2023 marks the 50th anniversary of IFIP Working Group 2.4 (Software Implementation Technology). Over those 50 years, the group has seen member and observer presentations ranging from early brainstorming to well-developed concepts and ideas. These have inspired group discussions which ultimately led to collaborations, top journal articles, workshops, and contributions to the state-of-the-art. Group members formed professional relationships resulting in long-term collaborations. Many members joined the group relatively early in their careers and continued through or past their retirement.
As described in the history of the group on our website, in August 1973, IFIP TC 2 sponsored a Working Conference on Machine-Oriented Higher-Level Languages (MOHLLs) in Trondheim, Norway organized by Knut Skog, professor at Tromso University. At that conference, a resolution recommending the establishment of a Working Group on MOHLLs passed without dissent. The establishment of WG2.4 was approved by TC2 and the IFIP General Assembly at their October 1973 meeting.
The topics in which the group was interested have changed over time. The group’s core interests around the reliable design and implementation of large systems, programming languages (“system implementation languages”), software quality, programming methods such as modularity and type systems, and software tools have remained constant. WG 2.4 initially had a strong focus on language design and implementation. The second meeting in Berlin saw presentations by DeRemer on “Programming-in-the-large versus programming-in-the-small” and by Liskov on “A Note on CLU.” Performance and “machine-orientation” was a core concept.
From the late 70s to the late 80s there was much discussion of language design and system construction. Many of the members of the group were involved in the work leading to the development of the Ada programming language and its programming environments. The announcement of the Ada project appears first in the minutes of the fourth meeting held at St. Pierre de Chartreuse in February 1976. The fifth and the seventh meeting at Nottingham in 1976 and Enschede in 1978 were really significant Ada preparation meetings. The first one discussed requirements. The second one saw presentations and discussions of all four language proposals which were named Blue, Green, Red and Yellow.
Recognizing that the name “Machine-Oriented Languages” was too limiting in scope, the group changed it to “System Implementation Languages” in 1978.
The late 80s and 90s saw a diversity of topics. Compilers and programming languages were still core subjects along with concurrency, real-time systems, software evolution, formal specification, verification, functional programming, Ada95, and the Y2K problem. Nuts and bolts language and tool topics such as parsing, attribute grammars, register allocation, and compiler verification were also common.
In order to meet in different seasons and different hemispheres, the group has endeavored to have a nine-month gap between meetings. There have been 66 meetings in 61 different places and 35 countries or North American states or provinces. The most exciting time was around the late 1980s, early 1990s when we ventured into Poland as it emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and into South Africa just before it became a democratic country. The members returned home with a much deeper understanding of the life and issues of scientists and ordinary people in far off lands.
The rapid rise of machine learning and AI has changed the landscape significantly in the last few years. From barely a topic five years ago to a core focus today, ML/AI has had a big effect on everyone. Programming assignments are no longer by themselves tools for teaching programming and even the role of software developers soon may change.
We are now facing a new era. In addition to exciting new technological topics, we see that most of our founding and long-time members have or will be retiring from the group.
Some founding and longtime members have passed away: Gerhard Goos DE (chair 1981-85), Bill Wulf US (founding chair 1974-75), Jean Ichbiah FR (hosted first meeting), Doaitse Swierstra NL (first attended 1977), and Ken MacGregor ZA (first attended 1984). Others have retired including Bill Waite US (founding member and chair 1985-90), Mark Rain US (founding member), Judith Bishop ZA (chair 1996-2002, first attended in 1981), Mary Shaw US (first attended 1984), Uwe Kastens DE (chair 1990-96) and Nigel Horspool CA (secretary 1996-2002, member since 1987). Jim Cordy, Stefan Jahnichen, Marc Joliat, John Nestor, and Joseph P. Newcomer all had long runs of participation and have also retired from the group.
We have been working to bring on the next generation of researchers and practitioners and have already started to pass the torch. We need to make sure that they understand the value of the working group and continue to keep it vibrant. Proactive recruiting of well-qualified women, under-represented minorities, and a balanced international membership are priorities for us.
The cost of holding meetings and travelling has also increased significantly. We introduced the notion of virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued the practice by interspersing physical and virtual meetings. Virtual meetings are not viewed as a viable replacement for in-person meetings because of the time zone challenges with a worldwide group and the inability to spend enough quality time with each other to build lasting relationships.
Despite these challenges, there is a high level of excitement about technological changes in the development of computer software and the group is heavily engaged in a variety of research and development projects. The basic purposes of the group, building relationships, fostering an international community, forming collaborations, exchanging ideas, and contributing to computer science, are as relevant as ever.
We are looking forward to the next 50 years. New observers are joining, and we have meetings scheduled through 2026!