That's no mean feat. The pace of change for software is accelerating, he said, and the major challenge for software developers will be learning how to design software for a system that not only lasts a long time, but can also be used in ways that the developers cannot foresee.
"The trick is to design a system without knowing what the consumption of that system will be like down the road," Sikka said during his keynote speech at SAP TechEd in Phoenix on Tuesday.
As an example from history, Sikka showed a slide of the Rosetta Stone, which he said was written in three dialects: two Egyptian, one Greek. And because it was written in three dialects, it made it easier for French lexicographers to translate the Rosetta Stone 2000 years after it was created.
Of course, according to Sikka, SAP is just looking for the current iterations of its software to be still in use in a decade, not a millennium. But given the accelerating pace of change, even that will be a significant challenge.
Programming languages change
First of all, programming languages change. According to Sikka, there has been a major new programming language every 10 years. "Think about the future of Java," he said. "Java will be around for a very long time, but there are other languages that have popped up in the last few years." He pointed to the open source programming language Ruby. "Ruby has been put into use by 1 million programmers faster than any other language," he said.
To build content that lasts for generations, he said, you need to make it easy for a programmer to express the content of an application, and then expose that content through user interfaces to future consumers -- consumers that the developer may not even know of today.
The problem of thinking ahead and anticipating future developments was wryly noted by the co-keynoter, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. He said that, back in 1965, when he was at MIT, he and other students shared access to a computer that required an entire building to house it. He then fished from his pocket a handheld computing device that he said was a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful than that MIT computer.
He predicted that the computing power of that device that today fits inside his pocket would soon fit inside a blood cell.