It’s been quite a week at the Gartner Application Development and Integration conference here in Nashville. I’ve never been to a development-focused event that was so abstract and theoretical; in fact, I don’t think I saw a single line of code during the entire conference.
My time here started on Sunday afternoon; my flight arrived nearly on time at just after noon, and the hotel check-in was a breeze. Speaking of the hotel, let me take this opportunity to plug the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville. This place is enormous, so much so that it should have its own time zone. Though the accommodations are on the high side of the price range (well over $200/night), it would be hard to argue that it isn’t worth it. The staff is courteous and well-trained, and the facilities are second to none. Not to mention the extravagant decorum in the hotel – there are at least five different atriums each with its own theme, the largest of which had to be at least 20 acres in size. If you get the opportunity, treat yourself to a night here.
Anyway, it was apparent from the beginning of the conference that the focus this week will be SOA (service-oriented architecture). I have to admit that I have always held SOA in the same regard as other industry buzzwords such as “Web 2.0” and “agile development”. This point was solidified during the first day when the keynote speaker indicated that many organizations were already using SOA and didn’t know it. I can see the value in SOA, but I believe that much of the buzz surrounding it will die away during the next year or two, when it will be known simply as an efficient (but not the only) methodology for systems architecture.
A secondary theme this week was the evolution of the web, and the emergence of “Web 2.0”. Again, I believe this to be another overhyped buzzword, but there is some validity to this way of thinking. One of the Gartner analysts defined Web 1.0 as “everything that came before wikis, MySpace and Second Life” (pardon my paraphrase), and its successor encompassed everything thereafter. Does Web 2.0 really exist? Sure. Are the lines so blurry that it impossible to define exactly what is and what isn’t in this category? Absolutely. I don’t want to invalidate an entire industry’s research (as if I could), but the whole Web 2.0 thing is overblown. What if the automobile industry declared the wave of hybrid automobiles to be Car 2.0 (or 3.0, or even 15.0)? Simply put, everything evolves. Every industry experiences paradigm shifts. Let’s not arbitrarily attach a “dot zero” moniker to it and call it new.
Now on to more interesting things. A recurring piece of advice that I got from presenters this week – and please don’t laugh at this – is that everyone in the industry should have an avatar on Second Life. Even us thirty-somethings who are more interested in watching our 401k’s than playing video games would be well served by getting involved in this high-tech virtual world. Why? Because consumers are interested in this, and to be effective in business you must go where the consumers are. IBM has apparently “bought” an entire island to market their wares in Second Life, and other smaller vendors are beginning to follow suit. I read in interesting discussion on SQLServerCentral.com this week about the possibility of using VR as a storefront – for example, allowing consumers to log into a bookstore’s website and virtually walk through the aisles to look for a book. Those of us who are digital immigrants – specifically, those who can remember the world without technology – must quickly realize that digital natives (the generation following us – those born after 1988 or so) will expect for technology to be a seamless part of their lives. As a colleague and I discussed this week, we will reach a point at which the underpinnings of technology will be much like plumbing – people will rely on it every day for civilized life, but they don’t necessarily care how it works (and shouldn’t have to). Now if I can just convince the folks in our Accounts Payable department that I need $72/year to maintain a Second Life life.
On a personal note, I made it a goal this week to meet as many people as possible this week. I’ve always been good at what I do, and I am absolutely a people-person, but I’ve never been great at politicking (which I define as a combination of self-promotion, aggressive networking, and shmoozing). I don’t consider myself to be the political type, but to reach my eventual career goals I know I must get better at these things. I recently changed job roles, and my new boss has been informally mentoring me, so I am in an excellent position to learn a great deal from him. So I set out this week to get out of my comfort zone, to put myself in front of people I don’t know and meet them, to find out about them and tell them about me, and to make some lasting contacts. Oh, and did I fail to mention that I have a terrible time remembering names? Well, God must have been smiling on me, at least on Sunday – I met five different people that day, and four of them were named Steve or Steven. By the end of the week, my strategy had paid off well; I met a few dozen new colleagues, one of whom is a client of a software vendor we recently partnered with, and another is a development lead who lives about 25 miles from me. I met some folks from State Farm, Peterbuilt, L3 Systems, a freelance technical writer, three systems architects, and many others. While watching the Spurs beat the Cavaliers in the hotel sports bar, I met some accountants who worked for a healthcare system. To say the least, my goals were achieved this week. I’m not yet ready for my C-level job yet, but with a few more years of this kind of experience, who knows…?
As one would expect after spending a week in high-level training, I have a thousand different ideas I want to try out when I get back. At these kind of events, it’s easy to refocus and get a renewed vision, and I’m there. I don’t presume to expect that I will change the world when I return, but I plan to fully exploit what I’ve learned with a renewed energy. Often these training events are like sabbaticals, and allow participants to (mostly) leave the details behind and focus on the big picture for a while.