Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A round-up of my GOTO Aarhus experience

Let's pretend for a moment that it is not nearly two weeks since I got back from GOTO Aarhus, and thus this blogpost really should have been written at least a week ago. Let's instead say that I've let my thoughts mature, before writing this blogpost.

No, the truth is that I've been busy both at work and in my private life, so I haven't really had the time to sit down before now, and put my thoughts into a blogpost.

So, what can I say about this years GOTO Aarhus conference? Well, first of all, it was awesome. Great speakers, great people. Just generally great. GOTO Aarhus is definitely still one of my favorite conferences, and they manage to get some amazingly inspiring people to come and talk. Among the speakers at GOTO Aarhus I'd definitely recommend other people to listen to, if they have the chance, are Jez Humble, Dan North, Linda Rising, Michael Nygard, Scott Hanselman, and Martin Fowler. Each of them are not only very knowledgable, but are also great at speaking.

Overall, the tracks were well thought out, and it seemed like there had been some thought given to who was invited (though I think the conference could have benefitted from a bit more focus on diversity, if possible). One thing I did find problematic though, was that the level of the talks were a bit too diverse, even within the same conference track - some were obviously aimed at beginners while others were aimed at more trained people.

That is actually one major criticism I have of the conference: They were not very good at indicating the level of the talk. Often you went to something which seemed interesting, and found out that the level was too basic for you to get anything out of it. This is something that the organizers should aim at improving.

Another point where the conference might be improved would be the agile track. The speakers there were generally great, and the subjects interesting, yet I couldn't help feeling that they were generally covering ground that had been convered many times before. Maybe it is time for an advanced agile track for those of us who have worked with agile for a while? I can't imagine that I am the only one who feels this way.

This was actually something they aimed at with the dev-ops track, and it seemed to me that this was a good approach.

So, what was the highlights for me?

The absolute highly must have been Dirk Duellmann's keynote about Distributed Data and Storage Management for the Large Hadron Collider. It was a facinating insight into problems the rest of us never faces (who else have to take the moon's orbit or the amount of rainfall into account when analyzing data? huge, huge amounts of data).

Other than that, a few other things stood out:
  • The Ada Aarhus meeting, where Linda Rising gave a great talk, and Martin Fowler argued that quotas might be the only way to get more women into IT (he finds quotas problematic, but empirical evidence points towards them being the only options).
  • Talking with the vendors. A lot of people going to conferences don't speak with vendors, and they are really cheating themselves.
  • Listening to Dave Thomas explaining something about the problems he work with to Jim Webber.
  • Catching up with friends and former colleagues and meeting new people.
  • The noSQL panel, where bloated claims by noSQL vendors were talked about. Panels can be either dead boring or brilliant. Any panel which have both Jim Webber and Martin Fowler on it, is bound to be the latter.

As can probably be gleamed, I had a great time, and I am definitely looking forward to going there again. Still, as I said, I would love for better markings of the levels of the talks, and also for there to be an advanced agile track.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sexism in IT, again

I'm currently at the GOTO conference in Aarhus, where I am spending a lovely time going to some great talks and meeting some great people, and I had planned on spending the evening blogging a bit about my impressions from the first couple of days at the conference.


That was until I had lunch with a couple of other people, and I heard about this incident (opens in a new window). Please go there and read the post.

As people who have been around me since I heard about this will attest, I've been pretty damn furious ever since first hearing about it, and then reading Cerian's blogpost (which was posted shortly after I heard about the episode).

I don't think I really have to explain why this incident makes me furious, but for good measure I will try to do so.

First of all, it is an incredible rude way to behave, and even if there were no other considerations, I think that unwarranted rudeness against complete strangers at a conference shouldn't happen.

But of course, it is not just the rudeness - it is the sexism that really gets me angry.

Can anyone even for a second imagine that a guy would have been addressed in that way? Yes, I am sure that there a few men who have been accused of being hired because of their looks, but it is not something people would say about a complete stranger that they had never met before, much less to that complete stranger. I mean, WTF? How can anyone think that it is OK?

Unfortunately, for women, this is a common remark, though not usually said directly to their face (though it happens all too frequently as well).

