KEYNOTE ADDRESS: 50 Years of Digital Technology – What’s Important, What Changes, What’s Next

Keynote Address Presented by: Mary Poppendieck

Fifty years ago, telephone calls were connected through relays, every technical student owned a slide ruler, and ARPANET was in its infancy. It was a great time to start a career in the world of digital technology, and the University of Wisconsin was an ideal springboard. From fixing a broken compiler on an orphan minicomputer to analyzing massive amounts of data from bubble chamber photographs, UW’s High Energy Physics lab provided intense challenges, constant learning, and my first publication.

Fifty years later almost everything has changed in the digital world, but the fundamental principles are the same. Architecture matters – a lot. Architecture changes over time, but its focus on breaking dependencies is constant. Engineering – or rather, problem solving – remains the most essential skill for digital professionals. Development processes change constantly, and too often new processes decrease the demand for problem solving on the part of digital experts; our history shows that such processes eventually fail. Communication with colleagues has evolved from ARPANET to Slack and Zoom, but the benefits of focusing many minds on tough problems has not changed. Finally, reliable execution matters; the road to mediocrity is littered with good ideas that were poorly implemented.

SlidesQ&A Document