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By Jack Ganssle

It's Show Time

Published 3/3/2005

The very first Embedded Systems Conference was held at the beautiful Sir Francis Drake hotel in September, 1989. 400 developers attended. Perhaps 50 exhibitors showed their wares using tiny table-top displays.

Intel's Andy Grove gave the opening speech. He predicted 250 MHz clock rates by the end of the century. P.J. Plauger gave a talk while dressed in a wizard's suit, complete with staff and pointy hat. The sound of ringing cable car bells permeated the talks and exhibits.

I hung around San Francisco over the following weekend and attended a free Jefferson Airplane concert in Golden Gate Park. 40,000 people attended. Wavy Gravy of The Hog Farm was the MC. It's hard to say which was more fun - the concert or the show. Together they made for an unforgettable experience.

Over the years the ESC often changed venues, moving south to Burlingame, Santa Clara, and then to San Jose. Back when I ran an in-circuit emulator company we exhibited at the show every year, always returning with fistfuls of leads. And the parties! I could tell stories about these, except I'm not sure that the statute of limitations is up yet.

The ESC outgrew all but the biggest of convention halls, so returned to San Francisco, and is now hosted in the huge Moscone Center. Ironically, the Conference will return to San Jose next year, since the convention center there has been expanded.

It attracts some 15,000 attendees and 350 exhibitors. Some booths are sized like medieval cathedrals. Others are simple 10' by 10' affairs. but some of those have the coolest technology, promoted by companies attempting to revolutionize our business.

300 presenters will give 250 talks on all aspects of embedded development, covering hardware, software, management and business issues. I'm talking about managing embedded projects, developing real-time systems, and embedded disaster stories. And I'll moderate a Shop Talk about the future of engineering in an offshoring world. If only there were more time. there are so many classes I'd like to take.

Did you know that the average software person reads less than one technical book, other than user manuals, per year? Or that only a fifth of all firmware developers even read the only publication aimed at the embedded space? There are probably 50,000 embedded people within easy driving distance of San Francisco, yet only a third will attend the show. It's amazing how many developers come from all corners of the world, as this is the one show that's recognized as being indispensable.

We work in the fastest-changing field in the world. Tomorrow's technology will be quite different than what we work with today. It's hard to keep up. But we must, or risk becoming obsolete. Professionals work diligently to improve their expertise. Amateurs let their skills grow stale.

An advisor once told me a week spent learning just one new killer idea is a week well-spent. After each of these conferences I need a couple of hours to sort out all of the new ideas and concepts that litter my notepad.

Check out www.esconline.com, and drive, BART or fly to San Francisco next week. You'll be glad you did.

The Jefferson Airplane won't be playing. But the 2005 version of the ESC is so much larger than that in 1989 you'll be too busy to wander Golden Gate Park in tie-dye.