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Goodbye SD

April 26, 2009

Dan_Saks-April 26, 2009

For the last 16 years, I've attended two technical conferences every spring and fall: the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) and the Software Development Conference (SD). I've occasionally participated in other conferences, but ESC and SD have been a regular part of my life for all these years. Both conferences have given me many opportunities to expand my technical knowledge and my professional contacts. They've been fun, too. Geek fun, but fun nonetheless. Thus, I note with some sadness that this spring's Software Development Conference was the last one. SD as we knew it is no more.

The first Software Development Conference--always known as SD, never SDC--was held in San Francisco in February, 1988. The first ESC was also held in San Francisco about a year and a half later, in September, 1989. That both conferences started in San Francisco is not a coincidence--both were sponsored by magazines from San Francisco-based Miller-Freeman Publications, now United Business Media (UBM). In the case of SD, the magazines were Computer Language, AI Expert, and Unix Review. In the case of ESC, the magazine was Embedded Systems Programming, now Embedded Systems Design.

The early SD conference programs weren't very large, but still offered sessions on a remarkably rich variety of programming languages, methodologies and tools. You could find classes on languages such as C, C++, Objective C, Lisp, Pascal, Perl, Prolog, Ada, SQL, and Smalltalk, as well as object-oriented techniques, data flow-diagrams, and CASE tools. Although developers for mainframe systems could easily find sessions of interest, the conference clearly catered more toward developers for PCs and workstations using DOS, Windows, OS/2, or Unix.

I attended my first SD in February, 1990, across the bay in the Oakland Convention Center. I gave two talks on C and one on C++. The conference had a C track, but the C++ sessions were part of the Object-Oriented Programming track. C++ hadn't earned its own track yet.

My experiences at that conference had a profound effect on my career. It was there that I landed a contract with Plum Hall to support their C compiler validation suite--work that soon led to a 15-year collaboration on their C++ compiler validation suite. That's also where I met Robert Ward, publisher of the C Users Journal, and persuaded him to give me a shot at writing a column on programming style for a new journal he was starting. That was the first of many regular columns that I would write in the ensuing years. I don't know how else I would have stumbled onto that opportunity.

SD grew to a semiannual event that year, with a second conference in November in Boston. I spoke at that one, too, and I haven't missed one since.

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