Saturday, October 20, 2007

Better Firmware Faster

I attended the 2-day Better Firmware Faster seminar conducted by renown embedded systems guru Jack Ganssle, organized by OmniScient International over the past 2 days.

To help lay-persons get an idea of how this feels, imagine being in the same room with Jacky Cheung of Cantopop, Pete Sampras of tennis, Paul McCartney of English pop, etc. You get what I mean.

My greatest achievement was staying awake (and alert!) for the entire duration of the course despite the lunch buffet, sumptuous morning and afternoon tea breaks!

The seminar was not cheap, but learning the cumulative experience of 30 years of product development experience in 2 days was worth every cent! I forked out my own money (4 four figure sum) to attend the seminar when the budget wasn't approved. (When will they learn that free seminars are the ones NOT worth attending??!!) It is such a rare opportunity to attend this seminar since Jack does not travel to Singapore often.

I'm quite surprised (more disappointed rather) that the turnout at this seminar was quite low - only 11 people attended - I heard the turnout in Penang, the next stop, is twice the number. I would expect that many more people would recognize the value in attending such a seminar. A few reasons I can offer:
  1. Bad publicity - insufficient promotion was done for the event. I came to know of it only because I subscribe to Jack's The Embedded Muse
  2. Lack of firmware practitioners in Singapore - we are a dying trade in Singapore, even though (I believe) demand for firmware is increasing.
  3. Singapore engineers are too full of themselves - they believe that no one can teach them how to develop firmware better
  4. Employers, managers and engineers alike are too myopic - they don't think the seminar is worth the meager amount that would have gone into the directors' road taxes; they believe in motivating their engineers by threatening their increments and bonuses, and increasing productivity by management fiat; they believe the only way to ship quality firmware faster is to keep screwing in the schedules, working overtime, feverishly pounding keyboards, pressuring vendors and individual heroics (tools, systems, reviews are just a waste of time).
Notice my longest rant above is about the employer mindsets. :-)

I feel sad for firmware/embedded software in Singapore. It is the most expensive thing in the universe to produce, but it is only fetching the price of the hardware. Since when did you PAY for firmware upgrades? Since when did you pay MORE for a device because it can do more? Fresh graduates coming out of 'world class' universities think Java is the only programming language in the world. How many programmers can read schematics? Why are huge companies who are eager to expand their firmware/software team not willing to pay the premium for scarce brilliant, experienced practitioners?

Anyway, the wisdom to be gained from this seminar does not just apply to firmware. A lot of the best practices can be applied to all areas of software development in general. Simply attending the seminar does increase your efficiency and effectiveness overnight - you have to understand and FOLLOW the advice presented. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every company, team, domain has it's own peculiarities and it is up to YOU to find out and do what fits YOU.

Seeing that this is a chance not to be missed - he says he is retiring (please Jack, stay and teach us more!). Immediately after the seminar ended, I took out my camera and asked for a photo with Jack.

This one was taken without flash. (notice Jack's grin).
This one was taken with flash.

I also follow Joel Spolsky's blog on software development. This guy is funny and makes a lot of sense. A lot of things Jack mentioned during his seminar ring a bell with what I hear from Joel, even though they put it across in completely different ways. The underlying wisdom is the same! Two great minds cannot be wrong!

At the end of the two days, I get rewarded with this:

A word to young firmware engineers and managers out there: There is a lot of wisdom and experience you can gain by listening to others. Why learn all these things the hard way when you can learn all of these NOW, and start being more productive and efficient? People like Jack and Joel make a lot of sense. Listen to them! Kudos to you guys!

P.S. Joel, if you do have time, please swing by Singapore to hold a seminar. I'll attend for sure!


Anonymous said...

wow. you're a Jack Ganssle hardcore my friend!

Anonymous said...

I am a Jack Ganssle fan too and I have been practicing firmware for the past 18 years. Ya, he is a good guru.