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Show blog: IBM Rational Software Developer Conference 2008

My guesses for what would constitute the bulk of the show news this week at IBM's 2008 Rational Software Developer Conference seem to have been mostly accurate. It’s teams, it’s collaboration and it’s integration – all within a ‘transparent’ process of course.
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Written by Adrian Bridgwater on

My guesses for what would constitute the bulk of the show news this week at IBM's 2008 Rational Software Developer Conference seem to have been mostly accurate. It’s teams, it’s collaboration and it’s integration – all within a ‘transparent’ process of course.

Rational Software general manager Danny Sabbah is going for broke on the soundbite front and we’ve already had, “We’ve moved from a time when the network is the computer – to a time when the network is the team,” and the even snappier, “You’ve got two ears and one mouth and it’s that way round for a reason.”

It’s bigger this year though: 3500 developers, 300 sessions across 14 tracks and more Jazz-related product announcements than you can easily digest in a single serving. Note: it may just be a US-UK language thing, but when IBM says that most of its Rational portfolio will incorporate Jazz technology over the “next several years” – is that because they didn’t like to say “next few years”, or because they wanted to leave the door open for some ambiguity?

Open-source nirvana

Either way, we’re being urged to read Eric Raymond's book The Cathedral and the Bazaar this week as it details the move from the “confines and restrictions” of the cathedral to the “openness” of the bazaar. This tome will no doubt already be well known to those who seek enlightenment on the path towards open-source methodology nirvana.

The latest musings on the subject of software development as a whole made for pretty interesting listening at this morning’s keynote – and in between various dancers, comedians and speakers we got an insight into what IBM sees as the “state of the application environment” in 2008.

According to Dr Sabbah, we’re currently we’re looking at a situation with high maintenance costs, too many versions from too many vendors - and all this leads to poor visibility into our portfolios and unchecked proliferation of software that is often updated and replaced, but should really be retired.

Not making the big splash keynote headlines of some of this week’s announcements but definitely interesting was a quick chat I had with IBM’s Laura Bennett who is the senior software engineering manager of alphaWorks.

Over the last year, alphaWorks focus on early prototypes (some of which migrate to IBM developerWorks) has been extended to be more available to the student community. Although Bennett describes these with IBM terminologies such as ‘a new delivery model’ and ‘service’, essentially what it means is that a new communication channel is open for students of software engineering (in all its forms) to pose questions to the alphaWorks lab researchers.

It sounds like pretty cool stuff, as to how much IBM steers, owns or directs the creation of prototypes at this level I can’t say – but I will find out.

Big numbers

Back to the core news of the conference and there’s a rich scent of scepticism in the press room this afternoon as to whether all this talk of collaborative team development is coming from a company that itself may be argued to suffer from disconnected silo structures by virtue of its own sheer size.

But Danny Sabbah used the point of IBM’s size this morning during his speech to make a positively spun comment. He highlighted the fact that Steve Mills, senior vice president for IBM Software Group, runs what the company labels as the world's largest software development organisation. IBM makes this claim as it states that, on a global level, it has more than 25,000 developers in 77 locations focused on developing software. So, says Sabbah, the company can act as an extremely large-scale user of its own products and this helps testing and development.

Sabbah also specified that the development of any one particular product may involve a mix of technologies from agile to iterative to waterfall and that the perfect blend will depend on the task in hand.

You need proof? It’s survey time!

Colleen Arnold also made an appearance this morning at the keynote session. Arnold is general manager for IBM’s global application services division and she presented the results of what IBM calls its Global CEO Study – a survey it undertakes every couple of years. If you had any scepticism over whether there really is a burning need to extend our capabilities in ‘collaborative’ software application development, Arnold’s carefully selected results should allay your fears.

The latest findings state that: “Management of global applications, processes and systems with consistency, quality and security … all depending on collaboration and teamwork…”, is at the forefront of those CEOs surveyed. Happy now? Hmm, I thought not – well, let’s keep looking, reading and thinking.

Finally today, I had a session with Scott Ambler who is global lead (or practice leader if you prefer official designations) for IBM’s Agile development unit. We spoke about the ‘belief’ or ‘leap of faith’ element behind Agile and the fact that some disagree with it while others are firm converts.

Ambler insisted that Agile will always be with us despite the fact that many developers don’t buy it. “Many developers who criticise Agile have probably never tried it,” said Ambler. “If it is like a religion, then if you continue to discuss it you will never reach a real agreement and consensus and find belief,” he added.

Part of the problem is that Agile depends on highly collaborative environments where there is a high degree of team trust (now you know why Ambler is here this week) – and so it does suffer from a lack of adoption in areas where those factors do not exist such as, according to Ambler, government and what used to be Russia.

We’re only 24 hours in and many of us already have news overload syndrome, but that is expected and it’s probably better to get a heads up on the big announcements early rather than in staggered form. In the words of IBM’s vice president for marketing and strategy Scott Hebner, “We’ve seen the biggest product announcements ever under the Rational brand this week.”

The times they are a changin’

Tonight though it’s a case of The times they are a changin’ – as our evening “do” is a performance from the Wallflowers whose lead singer Jakob Dylan is in fact the son of Bob. Will tonight’s bash provide us all with a clear head for tomorrow’s Grady Booch keynote? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

Sorry – couldn’t help that, long day.

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