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.Into the early 1990s, SD caught the wave of interest in languages and tools for Windows program development. Compiler vendors such as Borland, Microsoft, Symantec, and Watcom competed not only over whose compiler produced the tightest code or had the most convenient IDE, but also who had the biggest floor exhibit and the hippest evening party. Vendors timed product announcements to coincide with the conference. Over the next several years, the spring conference moved to ever bigger venues, in Santa Clara, San Jose, and eventually back to San Francisco.
At those conferences in the mid-90s, I learned the handy Conference Session Tiebreaker Rule: “Favor the speaker over the topic.” That is, if you're having trouble deciding which of several talks to attend, go with the one given by the best speaker. Even if you think you know the subject, a good speaker will either tell you something you didn't know or make you look at something you know a little differently, and entertain you while he or she is at it. At three different SDs, I listened to Jon Bentley (of Programming Pearls fame) speak on writing efficient programs. Each time, I got something useful from his presentation, in addition to the joy of hearing him speak.
I spoke at the Embedded Systems Conference for the first time in April, 1993 in Atlanta, and for the second in September in Santa Clara. Although I've missed a few of the ESCs in Europe and Asia, I haven't missed one in the U.S. since 1993.
Getting to both ESC and SD every year proved to be a challenge. In 1997, both conferences were scheduled during the same week, 3,000 miles away from each other. I was gratified to find that both conferences were so eager for me to attend, the ESC and SD staffs worked out a schedule that allowed me to deliver a full-day tutorial on Monday and three classes on Tuesday at ESC in San Jose. Then I took a redeye to Washington, DC and presented five classes on Wednesday (afternoon), Thursday, and Friday at SD. (I could still do stuff like that in my forties. Not anymore.)
I'm grateful for having had the opportunity to attend all those conferences and work with the good people (too numerous to name) at Miller-Freeman, later CMP Media, and finally United Business Media who helped make these conferences happen. My career–and my life–are better for it.
The good news is that the Embedded Systems Conference is planning to bring some of the content from Software Development over to ESC. I was the chair of SD's C++ track, and I will the chair of the newly formed C/C++ track at ESC. My job will be to broaden ESC's offering of C and C++ talks. I'll be looking at the best that SD had to offer, as well as new speakers and topics.
I'm glad the Embedded Systems Conference is still very much alive and kicking. Indeed, the Internet provides learning opportunities that were unimaginable even 20 years ago. But there's still no substitute for the professional outreach, personal connections and invaluable–sometimes unexpected–experiences you get at a good technical conference.
Dan Saks is president of Saks & Associates, a C/C++ training and consulting company. For more information about Dan Saks, visit his website at www.dansaks.com. Dan also welcomes your feedback: e-mail him at . For more information about Dan .