People often ask me what I’ve done before Bart, Achim and I started newtelligence together with Jörg. So where do we come from? Typically, we have given somewhat “foggy” answers to those kinds of questions, but Achim and I talked about that yesterday and we’ve started to ask ourselves “why we do that”?
In fact, Achim, Bart and I had been working together for a long time before we started newtelligence. We used to work for a banking software company called ABIT Software GmbH, which then merged with two other sibling companies by the same owners to form today’s ABIT AG. We’ve only reluctantly communicated that fact publicly, because the formation of our company didn’t really get much applause from our former employer – quite the contrary was true and hence we’ve been quite cautious.
For us it was always quite frustrating that ABIT was sitting on heaps on very cool technology that my colleagues and I developed over the years (including patented things) and never chose to capitalize on the technology itself. Here are some randomly selected milestones:
We had our own SOAP 0.9 stack running in 1999, which was part of a framework that had a working and fully transparent object-relational mapping system based on COM along with an abstract, XML-based UI description language (people call those things XUL or XAML nowadays).
In 1998 we forced (with some help of our customer’s wallet) IBM into a 6 months avalanche of weekly patches for the database engine and client software that turned SQL/400 (the SQL processor for DB/400 on AS/400) from a not-quite-to-perfect product into a rather acceptable SQL database.
In 1996 we fixed well over 500 bugs and added tons of features to Borland’s OWL for OS/2 with which we must have had the pretty unique framework setup where cross-platform Windows 3.x, Windows NT and OS/2 development actually functioned on top of that shared class library.
In 1994 we already had what could be considered as the precursor to a service-oriented architecture in with collaborating, (mostly) autonomous services. The framework underlying that architecture had an ODBC C++ class library well over 6 months before Microsoft came out with their first MFC wrapper for it, had an MVC model based centered around the idea of “value-holders” that we borrowed from SmallTalk and which spoke, amongst other things, a text-validation protocol that allowed us to have a single “TextBox” control could be bound against arbitrary value holders that would handle all the text-input syntax rules as per their data type (or subtype). All of this was fully based on the nascent COM model which was then still buried in three documentation pages of OLE 2.0. I didn’t care much about linking and embedding (although I wrote my own in-place editing client from scratch), but I cared a lot about IUnknown as soon as I got my hands on it in late 1993. And all applications (and services) built on that framework supported thorough OLE Automation with Visual Basic 3.0 to a degree that you could fill out any form and press any button programmatically – a functionality that was vital for the application’s workflow engine.
And of course, during all that time, we were actively involved in project and product development for huge financial applications with literally millions of lines of production code.
None of the technology work (except the final products) was ever shared or available to anyone for licensing. We were at a solutions company that supported great visions internally, but never figured out that the technology would be a value by itself.
newtelligence AG exists because of that pain. Years back, we’ve already designed and implemented variations of many of the technologies that are now state of the art or (in the case of XAML) not even shipping yet. At the same time, we continue to develop our vision and that’s how we can stay on top of things. So it’s really not that we’re not learning like crazy and go through constant paradigm shifts – we’re lucky that we can accumulate knowledge on top of the vast experience that we have and adjust and modernize our thinking. However, what’s different now is that we can share the essence of what we figure out with the world. That’s a fantastic thing if you’ve spent most of your professional life “hidden and locked away” and were unable to share things with peers.
So every time you’ll see a “Flashback” title here on my blog, I’ll dig into my recollection and try to remember some of the architectural thinking we had back in those times. We’ve made some horrible mistakes and had some exuberant and not necessarily wise ideas (such as the belief that persistent object-identity and object-relational mapping are good things); but we also had quite a few really bright innovative ideas. The things that really bring you forward are the grand successes and the most devastating defeats. We’ve got plenty of those under our belt and even though some of these insights date back 10 years, they are surprisingly current and the “lessons learned” very much apply to the current technology stacks and architectural patterns.
So – if you’ve ever thought that we’re “all theory” authors and “sample app” developers – nothing is further away from the truth. Also: Although I fill an “architecture consultant” role more than anything else now, I probably write more code on a monthly basis than some full-time application developers – what’s finally surfacing in talks and workshops is usually just the tip of that iceberg and often very much simplified to explain the essence of what we find.