NICTA: Aussies should focus on embedded programming not VB

The CEO of the national ICT research centre says the future of Aussie developers should focus on building better embedded and wireless applications and focus less on technologies such as Visual Basic.

The CEO of the national ICT research centre says the future of Aussie developers should focus on building better embedded and wireless applications and focus less on technologies such as Visual Basic.

NICTA CEO, Dr David Skellern, said Australia's large geographic coverage in contrast to its relatively small population meant that local innovation should come from wireless technology and writing better embedded programming applications for everyday devices.

"That's the sort of programming we need to do. And that's not Visual Basic", Dr Skellern said in his keynote address to IT journalists in the Hunter Valley recently.

NICTA, who partners with seven Australian universities and oversee 730 scientists is itself heavily involved in the research process of trying to find these better solutions. The research arm is aspiring to create the "smart products of the future, from clever cars to clever farms and form the foundations of pervasive computing". According to NICTA this includes aggregating research skills in system architecture, communications, sensor and control systems, embedded operating systems and software engineering.

Before the mass of VB programmers start pointing out that you can do embedded programming with VB I think Dr Skellern's comments were directed at the lack of innovation around building better embedded platforms, runtime environments, and developers understanding how the hardware they write applications for actually work.

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr Neil Roodyn and Nick Randolph, both senior managers at Nsquared Solutions where they work with Microsoft .NET technologies and are experts in their field, and asked them what they thought of Dr Skellern's comments.

"The issue goes deeper. The issue is that many so called software programmers are really 'abstraction layer programmers'. Hardware is becoming more complex, with increased instruction sets and execution flows become harder to understand. The abstraction layers simplify this and democratise the software development process. Yet to build magical, wonderful, amazing software you need to understand how the box of switches really works," Dr Roodyn said.

"I agree with Neil - there are a bunch of C# bigots out there who will claim that anyone not writing C# (eg VB.NET developers) are lesser developers. I would argue that anyone writing .NET is able to rapidly build applications but it takes much more than an ability to write code to deliver value to a business through software," Randolph said.

"To deliver business value you need to understand the now and future of technology and how it impacts on the daily running of a business. Without either of these developers will fail no matter what technology, language or methodology they subscribe to," Randolph added.

Personally, I agree with Randolph's pragmatic views but wonder what control most commercial Aussie developers have in the future of embedded programming. Being able to develop embedded systems and platforms that James Bond would be proud of would be a heck of a job, who wouldn't want to work in that lab? Unfortunately, for many developers they have to wait to see what embedded platform are accepted by customers or even government regulators before building the next generation of applications that run on top of them.

One only has to look at the mobile phone market in Australia and overseas to see how fragmented technology in this area is and how innovation is being thwarted by poor business decisions rather than technical choices in many cases. But, where frustration lies, great new technology can emerge. Google's search algorithm is a testament of how one technology can change a generation of technology use.

What do you think about the future programming in Australia and what should local developers be focusing on? Leave your comments below.