Wednesday, November 24, 2004

XML 2004: The People Who Changed The World

Someone asked on XML-Dev why the average age at the XML 2004 Conference is older than the usual at such events.

Because we aren't afraid to bully our managers? ;-)

Possibly because as one person noted, XML is thought to be only a syntax, therefore, what can an XML conference be about? Smart players in the business know that a lot of contacts are made, hallway business is conducted, and one can survey how well some application languages are doing or aren't. It's recon work. But this isn't the reason to send the younger players.

Send them to meet the people who changed the world.

The people at this conference are true innovators and leaders. To be accepted among such people is an incomparable honor. They have a global view and a global agenda. They don't see the borders; they see the connections. In a business where most are competitors, they are collaborators. In a world where most are feeding themselves, they are feeding each other. In a market where most simply accept what the dominant vendors sell them, these people roll their own and then show everyone else how to do that too.

Some bits are intuition. I was fortunate to be seated at a table next to Norm Walsh and Paul Cotton as they did some TAG work over breakfast. The respect these two have for each other is right up front. It showed in their work and their conversation. Believe it or not, that single serendipitous encounter gave me the confidence to say, yeah, we can let go of SGML and push XML to the top of the stack. Markup is just stuff; people of high quality make all the difference, particularly when they show such respect and take genuine pleasure in each other's company. Keep in mind, these guys work for competing companies. It can be fun, it can be respectful, and it can still be competitive.

I sat with Henry Thompson and talked futures. The man has an enormous grasp of arts, science, history and philosophy. I was pretty awed and he was very patient.

Ed Dumbill is solid class. It is so easy to be distainful, and it's a lot of work to pay attention. Edd is an asset to O'Reilly in ways they may or may not know. The diplomat.

Simon St Laurent will always be a credit to whatever he works on. A good egg. Funny too and unafraid. Fearlessness is a rare thing.

Eve Maler: Wow.

Tim Bray and Lauren Wood: the King and Queen. I am deeply in their debt. They lead with smarts and heart and genuine ethics.

Michael Sperberg-McQueen: a bear of a man. A deeply joyful guy who stays on the right side of the argument.

Jelks Cabaniss: Friendly, caring, loves life.

Michael Kay: I didn't get nearly enough time to talk to him and I regret that. There isn't one of us who works with XML that doesn't owe Michael for the care and detail in his books and his help on XML-Dev.

Priscilla Walmsley: calm rivers run deep. Smart. At ease.

Michael Rys: patient with lesser mortals. I'm glad he and Soumitra Sengupta are on the other end of the chain that feeds me technology. They treat their competitor with the utmost respect and humor.

Dan Connoly: a lover of good musical gear. This is something we have in common. Serious dude. Detailed and attentive. His name is in the highest ranks and the earliest for the WWW. He is one of the very few who can truly be said to have made the WWW a reality.

Mike Champion: tough minded and amiable. Results matter to Mike.

Mitch Amiano: sincere and a listener.

Jon Bosak: A taciturn way, he called the XML party to order; then he started his *serious* work. Jon quietly and resolutely pulls the levers and things happen. As Bray said, "Don't bet against this guy."

Pamela Gennusa: the first SGMLer I met. She impressed me then with her command of the technical, the political and the practical knowledge of markup. Still the classiest woman in the business.

Ken Holman: The teacher. He brought for my first visit to Canada, and made me realize what wonderful neighbors we have to the north. Genuine and a family man.

Betty Harvey: She can toss a balloon javelin twice as far as the best man in the crowd. Strong and smiling, she lead the charge in the Beltway to get the web accepted as a standard platform.

Bob Glushko: full of restless energy, he made a business of XML and is still protecting the openness of markup by defending the IP from the bad guys. Don't get in this guy's way.

Matt Fuchs: He sees through the mysteries straight to the application. He is imaginative, down to earth, and very very insightful. His success has no effect on his personality. I think whoever his friends in high school were still are, and anyone he has met since.

Some play duets:

Debbie LePeyre and Tommi Usdin: The divas of the markup community. Not just technical but also spiritual and kind. Probably two of the best people one could have as bosses.

Steve Newcomb and Michele Biezunski: warriors from the old school. We've served together and it was all good. When I'm with them, I'm the student again.

Paul Prescod: a committed man. Cool under pressure and funny. Priceless.

Then there are the technical aha moments. It was worth the price of admission to watch Steve Pepper build the Topic Map example with the Ontopia Omnigator. After years of reading or hearing about topic maps, to watch someone sit there and confidently model one from the requirements of an attendee in real time, I understood it better than all of the previous experiences combined.

Then there was John Cowan's presentation of RelaxNG. It was the clearest exposition of the advantages of it I've been exposed to. John is incredibly intelligent and one heckuva good friend when needed.

There were many more but these are good examples.

One cannot help but be impressed by the XML community. Some people do business. Others have subtle understanding. The leaders of XML can do magic.

And that is what the younger crowd needs to see: leadership by example. It is waaay too easy on the web to become bloodless or crusty. If there is to be a better world, the kids have to see how the one they have is being made better by the people who know how. Employers do themselves a big favor exposing their younger employees to the best in the business. Let them meet the real heros, the people who changed the world.

Innovation is inherently a collaborative art. So is leadership.

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."