March 30, 2004

Well-attended SD West conference a good sign for IT economy

Author: Chris Preimesberger

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A sure sign of improvement in the overall Silicon Valley economy is the attendance at professional conferences. Well, we bring you good news today: After resembling a ghost town last year at the San Jose Convention Center, Software Development Conference & Expo, better known as SD West and known as one of the few remaining vendor-unspecific IT conferences, has experienced a major revival. The Santa Clara Convention Center was packed with about 1,200 developers from all over the world last week.

"We were pleasantly surprised at the response this year," said show manager Kate Adams of CMP, the longtime SD West host and publisher of Dr. Dobb's Journal and Software Development magazine. "We basically sold out this conference. We ran out of programs for the first time in a long time."

The keynotes, workshops, and BOF sessions were mostly well attended. Speakers included PBS columnist and author Robert X. Cringely, IBM fellow/UML guru Grady Booch, Amazon.com CTO Allan Vermeulen, and Microsoft .NET architect Herb Sutter.

On the other hand, the expo was still pretty sparse with vendors; there couldn't have been more than 20 on the show floor.

Cringely's talk, entitled "The Politics of Technical Standards," pointed out that once developers get through their training years -- whether formal or on-the-job training -- most of their ensuing IT education is supplied by outside companies (with definite agendas) for vendor-specific products. "Part of that education is promoting one technical standard over another. In theory, standards are implemented through pure merit and good engineering, but that's not always the way it happens," Cringely said. "Sometimes new standards are forced on other companies by a dominant supplier. Sometimes standards bodies are started not so much to promote their own standard as to hurt the promotion of an alternate standard. This hurts developers who actually have to use this stuff, and if it isn't going to really exist, or it exists only to make trouble -- not to work well -- then they deserve to know that."

One of the more recent examples of this is in the XML standards process, in which competing international factions supporting either ebXML or UDDI competed for standardization. ebXML was sanctioned by the United Nations in 2001 as an attempt to help worldwide IT enterprise, while UDDI emerged around the same time to create a single, trusted business registry for companies doing business via the Internet. Since those first few contentious months, both camps have learned that each technology can work with the other to accomplish the main goal, which is to make business over the Web safe, secure, and expedient.

$15 million startup cost for video games

Speaker Grady Booch said that virtually all software development "is a team sport these days," because applications are getting so complicated that teams of programmers (often in far-flung parts of the world) are needed more and more to do the job. The day of the individual developer, working alone late at night in a home office on a new idea, is becoming a thing of the past.

"It now costs an estimated $15 million to launch a new video game," Booch said. "This is all very much a big business now. The Web is now our platform; you can never turn it off. Ultimately software development will remain fundamentally hard; it's only going to continue to rise in complexity and will have a continuing rising level of abstraction."

Booch, a founder of Rational Software who has matriculated into the upper echelon of the Big Blue hierarchy, said that features such as refactoring and requirements management and configuration/change management functions are being incorporated more and more into new enterprise applications.

Booch said that "we're seeing a sea change in the area of development tools; SDKs are getting much more complicated. This is because we are taking things at one level of abstraction and making them into another. One estimate is that more than 800 billion lines of code were written last year in the world. How do I know that? I don't, but I wouldn't be surprised if the actual number were much higher."

Where are we going from here? "Collaborative environments are a reality, we're going to see more of that.. And the pressure is on software development in general to become a business process all by itself," Booch said.

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