developerWorks: You're listening to developerWorks interviews where we feature conversations with technical luminaries and thought leaders from a variety of disciplines on topics of interest to technology professionals. I'm your host, Scott Laningham, joined today by developerWorks Editor in Chief Michael O'Connell. Glad you could make it, Michael.
O'Connell: Glad to be here, Scott.
developerWorks: Our guests this time are Rosalyn Lum and Larry O'Brien, officials with the Jolt Product Excellence Awards which recognize the most innovative trend making ahead of the curve software products, books and Web sites. They're here to talk with us about the 2007, or 17th Annual Awards, which were announced recently at the SD West Conference in Silicon Valley. Thanks to you both for making time for this today.
Lum: Pleased to be here.
O'Brien: Thanks for having me.
developerWorks: Now, maybe you all, at the top, if you could give us a sense of your individual roles with the Jolt Awards so we know where you're coming from.
Lum: Well, I manage the Jolt Awards, and I'm sort of like the systems engineer, which is my background. And I'm the go between the nominees and the judges. Basically we set up the categories. We contact nominees once they've been nominated and whether or not they've been finalists. Once they're finalists, they have to provide us with a product and then it's on autopilot.
developerWorks: It sounds like you're kind of like a bodyguard and a bouncer, then?
Lum: Yes. [LAUGHTER]
developerWorks: That's cool. So you really get...you get the broad view of what's going on with the awards each year, then, don't you?
developerWorks: Now, what about you Larry, tell us about your background. I know you go way back with all this, right?
O'Brien: Well, once upon a time I was more involved. I used to work on the magazines that actually originally sponsored the Jolt Awards. But now Rosalyn, she's not just...she's being overly modest. In addition to being the bouncer and all of those things she's also the bartender and the bar owner. So she does all the work. And I'm one of the judges. And in that role, of course, I have the pleasure of looking at a lot of tools every year, along with, how many other judges do we have, 15?
Lum: This year we had 16 judges. Some of them had fallen out because of prior commitments, and but we had actually 16 judges that were looking at the products in depth.
O'Brien: So there are tons of judges, tons of products. It's a lot of work. And then in addition to that, which is fun, we also bloviate on internal mailing lists and hold forth on our own passions and what we think's happening in the industry and so forth. That's really the only way to get through looking at so many products in such a compressed period of time, is you have to have a...bring your own biases to the evaluation and fight it out with other strong-willed judges.
O'Connell: One of the things with developerWorks having, and also our sister site, alphaWorks, having won a few awards in the past and obviously IBM products as well, you know, various times we've mentioned the fact that we've Ben honored and obviously the Hall of Fame was a big deal this year. But one question that I wonder if you could help me with is when I'm talking with my boss asking for a raise, or when I'm talking with the PR folks ... [LAUGHTER] ... trying to get them to market the award, or when I'm just talking to the developers that visit our site, and obviously developers are known to be rather skeptical folk ... So I'm just trying to figure out, what can we tell them about the awards that would drive home the point that these are among the most respected awards in the industry, if not the most respected?
Lum: Well, I think if you look back at who we've honored for the last years, for the Hall of Fame, as well as for the Jolts, IBM developerWorks, they've been the Jolt winner for 2003, productivity winner in 2004. And this, we skipped 2005, and in 2006 we brought it back by popular demand. And all of the judges thought that IBM developerWorks was the dominant vendor in this category. So by history, we want to give other people a chance.
O'Brien: I do think it's tough, I mean, to convince developers today where so much information comes on the Web and today programmers are so used to reading blogs where people just hold forth and say something as certainty without really evaluating it. And hopefully some people will look back and say ... and look at the Jolt Awards or something or other longer traditions like Dr. Dobbs Excellence in Programming Awards that went to Grady Booch this year and realize that these aren't opinions that are developed by people who have been in the business for six months or 12 months. These aren't opinions that are reflecting, well, this is the tool that I use and therefore I'm going to vote for it. I think that's a big problem that you have with some of these readers' choice awards where they're definitely worthwhile but they have a tendency to focus on market share more than actually being able to evaluate the products head to head against each other.
