Generalists that get through...


As a technologist in a rapidly changing world there is always the tension between attaining and retaining deep knowledge in a particular technology vs "not-so-deep" knowledge across a broad spectrum of technologies.
but I really liked the quote below

Specialisation is short term-success but it is long-term risk; because as soon as the ecosystem becomes destabilised, you're the first candidate to go extinct. It's the generalists that get through... (From: Sabretooth's surprising weak bite)

Dog Eat Dog - WSJ.com

Interesting article about the acceleration of competion for those that leverage technology...

"We've been studying competition in all U.S. industries, not just the high-tech ones, and we've observed a remarkable pattern: On average, the whole U.S. economy has become more "Schumpeterian" since the mid-1990s. What's more, these changes have been greatest in the industries that buy the most software and computer hardware."

Do Not Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good!

This post's title is cribbed from Celent's Latest "Report on SOA in Insurance 2007". The report is primarily the result of surveys conducted by Celent with a number of insurers and includes mid size to large carriers (premiums > $1 billion). The report is mildly interesting for someone in the midst of deploying SOA techniques/technologies in the insurance industry (namely me;) but clearly reiterates three key points:

  • The promise of a fully realized SOA enabled infrastructure is alluring and there is an incredible amount of hype around the potential.
  • Building out a fully realized SOA enabled infrastructure is hard and will take time
  • Even small steps toward SOA can pay dividends so get started now!

I Think the quote below best summarizes this:

Celent - Web Services and SOA in Insurance 2007
While the model may not be very sexy, Celent believes that for the next two years Web services/SOA in insurance will remain essentially a "Plumbing" issue - a set of technologies and practices that make it more efficient to share data and transactional capabilities between systems, both internal and external, in a reusable way that allows the value of systems investments to be leveraged repeatedly in subsequent initiatives. While this may not get the CEO's attention, it is absolutely key to the CIO's mission to do more with less.

So get started... Each company is unique in its own way and requires it's on approach but don't get caught up in analysis paralysis. Do not wait for the perfect project or tool. Starting allows you to "do" and doing allows you to learn from the experience. Learning allows you to adapt and "do" again providing opportunity to continually improve as you go. "Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good!"

Mega Services: Getting There?

It is always interesting to hear Steve Ballmer spin Microsoft's latest marketing, product, technical, whatever announcement. As if on cue eWeek.com published an article titled

"Microsoft CEO Touts Company 'Bet' on Web Services"

Quoting Steve Ballmer characterizing the move as a "big bold bet". I just had to laugh. How could anyone view this as a "bet" in the current technology environment. About the only part of this decision that could be considered a risk is weather to use the W3C "formal" Web Services specifications or a more lean REST based architecture. Granted the formal Web Services specifications are starting to get that hairball consistency, but there are still valid reasons to go either way.

The article goes on to state...
Microsoft believes Web services will work in tandem with PC-installed software, a vision that differs from that of "software as a service" advocates, such as Salesforce.com and Google, who expect services delivered over the Web to replace traditional software... "We believe this shift is the most important technological transformation during the next decade," Ballmer said.

Aahhh.... now this is more like it. I began to have a flashback. [the screen goes fuzzy and "Dreamweaver" begins to play in the background...] In my days at Viant Corp. during the Web 1.0 heyday (don't remember if it was 98 or 99), I had the privilege of being invited to Seattle for a special Microsoft conference. Before I arrived, I didn't have any other information than that it was a selected audience of internet savvy technology partners.

Microsoft began by discussing what they felt was a challenge for them. They were encountering both resistance and lack of interest to using their products any deeper in Corporate America than the desktop. The biggest issue seemed to be the integration challenge. Unix seemed to be the OS lingua franca for integration projects and Sun was selling servers by the boat load.

Microsoft proposed that they were considering XML messaging as the lingua franca for their platform and were seriously looking into embedding its use throughout all its products. From applications like Excel, Outlook right down to the core operating system, all would expose access to features through XML messaging. I was not a Microsoft fan at the time, but the idea was exciting, Microsoft even had a cool code name for it... "Mega Services!".

Alas, although Microsoft bore SOAP and .NET, the vision never seemed to fully pan out in the way described in that conference. This latest announcement is probably the closest they've come and is a step in the right direction, but I still hope for a day when the vision is fulfilled;)

Sun's Web 2.0 Bubble Accessory

Sorry, I just can't hold my tongue on this one. There has been a number of technology pundits waxing on about whether or not we're in another tech bubble. I couldn't decide myself either. It sure feels like there is enough froth around Web 2.0 and Me-To startups to say yes. But having lived through the first one, something is missing... Could this be it?

