patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

Category: Conferences (page 2 of 7)

Feedback for Conference Presenters

After presenting at the recent Quarterly Technology Briefing in London, Manchester and Hamburg I had a very good question from one of my colleagues about what feedback I found most valuable.

Our feedback forms were quite short with two quantitative questions (out of a 1-5 scale), and three or four free text questions. Although the quantitative questions gave me a good indication of general feedback from the audience, it is not specific enough for me to really understand what things to do more of, or things to do less of. It reminds me of a traffic light system some conferences used (red, yellow, green) for evaluating conference presenters. Fun, quick, but entirely useless to know why people put numbers down.

Although the free text answers to feedback forms take more time to read, the feedback is much more helpful, particularly around getting an understanding of where expectations for a session matched or didn’t match, and useful suggestions or ideas to focus more on. I can take this feedback and actually do something about it for a different presentation.

For conference organisers, or if you’re putting feedback forms together for your own workshop, please don’t leave feedback as a binary, or based solely on numbers. Although there are advantages to getting quicker to an evaluation, you don’t really know why people rated something well or not well. Ask open ended questions and provide these to speakers unedited and raw.

I think if conferences really wanted speakers to get better as well, I think having some peer presenters sit in a session and provide targeted feedback would be even better. I could imagine something like this could focus solely on the mechanics and/or execution of the presentation and give timely, helpful feedback to improve the session and the presenter.

Agile Testing Days Summary

My last speaking conference for the year was the Agile Testing Days held in Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. In terms of conference history, this was its fourth year of running and attracts a lot of the big names in agile testing circles, as one would expect from the name. For me, as a test-infected developer , I found it fascinating to see what concerns the testing audience and I felt many common themes around whether or not testing was important, the difference between an agile tester and a normal tester, and of course a focus on collaboration and working iwth other roles.

They had three keynotes a day, a pretty overwhelming number considering that there were multiple tracks and sessions. I don’t think I would do much justice trying to summarise them all but I’ll share a number of highlights that I took away. Jurgen Appelo spoke about the stories behind his books. He’s an entertaining speaker, very well prepared and I feel very in agreement with his “all models are broken but some are useful” approach to collecting different software methodologies and giving a go at lots of different things. Just as the community is continuing to expand beyond just software development, his focus is also pointing upwards into the upper hierarchies of management – to those with the money, budget and decisioning making authority. He’s invented something he’s calling the “management workout” although I shudder at this after seeing it associated (read: abused) by a very hierarchical organisation very much into command and control. Ask me about it one day if you see me in person.

I also appreciated Gojko’s keynote presentation challenging existing thoughts on collecting information, metrics and that all we are doing is improving the process of software development, not necessarily the product. His argument feels very similar to the lean start up movement that why bother putting quality around features we aren’t even sure are useful by anyone, or not validated. He quoted a number of clients he’s seen who throw away automated testing suite in favour of measuring impact on business metrics and trends – using that to work out regressions. It’s an interesting approach that requires a) businesses to actually identify their real business metrics (very rare in my opinion) and b) link features to these metrics and c) measure them very carefully for changes. I guess this also goes along with his new book on Impact Mapping to work out where to put the effort.

He also criticised the testing quadrants, argued that we’re collecting the wrong data, points out that exploratory testing is still testing the process (not the product) and that most organisations are missing feedback once they go live. He also came up with his own adaptation on the Maslo’s hierarchy of needs in terms of software. It starts off with building deployable/functional software, then it should meet performance/security needs, then be usable, followed by useful and then followed by successful. He also recommended a book new to me, called “The Learning Alliance: Systems Thinking in Human Resource Development”

I ran my session, TDDing Javascript Front Ends shortly after a BDD session that complemented the idea very well. The previous session focused on why/what and not the how, where mine was a good depth into how you do it from a hands on practitioner point of view. I had a number of good questions and people after the talk that gave me some great feedback and encouraged me to do more. The only shame was that the session was limited to 45minutes and the tutorial that I run with is normally achievable. I look forward to people taking the online tutorial (found here) and then passing in even more feedback.

Goto Aarhus 2012

This year was my first time to both attend and present at Goto Aarhus. Over the years, many of my colleagues have said that it’s one of the best conferences with topics in lots of different areas. This year focused on topics such as NoSQL, Big Data, Humans at Work, Javascript, Continuous Delivery, Cloud and many more areas.

