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A Tale of Three Conferences

By Howard Dyckoff

-- Software Development West 2005, Santa Clara Convention Center
-- Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), Westin St. Francis, San Francisco
-- MySQL User Conference, Santa Clara Convention Center

Three significant conferences in March and April provided evidence of a paradigm shift in our industry. Two were for geeks and one was also for IT managers and Gucci-shoed VCs.

The paradigm shift is in group development methodologies - and it's getting support partly from the increasing acceptance of Open Source Software(OSSw). Because OSSw calls for the collaboration of many individual contributors in far-flung locations, Test Driven Development (TDD) is a rising star in the developer world.

The gurus of software design and technique are now extolling TDD, and are finding that it dovetails nicely with other schools of developer best practice. Many gurus, some grudgingly, now extol TDD because the disciplines they have advocated over the years 'just fall out' of the practice of coding test cases first or simultaneously with each module. Tools like JUnit - freely available and open-sourced - reinforce this shift.

We all know we should do our Design work up-front, and that we should code in small modules to encourage reuse, and that Agile and XP programming methods advocate frequent, small steps, and we should regularly refactor code and test performance during development, and... and.... It is interesting that TDD enforces all of these and other best practices without having to attend a lot of classes and reading at least half a dozen books. TDD Just Works™.

First, there should always be a test-case for each bit of code. Second, writing test cases encourages up-front design. Third, you always have working code at the end of a unit. And fourth, consistent with OSSw strategies, major bugs are uncovered early and dealt with in the development phase. Just like in the case of XP, you can have stylistic variations with TDD - but there is a lot more agreement than disagreement.

The new wrinkle with OSSw is that new applications - and new companies - drive value up the stack. A company like Google doesn't spend all of its time just tweaking its web servers; just take a look at Google Maps with its satellite images. It relies on standard hardware and software to be the base for totally new applications. And that standard software is increasingly become dependent on Open Source.

In fact, it's not just about the software itself: it's the utility of that software to a user or company. Google and Yahoo and eBay provide services to users, and the value of those services drives users to their web sites. But it's not the underlying hardware or the OS that necessarily enhance these services; instead, it's how developers leverage the underlying platforms in new and creative ways.

TDD and OSSw have an overlap, a sweet spot where developers become enabled by tools and methodologies that free them up to do the next thing - which will, of course, be totally awesome and amazing, or so goes the promise of this Brave New World. In either case, it's nice that Linux and its OSSw cousins will be part of that.

Conspiracy theorists will speculate about coincidence of the Santa Clara Convention Center hotel, originally a DoubleTree, becoming a Westin. Does that mean that Westin is the chain of choice for techno-geek? Or an open source Mecca? I think not.

At OSBC, the stars were visionaries, suits, and venture capitalists. Small companies were looking for financing, large companies were testing the Open Source waters, and the model of free software and paid support was being refined and extended into an ecosphere of interrelated companies and development communities.

At the MySQL User Conference [I may use MUC as an acronym occasional], however, the emphasis was different: the stars here were Open Source developers, many now employees of a confident, growing MySQL AB, now 10 years old. Since these folks came from over 40 countries, it was a very festive time.

This year, the MySQL User Conference was managed by O'Reilly Media. This kept things interesting and edgy - and attendees were also encouraged to come to O'Reilly's Web 2.0 conference in SF during the fall.

Technical sessions were only 50 minutes long with a 30 min or longer breaks after every two sessions, and even the Monday tutorials were only 3 hours long. Sessions moved quickly, often with little time for Q&A. By contrast, sessions at SD West were almost double at 90 minutes, and some security workshops spanned two sessions in the same room. I preferred the longer ones, since that allowed attendees to move if the material or presentation wasn't what was expected.

The food at MUC was hotel banquet style, and O'Reilly put a book into each of the conference tote bags [for early registrants, at least.] This contrasts with no books and sandwich boxes at OSBC and SD West. The difference may be that O'Reilly and MySQL AB treated the participants as customers, or even potential authors, and cultivated them more.

Another difference was the approach to internet access. At SD West, there was a limited number of internet-connected machines for emailing - but at OSBC and MUC there were none. The assumption there seemed to be that almost everyone has a personal laptop or pocket PC, and the conference organizers only needed to provide wireless access. We'll probably see more of this as a way to cut conference costs, so be prepared to travel to conferences with a 'device' of your own.

Each of the conferences had their stalwarts who come year after year [that was less so at OSBC, since this was only the second year]. However, informal conversations showed a very high level of satisfaction with the MySQL User Conference. This may be partly due to the tighter subject focus and the clear technical levels of the sessions. It may also have been due to the friendly user community that has emerged around MySQL.

Read on to find out more about the individual conferences and their highlights.

Software Development West 2005, Santa Clara Convention Center

Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), Westin St. Francis, San Francisco

MySQL User Conference, Santa Clara Convention Center


[BIO] Howard Dyckoff is a long term IT professional with primary experience at Fortune 100 and 200 firms. Before his IT career, he worked for Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and before that used to edit SkyCom, a newsletter for astronomers and rocketeers. He hails from the Republic of Brooklyn [and Polytechnic Institute] and now, after several trips to Himalayan mountain tops, resides in the SF Bay Area with a large book collection and several pet rocks.

Copyright © 2005, Howard Dyckoff. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 114 of Linux Gazette, May 2005

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