Sun was one of the biggest benefactors from the first tech bubble selling servers by the boat load. Startups were building sites and buying hardware as fast as they could. Well, if you have not seen Sun's new "Black Box" announcement, then following the link in this posts title will take you to the Sun site. Although the Black Box is seriously cool for the hardware nerd set, this feels like a Web 2.0 Bubble Accessory. I think I just found my Web 2.0 Tech Bubble indicator. Sort of a canary in the coal mine if you will. If Sun starts selling these things in real quantities, then you'll know we're in a new tech bubble.

Business Enabled Integration...

A few years ago I worked at an incubator called 12 Entrepreneuring. It was during the heady but waning days of the internet boom. 12 was in the midst of incubating Grand Central Networks, an integration network company. I was asked to help temporarily with the conceptual design and architecture on the project, which was based in the San Francisco office, until the New York office (my eventual homebase) was up and running.

My background was in systems integration at the enterprise level. I felt that the value of the network would be to provide a rich set of pre-integrated business partners and industry aware components. My point was to align with the business and not be purely technology focused. Founder Halsey Minor pushed to keep the service simple. His catch phrase was "a better FTP". Alas, Grand Central Networks has gone the way of many a startup.

Alignment with business is where the industry is finally heading... In an effort to differentiate themselves in the inevitable arms race like spiral of the integration market, webMethods has sought and received SWIFT Certification. Banks looking to upgrade their SWIFT integration technology now have a reason to seriously consider webMethods. iWay Software, as the adapter company has been at the forefront of supporting industry protocols such as SWIFT, FIX, HIPAA, etc. and is pushing into insurance with ACORD. Yes, vendors will continue to add bells and whistles to their products but I expect them to become more tightly aligned with various industries and their standards. A tool that is already aware of your industry's standard processes and vocabulary is incredibly valuable.

Security Onus Is on Developers

I actually read this eWeek article on my way into work in it's print form. (A one hour train ride into NY City every day can do wonders for your reading backlog...) I liked some of the points so much, that I tracked down the online version so I could blog it here.

Essentially, poor code quality can have as much of an impact on security as the hackers themselves.
"In 2004, Internet Explorer had a publicly revealed vulnerability that had not been patched on 98 percent of the days [of that year]. Firefox was vulnerable on 7 percent of the days [ of that year]. That tells you that what the application developers are doing can make a big difference."

David Wagner
I'm a strong proponent of code inspections, especially automation of the more mundane but insane little detail checking. But it has always amazed me how hard it is to get managements approval to purchase inspection tools. It usually comes quickly though, once one of those small mistakes has caused a big problem. Bill Pugh points out the other side of the coin... that everyone makes mistakes, even the smartest of developers.
"A lot of people think that errors and defects and stupid mistakes are things that the "lesser programmers" make. One of the things that I've found is that tools find insanely embarrassing bugs, written in production code, by some of the very best programmers I know."

Bill Pugh

2006 JavaOne Conference - It's a Wrap

I'm contemplating the week @ JavaOne while I wait for my flight at the airport.

AJAX/REST
AJAX was obviously a popular topic at the conference. There is a clear consensus that AJAX is cool, gives you the appearance of rich client capabilities, but is still hard to do well. A number of speakers pointed to bugs in various Google products. The point being, is that the Google brain trust does AJAX very well and even they run into problems. JavaScript features are uneven across browsers, so this has lead to a wealth of vendor server side "Frameworks". Frameworks that try and solve this problem. There seems to be dissagreement as to weather or not this is the way to go... See the JackBe/Sun discussion.

Representation State Transfer or REST popped up in a number of talks... Simplicity and leverage of the standard Web infrastructure are it's primary benefits, but a big drawback is that it is not discoverable... although there is work being done in this area.

XML

XML processing continues to receive improved support..... Mark Reinhold gave a brain dump of his thoughts on how XML can be made "native" to Java in Dolphin.

Back To Basics....

JEE - The Java Enterprise Edition version 5 has made good use of Tigers annotation capabilities and lessons learned from the Spring Framework and simplified the EJB specification considerable. Some would still say it wasn't enough and that Spring's POJO model is still the way to go.

SOA - Although vendors continue to introduce products that support all the latest standards and clain "Buzzword" compliance, there is an undercurrent of chatter from attendees that "things" are overly complex... The S in SOAP stands for Simple, but anyone who has read the WS-* specifications can attest to the fact that the Web Services space seems to be spiraling out of control. There were a number of well attended talks in the REST space and mention of WOA as a simpler more scalable alternative to SOA.

Participation

Finally, there was a continuous call for participation of individuals in the JCP. Doug Lea, spec lead for JSR 166, was called out as an excellent example of how individuals can have large impact on the language and platform.