Two of the best presentations I attended, both for content and delivery were Sam Newman and Jez Humble, author of Continuous Delivery (Disclaimer: They are my colleagues after all). What I enjoyed about their talks were both their talk about real world examples, as well as important advice as well as the delivery. Getting the balance right is really difficult to do.

I also really liked the keynote from Dirk Duellmann from CERN who talked about the big data challenges they have storing information. Although it took a while to get to the meaty part of the data, storage details I think it’s a very interesting outlook they have with architectural choices such as the view that they cannot design for hardware or devices today as these will be obsolete as time goes forward. Being able to retrieve historical information is important as it the ability to store all of the data in a format others can read. They have realised the importance of the scale of the work they are doing, so they are focusing on doing something good (storing and making available data) and working with other groups to do the analysis.

There were loads of highlights such as meeting many new people and connecting with old ones as well as some interesting side conversations.

I gave my talk (above) and was very happy with the results. The Trifork team behind the conference are awesome at getting feedback to presenters for quickly and I was very happy with the results. The conference uses a simple voting system for feedback (red, yellow, green) and they keep track of the number of walk outs. I ended up with 90 green, 26 yellow, 1 red and only 2 walkouts. I have no idea how that compares with other speakers but I’m pretty happy with the results. What I also appreciated were the people who came up afterwards to talk to me about how the topic is really important and what some people got out of it (affirmation they are doing the right thing, new ideas to take back, new books to read, more things to focus on, or a good idea of how to prepare as they step into the role).

Reflections on Agile 2012

Another year, another agile conference. It’s time for reflecting on the conference and uncovering lessons learned. Dallas, Texas hosted this year’s Agile Conference. More accurately, the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine hosted this year’s Agile Conference. Loved by many at the conference (notably less so by Europeans) the resort reminds me of the Eden Project and a weird biosphere (see picture below) that is self-contained and fully air-conditioned. Although maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing with a West Nile virus outbreak in Dallas.

Needless to say that I stepped out quite a bit to try to get some fresh, if not, refreshingly humid air.

Onto the conference. It was very well organised, very well run and even rapidly responded to feedback (such as moving rooms when demand proved too much for some of the anticipated sessions. Food came out very promptly in the different breaks. We didn’t have to queue too long and the variety was pretty good. The only breakdown was probably the Tuesday lunchtime where it wasn’t clear we had to get our own food and with a limited number of on-site restaurants in our self-enclosed bubble world, proved to be a bit of a tight squeeze in schedule.

The people at the conference seemed to be a bit of a mix. Mainly lots of consultants like myself sharing their experiences, but as one person noted, an extraordinary number of agile coaches all apparently looking for work. On the other extreme there seemed to be lots of companies adopting agile and lots of people selling tools and training to help them.

Lots of parallel tracks meant lots of choice for many people but I often found it hard to find things that worked for me. I’m less interested in “enterprise agile adoption”, and more interested in the practices pushing the boundaries, or the deep insight offered by people. The few technical sessions I went seemed to be aimed at a bit more of an introductory audience. I particularly avoided any of the “do this with scrum” or “do this with kanban” as these appeared by be pushing.

In terms of keynotes, I thought they did a great job of assembling some diverse and interesting sessions. Although Bob Sutton (No A**hole Rule author) felt like he didn’t do much preparation for his keynote from the text heavy slides that jumped at different paces, he had some good anecdotes and stories to share. My biggest takeaway from that session was thinking about taking away practices just as much as adding practices, something that I think I do implicitly but should try to do more explicitly. The other keynotes were pretty inspiring as well, with Dr. Sunita Maheshwari behind Telerad talking about her accidental experiment moving into doing remote radiology to support the night-shift need of hospitals in the US and the interesting growth of their business. The other really inspirational keynote was by Joe Justice, the guy behind the amazing Wikispeed project taking sets of agile practices and principles back into the car-making industry. I felt he really knew his stuff, and it’s amazing how you can tell someone who really understands the values and trying to live them in different ways and then translating them into a different world. Very cool stuff that you should check out.

In terms of other workshop sessions, I left half way through many of them as the ideas were either too slow, or not at all interesting (such as one on Agile Enterprise Architecture that spent 30 minutes trying to go back to the age-old debate of defining Enterprise Architecture.)