And it is not just men who makes this sort of remarks.

When we had a meetup of the bloggers/web media people before going to GOTO Aarhus, there was a woman among us who expressed her opinion that among the women studying Computer Science, there were two types:
1) The pretty ones, who got their (male) group members to do the work, and thus, couldn't code.
2) The non-pretty ones, who had to do their own work, and thus, could code.

In her mind, it was obviously not possible to be conventionally pretty, and be able to code.

I could now make some kind of argument about knowing pretty female programmers, but that would just be feeding the sexism. Rather, I'll just say that I cannot fathom why anyone would think it is acceptable to make that sort of comments, yet here there was a woman publicly stating these things. Among people she didn't know.

We seriously have a long way to go. A very long way.

Now, back to the incident. The thing that made me furious about the incident was not the fact that it happened (though that should be enough), but the fact that nobody spoke up when it happened. This is not mentioned in the blogpost about the incident, but I asked Cerian about it, and there wasn't. Or rather, one person said to her that she should ignore it, but nobody said anything to the guy about it.

The GOTO conference has an incredible good track record when it comes to not only getting female speakers, but also getting female attendees (once having to go to court for the right to give a discount to women in order to make the gender less underrepresented - a court battle they won). Yet, even at such a conference, not only does a guy feel entitled to make this sort of remarks, but nobody spoke out against him.

That shows me that the whole culture is still sexist at its core. Not that I think that the people who was there with Cerian are particularly sexist, or even that they agree with the guy, but I do think that they can't see how this sort of remarks are not only incredible hurtful towards Cerian, but also helps create an atmosphere where women, or a sub-group of women, don't feel welcome.

We, the IT sector as a whole, need to change that. Not only because it robs the sector of so much potential talent, but also because it is the decent thing to do.

So, if you see this sort of thing happening, speak up, and make clear that you don't find that sort of stuff acceptable. This is the only way to change the environment, and get rid of the sexism. We need to stop implicitly accepting this behavior by keeping quite, and instead explicitly express our disdain of it.

And it is important to note that it is extra important that we men are very active in doing this, showing our support in changing the environment.

On those words, I think I only have left to thank Cerian for speaking up, and that I hope that there will be some kind of official reaction from the GOTO conference. I know for sure that I will be following up on this issue, so expect more blogposts dealing with sexism, GOTO, and IT in general.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My schedule at GOTO

It is no secret that I love to go to conferences in general because it expands my horizonts and for the social aspects. However, in order to get the maximum enjoyment and value out of a conference, it is important that I go to the right sessions - both in the sense that I don't want to miss the good ones, and in the sense that I certainly want to avoid the bad ones.

I have been busy the last couple of weeks, so I haven't really had time to look at the GOTO schedule to see what sessions I want to go to. Still, looking at the program, I can see that there are certain sessions I don't want to miss, and certain sessions that I definitely want to miss.

So, how do I pick what sessions to go to?

Well, there are certain criterias:
  • Who is the speaker?
  • What is the subject?
  • Is the session technology specific?
The first point should speak for itself. There are certain speakers I don't want to miss. People like Linda Rising, Dan North, Michael Nygard (all of whom have sessions at GOTO), Uncle Bob, and Kevlin Henney. This is the most important criteria for me, since I know going into their sessions that I will be challenged and get my horizonts broadened.

The subject of the session is of course also important. The subjects that interest me, are the ones with broader perspectives, rather than those focusing on narrow issues or technologies. Good examples of the sort of sessions I prefer are the ones in the Agile Perspectives, Continuous Delivery, Professional Productivity, or Humans at Work tracks.

And then there is the aspect of how technology specific the talk is. This is a criteria for choosing to not attend. In general I find that technology specific talks are a waste of time, unless they address a problem I am currently facing. And even when they address a current problem I am facing, I find that a bit of google searching will work just as well for me, and allow me to spend my time on a session which gives me more in the long run.

It should probably be mentioned that I am not very visual. Which means I prefer that people either tell me something, or hand me something I can read. This means that pictures, diagrams etc. are wasted on me, as are coding examples and demonstrations. Really, they are. When people start showing how to code something or other, I am bored to tears, and frequently have to fight the urge to fall asleep.

