Two Tech Events, Two Different Worlds

This Friday marks the beginning of South by Southwest in Austin, starting with the Interactive Festival. Every year, geeks galore descend on my hometown, only to be replaced by filmmakers and then musicians. The geeks are my favorites, but you knew I’d say that.

As a reporter I look forward to the event, and as a resident I bemoan the lack of parking downtown, the full restaurants and the deluge of hipsters alternately making plans to move here or dissing the place for its provincialism. This year’s interactive lineup has an impressive array of companies who have built their business on the web, from Yahoo and Google to startups such as Facebook and MOG.

And 1,700 miles away in the colder climate of Philadelphia, about 1,200 network engineers will gather to perform the less-celebrated task of making sure the Internet keeps humming along. The Internet Engineering Task Force is holding one of its thrice-annual meetings to talk about the transition to IPv6, the problem of building faster routers when there’s ever more routing information to take into consideration, and a host of other issues relating to the core of the Internet.

Listening to Jari Arkko, an area director for the IETF, talk about the goals at this IETF meeting, it struck me how much the Internet has changed technology. I’m very much a hardware geek, in love with data center infrastructure, networking and chips, so I am now amazed at what a technology company can do without this level of engineering.

In the early days of the Internet, many of these technology firms had to at least figure out their data center architectures and how they would deliver and support their online shopping sites or web auction houses. But thanks to hosted services, that’s less important today. You no longer have to be a techie to start a technology company.

This is great for the billions of people using the Internet to access services and content, and speaks to the maturity of the web. However, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. So while the technology companies attending SXSW are slamming down the drinks and hobnobbing with the digerati, let’s take a moment to toast the engineers who make it all possible. And for those network engineers in Philly, it’s Beer Week up there next week, so sneak out of those plenary sessions and toss one back. Hack into my online bank account, and it’s on me.