Back when we started the Jolt Awards in 1990, the world of getting information to developers ... well, you'll know, Michael, because this is one of the things, this really I think relates to developerWorks and one of the reasons why developerWorks stands out as a resource. In 1990, in those times, those pre-Web ancient days, establishing routes of communication to developers was a lot harder. And the print industry, it was a lot tighter then. There were a lot of smaller magazines and people really put their heart and souls into getting out there and communicating with other developers.
And at the time I edited a magazine called Computer Language. And one of the ways that we tried to compete with the bigger magazines was by product reviews. That was sort of the thing that we tried to do. It was a lot harder in those days; you know, installs were done with floppy disks and a megabyte of memory and so forth. Those were ancient days. And so we really at that time tried to establish a long history of reviews and being trustworthy. And the Jolt Awards, I do think that the proof is in the pudding. If you go back and you look at the Jolt Awards, you see that we identified some excellent products which maybe at the time their eventual impact wouldn't be quite as apparent.
You know, Grady Booch won the Excellence in Programming award this year at the same event at SD West, and I think that his book actually won the first Jolt Award for his object-oriented analysis and design with applications. And that was a book that really touched off the popularization of object orientation. C++ was a hot new topic then, but people didn't really understand object oriented design. And that book, I remember it had a tremendous influence on me.
We gave an early award to next, I think it was called Object Studio. And that was a glimpse at the future of IDEs, Integrated Development Environments with integrated screen painters, component based development, the sort of things that you see in some of the Visual Works types of products that have gone forward. Moving forward from that time, design patterns, Rational Rose, those sorts of things which have sort of gone on to become much more better known in the industry. And now, of course, with the Agile techniques. All of those things, I think the Jolt Awards have an excellent history of identifying these important trends early and tagging some of the early thought leaders and early product leaders in those fields.
And then, of course, with the Hall of Fames, it's a little bit more of an opportunity to look back at some products and say, see, we told you so. We recognized this product a few times in the past. And as you can see, at this point it's matured and becomes one of those essential, you know you can trust it sort of products.
developerWorks: You know, Larry, that's a great sweeping look at this, and I appreciate that very much. And you've touched on this in those comments already. But what types of things in addition to what you've mentioned do the judges look for when they're thinking about a Hall of Fame honor? And what stood out in particular about developerWorks?
O'Brien: What we look for in Hall of Fames is consistent quality and company investment. Our first Hall of Fame award, for old time programmers, they'll remember this, was Bounds Checker for Windows development. And one thing we always say about all Jolt Awards is that it's a product that even if you don't know that you need it, you need it. And with the Hall of Fame awards, what we do is we say, look, at this point the company has demonstrated a commitment to this product. They update it year after year, and every year, when we look at it, we know it's going to be high quality. And sure enough every year we look at it it is high quality. And it just becomes one of those, well, of course you have to pay attention to developerWorks, for instance. The quality of the editorial content on developerWorks has been consistently high. The tutorials are dynamite.
I think one of the things that really stands out on developerWorks to me as opposed to some other vendor sponsored sites is that other companies...and this all goes to the editorial policy, and I'm sure you get pushback on it. Other sites have a lot of pressure, obviously, coming to press the vendor's story. Every single article is, where's the spin for X? And developerWorks doesn't have that same kind of feel to it. And you don't have that feeling when you see in a developerWorks tutorial that I'm simply getting one answer to the problem; you feel you're getting an honest tutorial. And as a writer who occasionally writes for vendor sites I know how difficult writing an honest tutorial can be, because you get the ... If you want to be honest about it you say okay this is a little confusing. This is maybe not the clearest part of it. And with a lot of vendor sites you get pushbacks on that. Oh, no, no, no. You know, tell our story.
O'Connell: We've had our hand slapped a few times before and after publishing certain pieces. But for the most part we've been blessed because I think part of it was bringing people like myself who had background in independent publishing companies like IDG and the faith of the strategy from the beginning by the leadership at IBM with the site and the fact that the leadership has maintained that support of that underlying premise. So you have to serve the developers first and foremost before you worry about how to share the IBM messages. So I'm glad to hear that that's come through, that you can see that in the content consistently.
