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HDC keynote speaker Doug Durham to talk about structures for software development success

Doug Durham

LINCOLN — Doug Durham, Chief Technology Officer at Don’t Panic Labs, will be featured as the afternoon keynote speaker on September 6 at AIM’s upcoming Heartland Developer Conference.

Durham’s scheduled talk is titled “Be a Hero — Stop Being the Development Villain.”

“The title is a bit provocative, this idea of going from villain to hero,” said Durham. “The essence of what I’ll be talking about is that we still struggle as an industry in terms of outcome of software projects.”

Durham’s background is in electrical engineering. He spent seven years as a systems engineer at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, where he was responsible for the integration of software and hardware into military aircraft.

“I learned how a very mature and disciplined engineering culture tackles very complex problems,” said Durham.

Durham says he did not intend to go into software engineering, but had an opportunity to join a small software company in Lincoln, and never looked back.

“What I realized pretty quickly there, [and what] I was a little overwhelmed at, we’ll call it the chaos that existed within that particular company,” said Durham. “They were in the midst of some challenged, soon to be failed, software initiatives.”

Durham says that experience started him on a journey of trying to reconcile the successes that other engineering disciplines have with the failures that software projects too often run into.

“A lot of this has been educating myself on what is that body of knowledge that exists out there for computer science and software engineering.” said Durham. “Because it’s extensive — what is that telling us that is part of how we should be approaching software projects.”

Durham says one presentation in particular that he came across resonated with him: The Zen of Architecture by software architect and author Juval Lowy.

“It resonated with me because it connected a bunch of dots between what I’d experienced as a systems engineer at McDonnell Douglas, and what he was telling me were best practices and processes around complex software system design,” said Durham.

From that point on, Durham says he began to focus on developing a set of patterns and best practices around software development.

He has had the opportunity to test those structures as a co-founder of Nebraska Global, a venture capital fund that helps build and launch software startup companies.

“It’s become this great laboratory for us to kind of put these things into practice and learn from that experience and modify that, and create a mature software development culture here,” said Durham.

Durham says he has not found a magic bullet or one-size-fits-all solution for companies grappling with software issues.

But he says there are lessons the software engineering industry can take from more classical engineering traditions.

“If you take two architectural engineering firms and say, ‘You have to build a bridge over the Missouri River,’ they are going to come up with designs that are different,” said Durham. “They might be built on best practices that they’ve learned, in their experience. But there’s going to be a commonality based on this shared body of knowledge as well.”

Durham says that body of software engineering knowledge and best practices is not well-known and distributed.

He says what he hopes to do at Heartland Developers Conference is to paint a picture that identifies some key areas and pathways for developers and engineers to focus on that can make a difference in their work and in their organizations.

“I think that’s key for organizations,” said Durham. “They have to balance things that have worked well in their culture with the enormous amount of proven practices and processes that are out there––that they are going to have to figure out how to adopt and make a natural part of how they are developing.”

For more information on Doug Durham and the Heartland Developers Conference, click here.