Monday, September 30, 2013

Impressions from the 1st day of GOTO Aarhus

This is just a short blogpost with my impressions of the 1st day at GOTO Aarhus 2013 - longer, more detailed blogposts will follow, based on specific talks.

My schedule for the 1st day of the conference was:

1) Introductions to the tracks - this was basically just the track hosts that introduced their tracks. There were a lot of great speakers and several interesting tracks, but the track hosts should practice giving short introductions to their tracks and the speakers on it.

2) Something completely different: an opera singer showed up on stage and gave a short performance. I haven't seen this before at a conference, but it was a pleasant surprise.

3) Keynote speech: There and Back Again - Software Security in the 21st Century by Brian Chess.
I plan on writing a separate blogpost about this talk, but I found it interesting and it contained som important reminders to everybody.

4) Dan North: Why Agile doesn't scale, and what you can do about it (when the agile manifesto isn't enough track)
It was an intentionally provokative title, but the main message was that agile is not focused on scale, and we need to look at other things in order to get agile to work on large scale projects.
I will write a separate blogpost about some of the talks on this track.

5) Mads Troels Hansen: Do's and don'ts for Distributed Scrum (when the agile manifesto isn't enough track)
This talk was about a number of patterns for doing distrubuted scrum succesfully. It would have been a great series of blogposts, but as a talk it was lacking the overarching narrative, which made it interesting. I left this talk early.

6) Russell Miles: Without Simplicity, there's just no Agility (when the agile manifesto isn't enough track)
The theme of this talk fitted pretty well with the theme of Dan North's talk, and will be covered in the same blog post.

7) Ola Bini: Working on cancer (Architechtures track)
Ola Bini talked about a project he had done together with 3 other Thoughtworks developers, where they had created a system which could help ensuring that people get better treatments for their cancers.
The first part of the talk was a (brief) introduction to the microbiology behind cancers, and even if it was simplified, it was a rather good, short introduction. The rest of the talk was about the solution they built, and the technologies used. It quickly ended up as a long list of technologies, but there was not enough time for him to get into details or even show code, which is a pity, and would have made the talk more interesting for a lot of the people in the room.

8) Work break. There wasn't any talk that I really wanted to see, so I spent the time doing some work that I needed to do.

9) Keynote speech: Computing like the brain: the path to machine learning by Jeff Hawkins
Jeff Hawkins talked about his work on machine learning. It was an interesting talk, but I had some serious problems with Jeff Hawkins using the termology of computer science to describe the brain, as it erases the very real differences between the brain and machines. I am also doubtful about whether he is really as close to creating machine learning as he thinks he is (for many of the same reasons as described here)
One thing I really did like about his talk, was his endnote that we are never going to upload our brains into computers, and anyone who thought so, clearly didn't understand neuroscience.

10) Exhibitor reception and conference party
I am a big proponent of using conferences to network, and the exhibitor reception and the following conference party are definitely great places to do that. I got to talk with a lot of interesting people - some I knew already, but a lot I didn't know.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A must read blogpost

I was linked to this great blogpost "To my daughter's high school programming teacher, where a tech writer writes an open letter to her daughter's teacher, explaining how that teacher failed his duty to help foster an environment that welcomes young talented people, regardless of their gender.

The comments under the blogpost are unfortunately predictable - men denying the problem etc., so don't read them, unless you want to get annoyed.

Why you should allow your employees to go to conferences

A few days ago, I was talking with a friend, who I used to study together with. We were talking about GOTO Aarhus, and whether he thought he would be going this year.

He told me that it was unlikely, as the company he works for, has a limited training budget, which also covers conferences.

While I can understand why some companies might have to be careful about costs, it seems to me that this is short-term thinking, which will cost them in the long run.

In my experience, and in the experience of other people I have talked with about this subject, the people who ask for conferences, usually belongs to a group of people that the company would like to keep in their organization. This doesn't mean that the company wants to get rid of the people who don't ask for conferences. Rather, it means that innovation within the organization tends to happen from people who likes to seek inspiration everywhere (and what are conferences other than a giant source of inspiration?).

Conferences are, in other words, a great way to introduce new ideas and solutions into the organization, as long as someone who wants to go there, get to go. For the people going there, conferences are often a vital part of getting new ideas, since they will spending days together with like minded people, who might offer new insights. I think most of us have tried to hear someone say something, and suddenly have your brain go "click", realizing that you've dealt with a problem the wrong way. A conference offers you thousands of opportunities to get such "click" moments.

People like my friend, comes back from a conference with fresh new ideas, and new ways at looking at old problems, perhaps allowing for a novel new solution to a problem the organization has had for a long time.

So, all in all, my suggestion to companies would be, that if you have a employee who wants to go to a conference, think twice before saying no.

On the other hand, don't force employees to go. It is quite fine to suggest to someone that they go, but if they don't think that it's worth the time, it is pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a waste of money.

At the end of the post, I should probably also mention the fact that some people, myself included, consider conferences so essential that it is something we take into consideration in relationship to employment (my current employer, NineConsult, also considers conferences essential, so in that sense we're a good match).