O'Brien: Oh, I think that stands out 100 percent. And I do think, to me that's the distinguishing characteristic, is high consistent editorial quality. But to me the thing that stands out is that feeling that developerWorks is not just spinning every single story hard to push some aspect of IBM's offerings.
Lum: Well, to illustrate the point, I think if you look at how many vendors or other sites are referencing some of the things that have been published on your site, then that's an indication, again, of not only the quality, but the unbiased reporting, and another comment that came through from the judges was that IBM developerWorks is probably one of the few places where you could find anything available on certain subjects. And one judge said that they were looking up cell processors and they couldn't find much information other than on your site. So you do cover a broad range, a good range. It shows.
developerWorks: Is it getting tougher with each passing year and the innovation, the innovation curve we find ourselves in with the Web and Web 2 and new technologies? Is it getting tougher in the field, broader and making your job harder to do?
Lum: What I'm finding as a trend is companies are broadening their offerings. You can just see by the number of mergers. They're just expanding outside and huge haystacks are out there and that makes it much more difficult to even position their products but not only that, to evaluate them from our standpoint.
O'Brien: Then you get into the whole issue of open source where there are so many open source projects now and they come out and a lot of them, it's a tremendously difficult thing, keeping up with great open source libraries and utilities in every aspect.
I personally happen to be doing a lot of Ruby programming lately. I know I don't know half of the excellent products, open source projects in Ruby that are out there. And it's a lot harder than it was in 1990 when essentially you could say okay, big commercial ISVs, that's where all the action is because that's not where all the action is nowadays. There are big commercial ISVs, there are open source conglomerates, and then there are guys in their garage turning out the next great thing. So it's a lot harder nowadays.
O'Connell: I was also wondering, Larry, maybe you can give us perspective I know one of the judges has also been an award winner this year, Scott Ambler, and maybe you can tell us a little bit about his involvement and his award as well as, maybe you or Rosalyn can talk a bit more about Grady's award and explain the criteria for that honor that he received this year.
O'Brien: Sure, Scott is an old friend of the awards. He's in most years a judge in the categories, and most years a very opinionated judge. This year he had to recuse himself because his book on refactoring databases became a finalist and ultimately won the award. I think very well deserved in an excellent year for technical books. This year I really felt that the technical books were exceptionally good. And I advise everyone to go to the joltawards.com site, take a look at that finalist list and buy every book on the list.
Scott has been writing for originally Software Development; he was a long time friend of the magazine, and now he's writing for Dr. Dobbs. And I think everyone knows, and of course he writes for developerWorks and works at IBM. And I think everyone knows that he's now considered one of the top luminaries in the field, especially when it comes to Agile techniques, Agile database works. I think that's a very well-deserved honor.
Grady Booch, similarly with an even longer history, as I think I mentioned earlier, Grady's book on object-oriented design with applications is one of our first nominees. And he won an award from Dr. Dobbs basically recognizing his decades long contributions to the field. And he was one of the top designers first independently and then with his work on the Rational products, one of the three amigos that eventually led to UML. And today sort of moving toward the future of design beyond that. He continues to contribute great stuff to the field.
O'Connell: I think one of the big benefits for IBM in terms of joining with Rational was being able to work so much more closely with Grady over the past few years and to have him as part of the leadership within the company. It's such a good perspective on the technical detail but also on the big pictures.
O'Brien: Yes, he's a smart guy. It's tough talking about Grady Booch because you can sort of focus on any of three decades of contribution. In the eighties, he was one of the top guys who talked about asynchronous design and Ada and reliable computing. All of that stuff he did then is actually sort of again coming to the forefront. Then, his contributions to object-oriented design were tremendous. And you just sort of think of him as a person who helped popularize that. And then model-driven design, his contributions to the Rational product line which of course have come to dominate that field. And now, you know, I don't want to speak for what the future holds for him, but I'm sure he's working on something else.
developerWorks: Grady Booch as a topic is sort of like earth history or something. You don't know which epoc to focus on. And we love Grady. He's been on the podcasts a number of times. And he's actually recently helped us kick off our new Blogger-of-the-Week segment. So he actually comes on and does some commentary for us as well. He's a real treasure to have as part of this.
