Losing your religion: Sun's Tim Bray on surviving the tech downturn

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By Tim Anderson

The most striking talk in last week's Future of Web Apps conference in London (FOWA) was from Sun's Director of Web Technologies Tim Bray, well-known as a co-inventor of XML. On a day when the world's stock markets were in sharp decline, he tore up his talk and spoke instead on how developers can survive the coming recession.

His recipe for survival is as follows:

Go Agile

The Agile development methodology is flexible, delivers high-priority features quickly, and doesn't lock companies into long projects that only yield returns at the end.

Use open source

"It's got to be very cheap to deploy technology. In practical terms, that means open source software. I do not see much of a future for Enterprise software."

said Bray. I believe he overstates the case. Companies are not going to make major platform shifts because money is tight; they are more likely to play safe and stick with what they use now. Nevertheless, if you can choose between free and expensive, free is pretty attractive.

Go to the cloud

"The business benefits of going into the cloud, you only have to pay a little at the beginning, you don't pay anything serious until you see benefits, are going to look overwhelming."

The snag here is that like the rest of us, Bray hasn't figured out which cloud to go to, and is particularly wary of lock-in. Still, utility computing has obvious cost-cutting potential.

Lose your programming prejudices

"Stop believing in programming religions," said Bray. I reckon this is his most important point, and relates directly to the others he made. In a downturn it pays to be pragmatic. Developers willing to get out of their comfort zone and try something different for the benefit of their customers will have more opportunities as firms cut back.

What if things get really bleak and a lot of us have time on our hands? Well, at least it is an opportunity for Java developers to learn PHP, or vice versa. Further, as Bray observed at FOWA, getting stuck into an open source project is a great way both to learn new skills and also to build your professional reputation. Never mind the CV; the first thing he does when evaluating a job application is a Google search.

Nobody knows how severe the downturn will be; Bray thinks it will be grim but admits he could be wrong. What is certain though is that the world will still need software development skills, and that the Internet will continue increasing in importance. If this is where your skills lie, that has to be a mitigating factor.

You can see highlights from Bray's talk here; and summarized on his blog.

For this and more IT news, visit ITjoblog the blog for IT professionals

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