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The Tech Radar Summit — a view from the ground

In early March, hundreds of technologists gathered in Shenzhen, China, to join the Technology Radar Summit — an event hosted by ThoughtWorks which explored a wide range of subjects, such as microservices, continuous intelligence, and IoT. 

Shenzhen, the jewel in the Pearl River Delta, proved to be an inspired — and inspiring — choice of locations for a Radar-related event. Stepping into the city, which is part of the world’s largest continuously urbanized area, feels like walking into tomorrow; its forest of neon-lit skyscrapers provide the ideal backdrop to explore ideas around technology and innovation. The event attracted more than 400 technologists keen to join that conversation.

This idea of exploring new technologies alongside other technologists is very much in keeping with the ethos of the Radar.

Getting techies to talk

As Martin Fowler, ThoughtWorks’ Chief Scientist, explained during his opening keynote, the Technology Radar emerged out of a need to share interesting ideas about technology. At the time, ThoughtWorks was faced with a challenge that is common to many organizations: disparate tech groups tend to lack coordination. “And we wanted our technologists to be able to talk to each other.”

Those original meetings acted as a great forum for sharing ideas and experience, and the concept of tracking technology lifecycles with the Radar soon followed. But the real game changer came with the realization that these musings were something that techies outside of the organization might also find useful.

As Martin told the audience: “It’s always our instinct to share.”

Audience watching Martin Flowler's keynote speach

“We don’t intend the Technology Radar to be comprehensive — we don’t want to talk about things that we don’t know about. And we’re not an analyst organization that generates revenue from doing surveys: we’re a delivery organization that makes money from writing software — so there’s no way the Radar could be comprehensive. But it is grounded in reality.”

One other trait we have as ThoughtWorkers is a desire to help make sense of often-time complex issues. As Neal Ford, ThoughtWorks’ Software Architect and renowned author told the audience, the Radar itself can occasionally appear complicated to those seeing it for the first time. 

“It was around the third edition that we were asked whether we could summarize the Radar,” he said. “Over time, this attempt to summarize has grown: we look for ways of tying together the blips we see — this is what’s become our themes.”

The themes are the most ephemeral part of the Radar: if you’re interested in a blip, you can track its movements using the interactive Radar. But themes last for just one edition then disappear. “That’s because the themes are an up-to-the-minute observation — they’re not something that will necessarily make sense in two years times,” said Neal.

Tracking the big tech moves

At ThoughtWorks, we often talk about the Radar being a snapshot: observations that are made during the face-to-face meeting that produces the Radar. And while the themes aren’t preserved, tracking the movement of the blips can highlight some interesting trends.

Rebecca Parsons, Chief Technology Officer at ThoughtWorks, gave a Summit keynote that focused exclusively on the languages and frameworks quadrant — tracking the trends in programming languages and their ecosystem. She highlighted the big changes since Java, C# and C++ dominated the enterprise landscape; how individual preferences — for instance with functional languages such as Clojure and Scala — have divided opinion, and in the case of Go, almost polarizing it; and she explored how many languages an enterprise might wish to support. You can read the full details of Rebecca’s talk here.

Martin also briefly alighted on some of the big tech trends of the recent past. He showed how the Radar could be used to track the development of cloud technology, such as our early enthusiasm for cloud, particularly Amazon Web Services. We’d put that in the Radar’s Adopt ring back in 2011. We’d been far more cautious over its rivals Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure. But as those competitors have matured, AWS has been moved back out of Adopt and into Trial, alongside CGP and Azure — that’s no slight on AWS, it simply reflects that in the cloud space, there is no single best option anymore.

Cloud was also front of mind for Xu Hao, Head of Technology for ThoughtWorks China. His keynote covered so-called ‘a-ha’ moments in tech — those times where it becomes apparent that boundaries have been crossed. 

When cloud first appeared, we were still in an era where software was defined by the hardware it ran on. “With cloud, this changed. Now software is the driver,” he told delegates. And once people understood they could define software without considering the constraints of hardware, they would never want to go back to manually maintaining the hardware.

It’s not always possible to identify which technologies will be truly disruptive, Xu Hao added. By using the Radar to track changes, we can see how some technologies are simply overhyped, while others may not look very fancy at the beginning, but herald momentous changes.

The packed Tech Radar Summit had four morning keynotes and three tracks in the afternoon: platform, data, and technology. But the event wasn’t just about talks: Martin was on hand to sign copies of his latest book, the second edition of Refactoring, and there were fun thought experiments to take part in — such as predicting where various blips would appear on the next Technology Radar. And between the sessions, there were lively discussions taking place over tea and coffee, with attendees keen to question presenters over what they’d heard — and given our passion for talking tech, we hope the conversations continue long after the event.