Two of my most favourite sessions was one by Linda Rising who gave a very heart-felt and personal Q&A session that left many people in tears. Her stories are always very personal, and I really admire her ability to look beyond someone’s words and really uncover the true question they are asking with a usually insightful answer as well! The other session was listening to the great work that Luke Hohmann of Innovation Games has been doing with the San Jose government to change the way they make decisions about where the money goes through the use of games and play. Very awesome stuff.

I had my session in the last possible slot on the Thursday and had a large number of well known people in competing slots such as Jeff Sutherland, Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. I’m very happy with the turn out as we had a lot of fun playing games from the Systems Thinking Playbook including a number of insightful conversations about systems thinking concepts and how they apply to our working life. One of my most favourite exercises (Harvest) that demonstrates the Tragedy of the Commons archectype played its course and we finished in just three years (iterations) only due to a constraint I added early into the game. I love this exercise for its potential for variation and the insightful conversations about how this applies to agile teams, organisations and functions.

You often can’t come away from conferences without new references, so here’s the list of books and web resources I noted down (but obviously my summary is without actually reading into it, so YMMV):

XP2012 Continued

The morning started off with a keynote from Sally Spinks of IDEO talking about design thinking and their wholistic design approach to organisations and service design. From what I understood, her role involves “Organisational Design” which is an interesting concept that I initially balked a little at. How can you “design” an organisation and just expect people to play it out. Fortunately she answered that later in the talk about preparing for people to surprise you and to make sure you plan for that change. She talked a little bit about the history of IDEO moving from product design to service design to organisation design and describing how business models are the new units of design.

Being effectively a “change agent”, her most compelling message hit home for a lot of us. Set purpose. Do small stuff, tell big stories. Iterate on the purpose, do more stuff and tell more stories and keep going.

Another highlight for me was a short speech by a well known Swedish chef (in Sweden at least) called Jan Boris-Möller. He’s famous for a TV show going into people’s homes and cooking a three course meal in a a short time based on everything they have in their kitchen. He talked about leadership (setting direction for the kitchen), adaptability and understanding your constraints (e.g. catering for weddings on a farm where you limited access to power sources) and balancing personal creativity with customer success. He talked about understanding your customer and the contraints they work in. He gave the example that it is extremely rare for Swedish people to drink at lunchtime, but often drinks wine at dinner. This means that if you serve the same soup at dinner, it needs to probably be more intense in order to compete with the acidity in the wine.

He even prepared the wonderful evening meal for the conference dinner including wonderful creations including ceviches, foams and an intensely flavoured shot of soup. He

I also hosted an open space session called, “Succeeding as a technical leader” and had some really great conversations covering topics such as what makes a technical leader different from other leaders, their key responsibilities, their challenges and growth paths or how organisations help (or don’t) help them grow. We discussed items such as dealing with conflict, whether or not the role was needed and heard some great stories from the other open space participants.

I also later participated in the workshop, “Combining Usability and agile” involving both a little exercise and a healthy discussion on the different ways that teams integrate usability with agile. It was a small group but lead to some great examples and discussions.

XP2012 So Far

Just a quick summary of the different sessions so far:

My Half-Day TDDing Javascript Workshop

I had a nice small group of people attend this workshop where I ran through this off-line tutorial available on github. The size meant that we could deviate from some of the material and talk about some topics the participants wanted to go more depth into. The attendants had a mix of skills – some with a java background without knowing javascript so well, and those with a front end background but not having done any testing before.

In the three hours, we managed to get through quite a number of the stories. I few hiccups though due to the terrible nature of missing commas, or semi-colons resulting in very difficult to diagnose code. I received some great feedback, and realised that it’s a very dense tutorial that introduces quite a lot of concepts. At the beginning, I assumed most people had read Crockford’s JavaScript: The Good Parts. I also realised that having an IDE auto-save made a big difference to running the TDD red-green-refactor cycle.

Jutta Eckstein on Agile in Corporations
I decided to go along to Jutta’s talk focusing on agile in big corporations and some of the limits created based on existing organisational behaviours. I liked some of the different things she observed and recommended such as :

  • Put customer obligations into contracts – Don’t just specify what they want and how the vendor will work. Also create mechanisms in the contract for the vendor garnering feedback from the customer.
  • Remember different stakeholders – Include operations people, founders, etc instead of just the customer. This is more important in large organisations because of the different competing needs in their ecosystem. Just a reflection of reality, not the ideal.
  • A smell for a lack of trust is the introduction of formalisation – People introduce formalities and rigid process to compensate where trust does not exist. This creates a certain amount of overhead but creates a certain amount of safety for both parties by making interactions more explicit. Be careful of this and an increasing amount of this!
  • Transparency relies on trust – Avoid certain of transparencies too early as the organisation may not be ready for it.
  • Agile development is a trouble detector – Like the lowering of a waterline. It exposes existing problems in the system, generally does not create it.
  • A reminder of the Hawthorne effect – Another introduction to the hawthorne effect where the fact that something is being studied actually alters the behaviour of the subjects under study.

