It's show time -

It’s show time


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The very first Embedded Systems Conference was held at the beautiful Sir Francis Drake hotel in September, 1989. Some 400 developers attended. Perhaps 50 exhibitors showed their wares using tiny table-top displays.

Intel's Andy Grove gave the opening speech. He predicted 250MHz clock rates by the end of the century. P.J. Plauger gave a talk while dressed in a wizard's suit, complete with staff and pointy hat. The sound of ringing cable car bells permeated the talks and exhibits.

I hung around San Francisco over the following weekend and attended a free Jefferson Airplane concert in Golden Gate Park. 40,000 people attended. Wavy Gravy of The Hog Farm was the MC. It's hard to say which was more fun — the concert or the show. Together they made for an unforgettable experience.

Over the years the conference often changed venues, moving south to Burlingame, Santa Clara, and then to San Jose. Back when I ran an in-circuit emulator company we exhibited at the show every year, always returning with fistfuls of leads. And the parties! I could tell stories about these, except I'm not sure that the statute of limitations is up yet.

The Embedded Systems Conference outgrew all but the biggest of convention halls, so returned to San Francisco, and is now hosted in the huge Moscone Center. Ironically, the conference will return to San Jose next year, since the convention center there has been expanded.

It attracts some 15,000 attendees and 350 exhibitors. Some booths are sized like medieval cathedrals. Others are simple 10' by 10' affairs–but some of those have the coolest technology, promoted by companies attempting to revolutionize our business.

The 300 presenters will give 250 talks on all aspects of embedded systems development, covering hardware, software, management, and business issues. I'm talking about managing embedded projects, developing real-time systems, and embedded disaster stories. And I'll moderate a Shop Talk about the future of engineering in an offshoring world. If only there were more time . . . there are so many classes I'd like to take.

Did you know that the average software person reads less than one technical book, other than user manuals, per year? Or that only a fifth of all firmware developers even read the only publication aimed at the embedded space? There are probably 50,000 embedded systems people within easy driving distance of San Francisco, yet only a third will attend the show. It's amazing how many developers come from all corners of the world, as this is the one show that's recognized as being indispensable.

We work in the fastest-changing field in the world. Tomorrow's technology will be quite different than what we work with today. It's hard to keep up. But we must or risk becoming obsolete. Professionals work diligently to improve their expertise. Amateurs let their skills grow stale.

An advisor once told me a week spent learning just one new killer idea is a week well-spent. After each of these conferences I need a couple of hours to sort out all of the new ideas and concepts that litter my notepad.

Check out, and drive, BART, or fly to San Francisco next week. You'll be glad you did.

The Jefferson Airplane won't be playing. But the 2005 version of the Embedded Systems Conference is so much larger than that in 1989 you'll be too busy to wander Golden Gate Park in tie-dye.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He helps companies with their embedded challenges, and is conducting one-day seminars about building better firmware faster in Austin and Baltimore in April. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Response

And what do those of us in the Midwest (where tight schedules and tighter budgets don't allow us to travel to either the East or Left coasts) go to hear these talks and visit the booths? We go to ESC Chicago!

Oh, wait, that was cancelled several years ago.

The “fly-over” states get no respect in the business world or the embedded world, it seems.

– John Patrick

I cant help but getting green of envy. Worked 5 years as a software developer for Autoliv now, without ever getting outside the town borders of Motala.

A town with about 20000 people.

While “Consultants have had conferences on Island and Marocco”. – GOOD for them:)

But then again, i only have

myself to blame.

– Martin

I would like to read Embedded Systems Programming, like I used to some years ago, but since I'm here in Europe it seems impossible to get it.

I used to get it, to carefully unpack it and after reading it to archive it, but that were the good old times and they are gone. As you know, for people wo like to read books, it's a difference between holding a magazine in their hands and reading it even at places, where no computer will ever be, compared to reading it on a monitor. So please don't blame us that only one fifth is reading the magazine. Give us the possibility to get a hold of the magazine in Europe and maybe the number will increase a bit.

– Robert Berger

“Did you know that the average software person reads less than one technical book, other than user manuals, per year? Or that only a fifth of all firmware developers even read the only publication aimed at the embedded space?”


I assume you are referring to “Embedded Systems Programming”, here.

I believe you are ignoring “Embedded Computing Design”. Their web page is

It is not identical to “Embedded Systems Programming” in focus (else it would not sell), and I'm sure you like your magazine better (as I do). But your comment is not accurate. It deals with embedded system, hardware, and software/firmware design, and certainly is aimed at the embedded space.

“Embedded Systems Programming” is certainly the best in my book for my particular interests, but we can't afford to ignore competition.

– Dan Curtis

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