Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seoul Observations

I have a cool job. The opportunity to travel to interesting places is one of the coolest parts. Recently, I had the chance to go for the first time to Seoul, Korea, speaking at the Entrue Developers Conference.The conference was very well organized, but it was a conference like any other. The interesting things for me were the observations I made while I was there.

First up, phones and Internet. I proudly carry an iPhone (one of the first purchasers, don't you know), and smugly rub it in the face of all the poor phone 1.0 owners. In Korea, their cell network is far more advanced than ours. So advanced, in fact, that they aren't even backwards compatible with our phones. None of my other co-worker's phones worked either, except the one that had a special phone for Korea. The other notable technology difference was the speed of the Internet connections. The Internet in my hotel room was one of the fastest I've ever used! Stuff that takes 45 minutes to download here takes 7 minutes in Seoul. Unfortunately, I didn't actually measure the speed, but it was blindingly fast. And that was just my hotel room connection!

Second, business in Seoul is much more formal than here. Before travelling there, I asked my co-worker from China meeting me there about the dress code. I try to remember to do that when I travel so that I minimize the ugly Americaness that leaks through anyway. He said "Oh, don't worry -- it's business casual. Slacks and button up shirt is fine." Well, I get there, and I'm the only one there without a suit. One of the nice things our host did for us was an invitation for a lunch with about 200 corporate CIO's in Seoul. My co-worker (the same one who advised me) leaned over and said "See that guy over there -- he isn't wearing a suit, so you aren't the only one." Thanks! In general, business is much more formal. Developers wear suits and ties to work, which is increasingly rare here.

Third, I was asked to give a presentation at one of the local companies, to their enterprise architecture group (SOA is big in Korea). The only snag: they don't speak english, and I don't speak Korean. The local guy there who invited me to speak at the conference volunteered to translate for me. This was a first: I would discuss the contents of a slide or example, then pause while he translated the entire thing to Korean. He was extremely knowlegable about technology, so I have high confidence in his translation. It was just weird: speak, pause, speak, pause...for almost 2 hours!

Fourth, they have different technology priorities there. While a lot of big companies in the US have embraced the run-away accidental complexity that is SOA, they have taken it to a manaical level. We sat through a presentation of an SOA Goverance Framework. They have every detail nailed down to the tiniest degree. It looked great on paper, but it was absolutely unworkable in the real world. Can you really tell the business that they must slow down their pace of innovation because the SOA goverance framework keeps all IT at a snail's pace? Developers spend more time filling out forms and consulting the thousands of pages of documentation on how to govern their SOA than they do actually writing code. I asked during the presentation how this impacts the business and got blank stares: business? What does the business have to do with our enterprise architecture? It was the most elaborate, meticulous, detailed, unworkable framework I've ever seen.

My fifth observation is the dichotomy of their IT priorities. On the one hand, they've embraced SOA (particulary the bad parts, in my opinion) whole-heartedly. The important priorities for their enterprise development seems to be to lock down all variability (and therefore flexibility, evolvability, and adaptability) from their enterprises. They have state of the art SOA fetish there, building meta-SOA frameworks. Yet, you ask them about some of the things considered interesting in the states (like the rise of dynamic languages), it's not even on their radar. It's not that they have looked at it and disregarded it. They haven't even heard of most dynamic languages. Ruby? Groovy? Python? The only one they've even heard of is Perl, and they have a poisionous disdain for it. They have of course heard of JavaScript, but it's a toy language for visual effects in browsers. They treat it like an extension of CSS.

Of course, the best part of traveling is the people: I met so many friendly, gregarious, funny, open people there. We had several great meals, lubricated either by fine wine or Soju, the Korean version of Sake. It's wonderful stuff: it tastes like mild Sake, but it packs almost the punch of vodka. We talked about lots of stuff, both technical and non-technical. The last speaker's dinner had geeks from Korea, the US, China, Japan, Singapore, Malyasia, and lots of other places. Travel does indeed broaden you, often in unexpected ways.


영회 said...

Wow... you are in Seoul.
I'm one of ThoughtWorks Anthology translators and your fan since I read your article from NFJF anthology, maybe.
Your opinion on Seoul's business atmosphere is very interesting.
I wish you a good travel in Seoul.(I lived in Seoul)

d2dchat said...

You're so lucky! The last time I was there was when I was a toddler. One day I will go back and hopefully I can get a peak of their business practices as well.