20 years of Software Dev | Part 2

Most people now probably won’t remember but there was a time when airline tickets were real things. 

They were solid tangible pieces of paper that were printed on a shiny green paper watermarked with the IATA logo.

When you had a plane ticket it actually felt like you had something valuable.

I clutched such a ticket tightly as I stood in a seemingly endless queue that wound its way to the check-in counter.

There was a palpable nervousness in the air. For one thing the passengers seemed considerably more somber but the staff seemed considerably more animated and nervous. 

Teenage Dirtbag blared in the background in a vain attempt to calm everyone down.

It was the late September 2001, I was stuck in Frankfurt airport waiting to board what should have been a routine flight but for the fact that the entire world seemed to have gone mad.

A month earlier the world was different.

I was now a year wiser from my Maputo trip, I had managed to get started on my Java rewrite of the software that caused us so much grief, furthermore frantic emails from

Adriana had slowed to almost nothing.

Life was looking quite good.

The software we were writing was effectively a generic component driven Integration bus that we used primarily in conjunction with the Core

Banking software that we resold.

Now if you are astute you might have said “hang-on that’s an ESB”

You would be completely right, we were effectively writing an ESB.

The problem was that in 2001 the term ESB didn’t really exist, XML was still newfangled, and SOA was a buzzword Microsoft invented to hype up the impending arrival of .Net.

Back then out go to method for real time integration was with raw sockets and pipe delimited messages.

Had we been a bit more astute we might have caught the trend and I might have been writing this from a yacht in the Caribbean.

Whatever the case though our software had caught the attention of the Swiss based company that developed the Core Banking system we resold.

Consequently I was winging my way to Geneva at the beginning of September 2001 to show the development team what I had done.

My hotel in Geneva was called the Adriatica. My preferred name for it however was the “Laundromatica”

It was an old rundown hotel in close proximity to the offices where I needed to work, which is why I was put up there.

The Laundromatica featured ancient bathrooms with green tiling which has clearly been designed by someone who was simultaneously high on LSD and Michael Foucault.

Furthermore the decor of the bedroom was reminiscent of a 19th century brothel.

The saving grace of the Hotel was a little pizzeria in the lobby that served the most fantastic Pizza that you could possibly imagine.

I partook gladly of this Pizza up until I watched a cockroach crawl over my table while my face was being fed with Parma ham coated cheesy goodness.

It turned out that the offices that I had to go to were not where we thought they were, rather the development team had gotten a little office a bit further away in the suburb of Carouge

I ended up walking 30 minutes every morning past the Place de Philosophes, down the Rue de Acacias, over the Arve river and into Carouge.

I primarily did this because I was too cheap to take a cab that rapidly gobbled up my Swiss Francs.

However in retrospect I’m really glad I walked.

It started out great, I even met some consultants from the Ireland office who took me drinking one night.

We went – seemingly randomly – to the only Irish Pub in Geneva.

I’ve since become convinced that there are secret runes written on the walls in all cities that guide the Irish to the local Irish pub that is taught to them at a young age.

It was a good evening, We drank far too much Guinness while listening to “it’s a long road to Tipperary” and “Teenage Dirtbag”.

I have vague recollections of staggering home down narrow Genevan streets while singing “Teenage Dirtbag”.

Subsequently I’d been working with the team showing them what we had done and also doing some Dev on features they had requested and things where ticking along merrily up until the 11th.

It was in the afternoon when I got a call from my work colleague Jean. 

“Julian… are you watching the news?”

“Umm… no, why would I be watching the news?”

“A plane just flew into the World Trade Center”

I rushed to the pause area which had a TV, some of my Swiss colleagues had already fired up CNN and were glued to every bit of news that was trickling in.

I even remember watching the second plane crash into the second tower live on the news.

The shock was palpable.

The next day I remember walking in and greeting my colleagues with the usual pleasantries.

“Ow ‘r you?” He asked

“I’m fine and you?” I replied

“Ow eez eet one can be fine” he gruffly replied in a scene that could be part of a French art movie, but for the lack of a Gauloises that was vigorously being puffed

I didn’t realize it at the time but the world had changed and this was the portent that’s heralded the change.

Aside from the well known fallout and chain of events that 9/11 ushered in it it has a massive impact on the IT industry as a whole.

It had a massive impact on Dot Com. As a fallout of this people decided that buying shoe laces online didn’t make sense, consequently the whole e-commerce boom withered and died.

Once people stopped building websites, the need for expensive hardware to run them died. 

In 2001 expensive hardware meant a Big Iron Unix box.

Cash strapped organizations quickly discovered that they could run stuff quite nicely on this little OS written but some nerdy Finish CS student whose source code you could freely download online and had a cuddly penguin for a mascot as an alternative to buying powerful but expensive Sun Boxes.

In fact it was the beginning of the end for Sun.

Sun’s enduring legacy is Java which almost 20 years later is still the most widely used programming language.

In an Ironic twist Sun’s approach of making Java run on anything also meant it could run on stuff cheaper than Sun’s own hardware.

Java effectively helped to destroy Sun.

It was also a massive blow to us, barely two months later my company was haemoraghing money as customers abruptly cancelled deals and contracts and six months later I was looking for a new job.

In fact that period stands out as one of the few times that I remember where software developers struggled to find jobs.

I didn’t have an inkling of this as I stood in the queue at Frankfurt airport waiting to get on my flight.

Even if I had known I certainly wouldn’t have thought it would happen so quickly.


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