Since technology specific talks often contains loads of demonstrations, this might help explain why I usually find them a waste of time. Still, even if that wasn't the case, I think technology specific sessions are a clear case of wasted opportunity. How often have you come out of a tech specific session and brought something with you, which you can use even just two years later?

This doesn't mean that talks with code examples can't be good. At QCon London, Kevlin Henney gave a keynote talk on cool code (different version of the talk can be seen here), where he showed loads of code. That talk was brilliant, and I highly recommend watching the video linked above, even though it is a less energic version of the talk. It also provided great food for thought.

So, to sum it all up, I haven't really taken a deep look at the schedule for GOTO, but the tracks I have linked above will probably be where I spend most of my time, since they are the ones that provide most value in my opinion. One exception will be the time I spend at Dan North's HTML5 talk. It might be technology specific, but since it is Dan North talking, I know that I will be learning some new perspectives from it which I can use in the future.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why go to conferences?

If people know me, it is no great secret that I am a great fan of going to conferences. Within the last year, I've been to several (GOTO Aarhus 2011, QCon London, QCon New York, and Community Day), and as I wrote in my last post, I'm going to GOTO again this year.

So, why do I love conferences so much?

Well, there are many aspects, but a lot of it boils down to two simple reasons:
  • Expanding horizons
  • Networking
Or to expand a bit more on it:

Expanding horizons: When working on projects on a daily basis, one tend to get bogged down on the problems there, and loose the greater overview. Going to conferences not only expands your knowledge, but also gives you new mental tools and frameworks to approach problems.

Heck, some times, the talks make you realize that you have been looking at the wrong problems all along.

Conferences are also great sources for inspiration towards improving yourself. E.g. at last years GOTO, Kevlin Henney gave a keynote talk on Cool Code which fired up just about everybody who listened to it (a video of a less energic version of the talk, which he gave at GeeCON can be seen here).

And of course, conferences help you keep track of tendencies and cool new technologies.

Networking: I am a quite social person (to put it mildly), and at conferences I get the chance to meet a lot of interesting people. The speakers are of course interesting to talk to, but the other participants are also frequently very interesting - the sort of people who wants to go to conferences are often opinionated and have interesting thoughts on many subjects.

So, if you go to conferences, remember to participate in the social events. Also, try to strike up a conversation with strangers, and see where that takes you. You'll often be positively surprised.

Going to the GOTO Aarhus conference

It turns out that I will be going to the GOTO conference in Aarhus this year in my capacity as a blogger. The kind people arranging the GOTO conference have invited me and some other bloggers to come along, and blog about the conference. I obviously thought this was a great idea, and thankfully my employers at NineConsult thought it was a great idea as well.

Since I am a great believer in full disclosure, I thought I'd better be upfront about this potential bias.

This will be the 3rd time I'm going to the GOTO conference - or rather, the second, as I've been once to GOTO and once to JAOO, which was the old name for the conference.

I can easily say that GOTO is my favorite conference - it has the right mix of talks about methods, technologies, frameworks, and broader developer-related subjects for it to appeal to me. It also has the advantage of not being wed to one specific technology - neither in talks nor in vendors. Another great thing about GOTO, is that the speakers are immensely approachable (to be fair, the same was the case at QCon London).

My blogging from the conference will probably be focused on two things:

1) Diversity,  or rather, how we get more diversity in our field, at our conferences etc. GOTO has been great in trying to increase the diversity both among speakers and among participants, and many of the people helping with GOTO are involved in great groups such as Ada Århus, which is a networking group for women in IT in Århus.
Those posts will probably be crossposted at my other blog, since this is a subject I discuss alot on that blog.

2) The talks. If there are some great or thought-provoking talks, I'll be sure to write about them. I've noticed that there is usually some kind of theme going through the talks (e.g. in QCon London in March, it was the concept of knowing your tradeoffs when making decisions), and I'll certainly make sure to write about any such at GOTO.
If any of the talks relate to error-driven development or how to end it, I'll of course also write something.