“We are the rain makers.”

September 27, 2007

Today at the University of Minnesota I got the chance to listen to a speech by Grady Booch. This was pretty fortuitous, as a couple of our software architects at worked grabbed me at the last minute, showed me where to sign up, and drove me over there. So I really didn’t know what to expect. Certainly glad I went and a hell of a lot more fulfilling than the three conference calls I skipped.

I’m not going to provide a comprehensive summary or recap of topics he covered, but a couple of thoughts:

  • Much like an opening band at a rock concert that makes the main act look better, I was none too impressed with the Comp Sci professors who introduced Grady. Is a simple public speaking course not required in academia? Does practice make nowhere near perfect?  Grady on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a speaker so engaging and it’s really a pleasure to watch someone talented at public speaking.
  • Grady Booch is a unique talent in that he is spectacular at his chosen profession, he’s passionate at what he does, and he’s done it for quite some time. It’s really a three-legged stool. Only the experience of decades in an emerging field and fscking loving what he does got him to where he is today. It’s clear he’s continually challenged himself in his journey, and to put it bluntly “He gets it.”
  • Consequently, due to his depth and breadth of knowledge, he’s seemed to evolve into an anthropologist or historian. He rightfully worries about software (or hardware) architects fail to follow other crafts: why don’t we have more access to others’ solutions? How can we develop a sense of beauty or elegance or flexibility or modularity or begin to understand patterns without comparison? Of course, no topic on archival can be complete without document/format portability/control.
  • Speaking of patterns, it’s clear that his current work style models his interest. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is it surprising for someone versed in patterns and re-usability and abstraction to move iteratively and incrementally (pun intended) through multitudes of seemingly parallel consulting projects? He must have a massive mental file-o-fax of scenarios, problems spaces, possible solutions and ramifications. And the more cases he works, the better his results. God only know how many times he’s uttered the words “This reminds of the time I was consulting at the DOD..” or “When we encountered this problem at NASA, we…” or “Funny thing, this same shit happened when we reprogrammed the Tube algorithms in London…” or “When we had to get rid of the evidence in the Great Guatemalan Debacle of 1986, we…” Patterns, re-usability and abstraction – he uses it on multiple levels.
  • “We are the rain makers” when talking about computer engineers. Not so far off from Aaron calling us les artistes nouveaux is it?
  • “Between vision and execution the law of entropy holds.” What a great comment: he was discussing how a binary “executable is the Truth but not the whole Truth.” What was the intended vision? What architectual choices were made and why? What sacrifices occurred during the design and implementation? (time restraints, etc)
  • Talking about different types of limits in computing: “Not everything we want to build can be built; Not everything we want to build should be built.” Can Do vs. Should Do? Morality and maturity in decision making in a field that has fewer and fewer limitations? Has Grady been stealing my material?

Speech

  • When he opened up the talk to questions, the very first question was on open source/software libre. To paraphrase: “Will open source continue to replace proprietary software?” His abridged answer: “It is an economic inevitability. Now, is that necessarily a good thing? I think yes, yes it is.” Not only does freedom allow for innovation, facilitate innovation and foster innovation…the more pervasive software libre becomes and the powerful it becomes as it matures, the more freedom necessitates innovation in proprietary models.
  • Here’s his blog. The very reason that I’m not writing more of his specific topic is because I encourage everyone to read more of his work, dig into his web site and learn more about his interests today.
  • When the audience gets to ask questions, I find that many are interested in asking a question that sounds intelligent rather than something that actually vexes them. So, when I caught Grady after his speech, what did I ask? “Can I get a high-five?

H5

Now that’s the kind of hard-hitting journalism you can expect from me in such a rare opportunity. I appreciated his visit and loved his enthusiasm, that deserves a high-five doesn’t it? I mean, if I want to find out his stance on patent law or byte code optimization techniques, I can freaking email him.

Don’t worry, the follow-up question was a bit better though. Much like people trying to viewed as smart, people always want to be funny. People, leave it to the experts like myself, you’re only going to hurt yourselves. So I asked “Like the cliche of yelling Freebird at a show, do people always ask Vi or emacs during the question session?” His look said it all. “Oh yeah, especially in the Valley. And depending on the amount of facial hair, you already know which they prefer.”

Talk

Go see him if you can. Does he have a worldwide tour schedule? Did I get a concert tee-shirt? (third concert reference for those keeping track at home) In the Spaghetti Westerns of Computer Science, he’d be wearing a White Hat – he seems to be one of the Good Guys. Thanks to Mark and Aaron for the invitation and transportation.

One Response to ““We are the rain makers.””

  1. taj Says:

    Don’t worry about your hard-hitting journalism. In 20 years from now you will have forgotten what Grady Booch thought about whether the Visitor pattern really does break encapsulation, but how many people can say they high-fived him.


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