An Architects’ Meeting

MicroSoft sent the Developer Division software architects to a meeting in the Napa Valley. I’ve described the resort in a personal blog entry. This entry is to talk about the professional aspects.

Sun used to send the senior technical people on technical conferences, and they ranged from great to deadly. This one was pretty much in the middle. The good part was meeting my peers, learning about what they are doing and what’s going on elsewhere in the company. The best part was just talking with them, and I wish we had had more time to do it.

One interesting thing was meeting people whom I hadn’t seen for decades. Somehow, MS has gathered up lots of the top people in the programming tools industry. We talked about why, and we all told pretty much the same story. If you want to work on tools, and particularly if you want to do something innovative, MS is almost the only game in town. The computer manufacturers aren’t investing much in tools, and the few third-party tools vendors are either in very small niches or barely hanging on. Some people blame it on open source. I think it’s not so obvious.

There were absolutely silly “team building” exercises, like croquet and wine blending contests, and I wish they had just skipped them. I sat out the croquet (I have a bad foot) but had some very interesting conversations sitting around watching them. Why not just schedule conversation time? The wine blending was the sort of entertainment best enjoyed after drinking a significant amount of the product.

Then there were the sessions when we were supposed to talk about the “pressing problems” that we each had. We decided on a few to discuss, then broke up into small groups. Now, these problems have been vexing the industry for a long time. You know, questions like “How should we support multithreaded computation in a programming language.” Do they really expect a breakthrough in an hour? There were none; it was a waste of time. It reminded me of one of the Sun meetings when the Sun Sigma crew split us up into groups ad ordered us to “think outside the box”. They seem to expect magic to occur.

Finally there was the obligatory business methodology consultant. The less said about him the better. His book is going straight to the library book sale. I admit I have a slightly guilty conscious about that. Perhaps I should destroy it instead, so no one will be led astray.

So we had the good, the bad, and the decidedly ugly. delivered in a beautiful setting. There were some interesting discussions, I’ll have to find out what it’s OK to talk about before I write about them.

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