Diana Larsen on People Are Funny

Had a fun, interactive series talking about Human System Dynamics Institute, and the ideas of Containers, Differences and Exchanges.

Emily Bache on Geek Feminism

Emily talked a lot about the idea of geek feminism and some helpful tips including treating minorities as the same as everyone else (and try not to go out of your way to highlight their differences, even if in a good way!). She had some great research, and references and hoping she puts her slides up somewhere.

Panel on Successful Automated Testing in Agile Environments

I spoke on this panel, turned fishbowl discussion where we talked about our experiences with teams who we think succeeded with automated testing, some the common problems when teams take on automated testing, patterns and tips on how to achieve it and then some interesting topics brought up by the audience including how to “convince” people to do TDD (The answer: Do not) as well as specific things like measuring success (e.g. don’t do it by measuring coverage).

Upcoming Speaking Engagements in 2012

I’ve just updated the page on speaking engagements I have for 2012. I’m dropping back from the number of sessions from last year for a variety of reasons including to achieve a more balanced work-life load.

OOP Conference 2012

OOP Conference is the longest running conferences I’ve ever presented at. This year was it’s 21st year of running, and although coming from Object-Oriented programming roots, the contents of OOPConference have evolved with the times to represent so much more – just like JAOO has over the years.

This is the second conference I’ve presented at where the talks were in a mix of languages – obviously German, since the conference is based in Munich, and the other language being English. As a result, the number of sessions I attended was much lower than I normally would and I was able to catch up with a number of other speakers such as Johanna Rothman, Michael Nygard (author of Release it!), Kevlin Henney (97 Things curator) as well as meeting many new speakers.

I was also surprised at how many German speakers I’d met previously and got to practice a little bit of German. I did try sitting in on one session with a former colleague, Gregor Hohpe where he talked about (auf Deutsch) the Near-Field Communication technology the Japanese have. He talks pretty fast in English, let alone in German. I thought I was doing pretty well understanding the gist, but at probably half an hour into the talk, I think my brain seemed to explode and couldn’t take any more. A good way to test your limits 😉 Fortunately he also used lots of photos in the slides so I could follow along.

I attended a number of other talks in English, one on the latest going on in the NoSQL space (reminding me of a news commentary on what was going on) as well as one of the keynotes by David Parnas. I’ll admit that none of the keynotes blew me away. They all had good solid points they wanted to get across but the message not really new to me. I appreciated listening to Parnas’ talk because of his significant impact to the way OO-Programming is done, although his focus on documenting and enforcing contracts meticulously (whilst having its place) isn’t necessarily as relevant in the internet applications of today (but highly relevant in embedded systems that last for 25 years!).

Something I learned from his keynote was a new tool for better thinking about object oriented design, providing a table to help people classify what sort of information they want to hide and some recommendations to do so. Although probably not a very new tool, I think it has been forgotten through the passage of time and I know plenty of developers who could learn more about real encapsulation who’d benefit from it.

I had two sessions presented at OOP Conference. The first, “Learning to see, A Systems Thinking Primer” gave people a focused introduction to systems thinking concepts, the ideas of archetypes and applying it to situations in software. I’m really glad that a German audience proved much more interactive than I’d hope and I think it proved some interesting insights into topics such as Mental Models and such.

The other sesison was working with my Hamburg-based colleague, Ken Fassone on a “Night School” lecture/workshop Pair Programming: Good, Bad and Ugly (which I have to give credit to another colleague, Rachel Laycock for). I’m not sure some some people anticipated a workshop, but I’m pleased at how some people enjoyed it. We swapped exercises after a mishap with some supplies and shipment, but afterwards, realised how difficult it was for some attendees to do some sentence writing, with a new group, in a language that is not their mother tongue. They did way better than I ever could, and from the enthusiastic thanks from some of the participants at the end of the workshop, proved to be an enjoyable exercise as well.