O'Connell: And wasn't he one of the first people you interviewed also for a podcast when we launched this, Scott?
developerWorks: He was the first one we interviewed.
O'Connell: That's right.
developerWorks: And he was very patient as we figured out how to do it.
And you mentioned Scott Ambler, by the way. We have a podcast with him coming up within the next week on that subject of Agile development. So that's a very interesting conversation and a very interesting man. So I'm glad you brought that up. Any closing thoughts, Rosalyn, or Larry, or Michael?
O'Connell: I think any award in this industry that can last as long as yours have, I think that's in itself testimony to their value and to their significance. I mean the test of time and especially in terms of technology where sometimes days seem like years, it's quite impressive that the awards have lasted as long as they have. Also, if you look at the roster of judges, I think it's quite an impressive collection of expertise on that panel. So I think that really is another strong indicator of the value of the awards.
O'Brien: I think one of the things that's invisible about the Jolt Awards, unfortunately, is that it's not...we don't hash this out over the course of a lunch. The judging group that has essentially accumulated over the years as the awards have gone on are people who individually value actually evaluating each of the products in depth. So when it comes to something like IDEs, we're not talking about, well, which one has the biggest market share, oh, let's take a look at a couple screen shots. You're talking about every judge in that category doing an individual assessment of the product, which, of course, can take hours and hours per product in the finalists. And if you like software products, it's a fantastic experience, because you do get to see such an array of great products every year. And you get to discover products you wouldn't have heard of otherwise. But it is a little invisible, I think, that we put quite so many hours into the process every year. That would be the one thing that I sometimes wish people would appreciate, because sometimes you hear people and they look at the awards and they say, oh, well, they gave it to X. I like Y.
O'Connell: There's also always these perceptions about, well, they bought ads, so we're going to give them an award, or whatever other influences occur. And I think when you have more of an objective criteria and you're actually doing product analysis, it's much more like a souped-up version of a magazine product review where you have not just one or two editors or a few experts invovled but a wide panel of judges focused on that product and not just a single product but a comparative product review. So it's quite impressive, I think.
O'Brien: Yes, and again, going back to the issue of, you know, there's editorial quality and there's maintaining editorial independence. And to give Rosalyn and CMP all the credit in the world over the years to absolute resistance to any kind of suggestion of pressure along those lines is, again, I think you're right, it goes back to the things we talked about earlier about why developerWorks is worthy, and it's hard and of course people are cynical and skeptical and so forth. But hopefully the proof is in the pudding.
developerWorks: So no American Idol syndrome at work here, when if you just have good hair you get to win, right? [LAUGHTER]
O'Connell: Maybe that's a new category.
Lum: It would be nice. But we do look for quality. And I have to say that the reason why we keep the judges every year interested in coming back is because they do find it rewarding to look at all of these products. And every one of these judges really hope in finding something that they know nothing about and becoming extremely excited about it. And I think that's why we've kept the judges and the quality up there as well for the Jolts.
developerWorks: This has been great, Rosalyn and Larry and Michael. I'm glad you joined as well. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks for taking time to do this with us today.
Lum: Our pleasure.
O'Brien: Good luck with the editing. [LAUGHTER]
developerWorks: Again, joining me today were Rosalyn Lum and Larry O'Brien from the Jolt Products Excellence Awards and developerWorks Editor in Chief Michael O'Connell. Check out Michael's blog for more information about this year's Jolt Awards, including links to most of what we spoke about today. That's it for this edition of developerWorks Interviews, I'm Scott Laningham. Thanks for listening.
Michael O'Connell's blog entry on the Jolts
Dr. Dobb's article on Grady Booch
Scott Ambler's web site
Scott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.