn't until the mid-to-late 2010s that FP became (among its other uses) a FinTech solution. To uncover the full story of Haskell’s arrival to the mainstream, this section of the series will focus on the roots of FP’s reputation and how the paradigm first began to spread. To end this section, we’ll discuss Haskell’s early adoption by traditional financial institutions, before engaging with its use by blockchains and cryptocurrencies in the next section. By setting aside FinTech for a moment, then circling back, the route taken by FP toward its current reputation may be more completely understood.
In the early 2000s, after the first multicore processor was released by IBM in 2001, FP was heralded as "the paradigm of choice for unlocking the power of multicore processors," and "suitable to take advantage of the multi-core trend in computing." Because multicore processors were commonly understood as a definitive step forward in computer technology, the advancement garnered huge media attention. The association drawn between multicore processors and FP linked interest in the former to adoption of the latter.
As big businesses' data processing needs scaled beyond what their object-oriented architecture was designed to sustain, they sought alternative paradigms. In 2008, in a very early implementation of FP, Barclays developed their Functional Payout Framework in Haskell and published a white paper on the project. This legitimized Haskell's viability at the scale of a global financial institution. Later, in 2015, Facebook rebuilt its spam system Sigma in Haskell, adding more credibility to Haskell's reputation for handling large-scale data processing. Though Barclays and Facebook employed Haskell differently, they justified their usage similarly. It was due in part to Haskell's intrinsic technical qualities -- those features that differentiate it from common (mixed-paradigm) alternatives like F# and OCaml -- and in part to its reputation as the leading functional programming language.
From 2008 to 2015, by accumulating use cases in production, Haskell established a real-world financial value for itself that began to stand apart from its scholarly and scientific value. In the next part of this series, we'll discuss how changes in the late-2010s and early-2020s continued this trend; specifically, how the invention of blockchain technology accelerated businesses’ experimentation with Haskell as a FinTech solution into real-world use in critical systems. After that, we'll discuss the Haskell community itself more closely — how its members preserve essential elements of Haskell, and how they let some of its components change. Before blockchain, traditional FinTech had been courting Haskell; since 2015, contemporary FinTech has been in a complex relationship with the language, and Haskellers have made their range of opinions known.