I'm back home in Sydney after a very enjoyable week in Colombo attending WSO2's 3-day conference as well as the pre-conference and post-conference tutorial sessions flanking it.
Over the next few days, I'll be posting a detailed trip report with my impressions of the highlights of the conference. In this post, I want to record my overall impressions.
I was highly impressed by a few things.
One, I could not but be impressed by the rapid rise to prominence of a visionary software company. The "Open Source middleware" niche has only one serious player with a complete range of offerings. That's WSO2, a five year old company. This relative newcomer is giving established players like IBM, TIBCO and Oracle a good run for their money. I have no doubt that middleware prices will come down in a few years from their current extortionate levels to something much more reasonable, and the credit will go in large measure to WSO2's disruptive impact on the market.
Two, I also had to marvel at the achievements of a country. I spoke to a few Indian delegates at the conference, and we all agreed that in spite of the huge number of Indian IT professionals and some very large Indian IT companies, no one in India has achieved (or even attempted) what a relatively small Sri Lankan company (WSO2) has pulled off. In hindsight, it shouldn't have been too hard. Take some software products from the Apache stable, enhance them to make them usable by corporate customers, release the lot again under an Apache licence, and charge customers for just support and professional services. It takes some vision of course, but a lot more courage and conviction, and WSO2's CEO Sanjiva Weerawarana has that in spades. It has been his determination that Sri Lanka should be a leading Open Source nation, not just in terms of usage but in terms of contribution, that has led to the success of WSO2. Today, I'm told Sri Lanka ranks third in the world in terms of Open Source contribution, behind the US and Germany. It would be good if Indian companies and professionals took inspiration from their smaller neighbour and started contributing to the world through Open Source.
I was also very glad to see the number of Sri Lankans (not just WSO2 employees but also others from Universities and the like) using Ubuntu Linux on their laptops. I felt right at home after a long time of appearing like a curiosity. Indian and Australian professionals, on the other hand, seem to have sold their souls to Microsoft (or else to Apple). Any argument that Linux is "not there yet" is just an excuse. These people have been using Linux exclusively and are none the worse for the experience. They also have a bit more cash left in their pockets as a result of their choice :-).
Three, I was very impressed with the way the conference was organised. Everything went like clockwork. Events started and ended (largely) on time with very few overruns. Sri Lanka follows Indian Standard Time, but fortunately, the other connotations of the term have not been infectious ;-).
There were distinguished speakers from around the world, giving the conference an international flavour. This was not just a Sri Lankan affair.
IBM Fellow C Mohan giving the main keynote speech of the conference
Gregor Hohpe, author of Enterprise Integration Patterns, giving another keynote speech on the final day of the conference
eBay's Distinguished Architect Sastry Malladi gave a talk and participated in a "fireside chat" to talk about, among other topics, eBay's use of WSO2's ESB to process a billion transactions a day
David Schumm of the Institute of Architecture of Application Systems (IAAS), Stuttgart, talking about BPM research at his institute based on WSO2 Business Process Server and similar products
Dmitry Lukyanov, Head of Integration Solutions, Alfa Bank, Ukraine, talking about his bank's positive experience with the WSO2 middleware suite
Cognizant's Principal Architect Dipanjan Sengupta's presentation demonstrating the interoperability between IBM's WebSphere Service Registry & Repository (WSRR) and WSO2's Governance Registry, was very well received
Catering was top-class, though some of the Western delegates found the food excessively spicy. (I had no complaints, except that I have probably put on some weight ;-). The hotel accommodation and local transport were great and there were no snafus of any kind. It was testimony to the conscientiousness and attention to detail that the people involved displayed.
Four, I realised that the conference was a showcase not just for WSO2's technology but also for Sri Lankan culture. Every evening, after the main technical events were over, there was some cultural program or the other that was fascinating. Day One had an elephant ride (with people able to feed the elephant by hand before the rides got started).
There was also a very interesting talk and slideshow by a conservationist on "human-elephant conflict" and possible solutions, with very moving and often tragic stories about individual elephants. Then there was a set of folk dances that I can hardly do justice to with mere words or even pictures.
Day Two's cultural event was a Jam Session, where WSO2's employees enthralled the crowd with their musical talent.
That, and the musical talents of CTO Paul Fremantle and VP (Business Development & Product Design) Jonathan Marsh, made me think one needs to have musical ability as well as software competency in order to work at WSO2!
On Day Three, a well-known local group "Bathiya and Santhush" (rather like Shaan or Hariharan in India) performed and the whole crowd danced to their music. The lyrics were in Sinhala, but the beat had universal appeal.
That was WSO2Con at a glance, and I'm sure next year's event will be even bigger and better. Those who missed this year's experience should try not to miss the next!
(Disclosure: I am in advanced negotiations with WSO2 to join them in a suitable role reporting to the CTO. While this obviously makes me an interested party, I promise not to make any statements or representations about the company and its products that I do not sincerely believe in. My decision to consider a position with WSO2 is itself driven by my conviction that (1) their product suite is fit for purpose and very good value for money, (2) the company operates in accordance with the ideals of Open Source - there is no proprietary version of any of their products, and (3) there is a good cultural fit because I like the people and the company culture (they never use the word "resource" for people) and found myself getting along very well with people across the organisation. Regardless of my relationship with the company, I'm determined to remain a voice that readers of this blog can trust, because I'm acutely conscious that my independent stance on technology matters has always been my biggest source of credibility as a commentator.)