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Regression contest prizes

Posted by robogeek on February 21, 2006 at 12:37 PM PST

Three weeks ago I launched the Mustang Regression Contest. The grand prizes are five Ultra 20 workstations, which are to be awarded for the "best" regressions submitted during the contest. The other day Ray Gans and I brought them from the a storeroom in the Menlo Park campus to one in the Santa Clara campus. So while moving them I thought to post a picture to show you guys what you're competing for.

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While moving them I couldn't help but think about a conversation I had with a colleague while serving "booth duty" at Java ONE. This particular time, in the booth I manned, our job was to hand out a "Java Junkie" t-shirt in exchange for the person taking a survey. The t-shirt was very popular which meant we were spending all our booth duty time handing out the t-shirts rather than having the insightful conversations about java features or technology that draws me to spending time in the booths.

I and my booth-mate were both thinking, here we are, highly experienced software engineers, years of software engineering talent, and our job is to hand out t-shirts. Back when I was in college, pulling all-nighters writing some toy compiler or whatnot, little did I think that 15 years later I'd be handing out t-shirts at a trade show or, in this case, moving boxes from one campus to another.

But, that's what we do in the "real world". In the "real world" our work may take us to unexpected places. What I remember imagining I would be doing in the "real world" was probably influenced by the world my professors inhabit. The professors inhabit a world of theorems, or writing papers, or conducting research, so looking to them for clues on what work in the "real world" is like only led to confusion. They don't live in the "real world", they live in academia, which is a different real world than commercial software engineering.

Where this line of thinking leads is that, in commercial software engineering it's not entirely about the technology. And the example which popped into my mind is the Beta VCR I used to own, which got supplanted by the inferior VHS technology. The problem with the Beta VCR is, of course, it never got out of Beta. Well, seriously, the real problem with Beta versus VHS was not the technology but the marketing.

Which means that in a commercial venture, and this is true for commercial software ventures just as it is for anything else, one has to do marketing activities.

Work in commercial software engineering is not just rarified technology development. Sometimes your work leads you to running a contest, manning a booth at a trade show, making customer visits, inhabiting discussion forums, making blog postings, etc. Which just goes to show that what prepared me the most for my work in the corporate world was all the hours I used to spend reading and writing Usenet postings. (FWIW, I used to be on the Usenet backbone committee)

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