Monday, April 21, 2008

My brain is full and my liver is angry

So the Alt .Net open spaces event has concluded. This is the best conference I've ever been to (with DevTeach Vancouver being a close second) for a variety of reasons that I will get into later, but let me first start out with a brief description of what exactly this type of event is.


First, there is no agenda, no speakers submit their sessions for approval, there is no keynote, and there isn't even a fixed list of topics. Everyone has equal input and there is collective decision making in what occurs. You start out by proposing topics and discussing them and then people decide what topics they most want to talk about. These become the sessions that you can go to.

Each session can be whatever the people want them to be. If the sessions are small, everyone can just discuss the topics. If they are larger, a fishbowl format is used, where some number of people n are sitting in n+1 chairs such that one chair is always empty. Anyone may go up and sit in the empty chair at any time and the person who has been there the longest has to get up. I like this format because everyone gets a change to speak and contribute. Sessions aren't death by powerpoint and they aren't some company just trying to sell you something.


A lot of people were there. Some of them were new to Alt.Net and were interested in learning more about the movement. There were quite a few people from Microsoft, including ScottGu, Scott Hanselman, and many others. Also, a lot of the usual Alt.Net people were there (most of whom are bloggers that I link to on my home page). I missed Justice Gray and I hope that he will be there for the next one (study your VB 6 hard, Justice, so you can be an MVP). I also got to meet a few local developers that I hope to stay in touch with (including one from my own company but a different division than I work for). To everyone whom I gave a business card: please keep in touch. To everyone who gave me a business card: I'll try to get back to all of you as soon as I can.


So many things were talked about that my head is spinning. There was discussion and the exchange of ideas pretty much nonstop throughout this conference, so I'll try to go over a few of the highlights that I remember.


This was an interesting demonstration. Greg Young has long hyped the coming of Spec# because it enables true design-by-contract where contracts can be explicitly specified at design time and verified at compile time. This forces you to ensure that your code is 'correct' when it is built. I had my doubts (the halting problem comes to mind), but now that I've actually seen it work I think it's going to be a great tool. I hope that all eight of you who read my blog will join the 30,000 or so that read Hanselman's blog in sending emails to Microsoft demanding the release of Spec#.

Are we innovating or just porting?

This talk was about all the new tools in the Alt .Net community and asking if we're actually creating any truly "new" tools or if we're just porting them from the Java community. It was a great discussion with a lot of people saying a lot of things that I wish I could write more specifically about. Someone videotaped this, I hope that it gets posted somewhere.

How to talk to suits

Very interesting talk about how to sell Agile to management but also some good information about how to talk to business people in general. Something that was brought up was the idea of having respect and trust for each other which is something that I think is lacking in a lot of places. Some ideas for helping to "sell" Agile was to present different practices as a solution for existing pains that a company is feeling. Lots of good information here. I was also surprised by the number of consultants at this talk, it was well over 75% of the group.

Has software development failed?

A good talk about the current state of software development projects. There have been some very notable failures in the industry over the years. I brought up my question of "are we all wrong" and got some good discussion going on there.

Javascript- it's not just the bastard step-child of your web app

This was a cool talk. A lot of people tend to treat javascript like some sort of second class citizen. It's there, but it isn't too important. As a result, there aren't a lot of test frameworks and established patterns out there for javascript and its code quality often is sub-par. While there are some great frameworks out there (some of which I need to take a fresh look at), there is a real need for improving the tools, particularly now that javascript is becoming more of a tool for the presentation layer and contains business logic. It is a real programming language so all the rules of good design apply to it and I think people largely haven't realized that until recently. Justin Angel had a great tool also for running javascript unit tests at build time. It wasn't quite what I would want but it is still very slick and would definitely be useful.

Education in the industry

This was a great point that Scott Hanselman mentioned at least a dozen times and I still think he could have said it more without it being overkill because it's that important. There is a significant lack of education in basic software engineering principles out there in schools. Computer Science programs teach algorithms, O(n), data structures, and polymorphism. Those things are super-important to developing software. However, what's missing is things like concepts in good object-oriented design, how to test your software, unit testing, refactoring, patterns, and version control. He mentioned speaking to local schools about your career and software development in general. I think he's right, and I intend to actually go out and do something about it. I'm not sure what yet, but I did talk to a few friends of mine who happened to be students at digipen. I ran into them on the last day and they asked me about the conference and we ended up talking for an hour or so. I'll post more in the future as I continue to follow up on this.

Overall, this was an awesome conference. There was a lot of good dialog and exchange of knowledge as well as a lot of respect for everyone there. Someone there said that we're all leaders (might have been David Laribee who said that) and so we need to go out and lead. I'm going to go out and lead, and I'm going to challenge everyone who is reading this to do the same.

Also, if you're not at the next open spaces, you'd better be dead or in jail, and if you're in jail then break out.

Also, if you are interested in seeing some more of it, Jeff Palermo made some videos that are posted over on his blog.

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