Thoughts from Øredev 2011

Keynote 1: Alexis Ohanian

The first keynote titled, “Only your mom wants to use your website” came from Alexis Ohanian, a geek who helped create Reddit, Hipmunk and a few other sites. He’s passionate about users and you can really see how that manifests itself and very appropriate for a conference with a theme of Userverse. He told the audience, “As geeks, we’re at an advantage. There are so many bad websites out there so if you focus on creating an awesome experience, it’s very easy to compete.” It just came back to treating your customers and really delighting your customers.

He uses some really great examples about how he engaged users with a couple of his websites. For example, with Reddit, there’s the mascot in the top hand corner of the page and talks about doing a 30-day animation series that really connected with dedicated reddit users who were so concerned when, during one the days, the mascot went missing and they emailed in constantly to find out where he went.

With hipmunk, he recounts the story of personally stuffing envelopes with handmand hipmunk travel stuff to send off to some of his users. For no good reason other than to surprise them. In return, people sent photos of the hipmunk in all sorts of places and travelling around. It’s the little things that really delight.

Keynote 2: Neal Ford

Neal’s a really awesome speaker and would highly recommend any technical person to watch his very strong presentations. Fortunately it looks like JFokus just published the same speech Neal gave at Øredev so you can see. The focus of his topic was really about Abstraction Distractions and is a really important key message for us technical folks. It also really relates well to this XKCD comic.

The whole premise about his talk is that users don’t really want to hear the techncial reasons why something does or doesn’t work. You have to make them undersatnd the impact of what it has. He seeds the presentations with lots of pro-tips including things like, “Don’t confuse the abstraction with the real thing” giving the example of wanting to store a recipe and concerned about how to store a recipe that will last many technologies, that even its representation isn’t quite the same thing as the recipe itself.

The ImageThink graphic facilitators had trouble keeping up with the pace that Neal speaks at. He’s definitely the sort of high energy, many idea kind of guys.

Keynote 3: Dan North

Dan is a great an entertaining speaker than everyone really enjoys. He spoke on “Embracing Uncertainty – the Hardest Pattern of All.” I guess a lot of his entertaining anecdotes and stories were really focused around our human bias for closure.

Keynote 4: Jeff Atwood

I’m glad to hear Jeff present this keynote, “Social Software for the Anti-Social Part II: Electric Boogaloo” as he handed over one of his speaking slots to an employee of his in a talk on a previous day that turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for many people. His keynote carried on from a previous talk, carrying on with lots of lessons learned, particularly about how they built Stackoverflow with game mechanics in mind.

It’ll probably be online soon, but it’s one definitely worth watching as it’s an interesting balance between democracy, openness yet some directing behaviour thrown in.

About the conference

I’m constantly impressed by the organisation and the the quality of the conference. I’m really surprised it doesn’t attract more people from Europe and what I call, a little bit of a hidden gem. It has some really wonderful speakers, great topics and the venue itself is pretty good (although there’s poor noise isolation between the different rooms). There’s plenty of interesting events in the evenings and a great place to chat to people both during and after the conference, although I think the “unofficial” Øredev pub needs to grow a bit to accomodate so many geeks.

Other talks of significance

I went to quite a number of talks but will write up some of the more interesting ones (for me).

  • Copenhagen Suborbitals – This was a bit of a surprise talk. It was very late in the day, ending almost at about 9pm or 10pm and was a guy based in Copenhagen who’s attempting to build his own spaceship to launch him into suborbital. It’s a really amazing tale and one I can appreciate for a guy who’s serious about following his passion. The talk started off quite entertainingly about how building a spaceship was a bit ambitious, so he started off by building a submarine! He’s a really engaging speaker and I don’t want to ruin too many of his good stories. I suggest going over to his blog (he’s still building his spaceship) and seeing where he is. He relies on donations to keep this project running and I love the fact it’s such an open-source project as well with people offering their advice and expertise in many different areas. He’s got lots of great lessons to share that are completely relevant to everyone.
  • Aaron Parecki on his startup story for Geoloqi – I listened to this guy talk about his startup, and similarly along the same lines at the Orbitals, he told the tale of what started off as a hobby eventually turned into a real startup opportunity and shared a lot of his lessons along the way. It’s an interesting start up that you can read more about on gizmodo here
  • Jeff Patton – Jeff had a great session introducing people to the UX stage and trying to set the stage for lots of the other speakers. Jeff has a wealth of wisdom and experience to share and what was really powerful was him sharing images and stories about the different roles and techniques people use to build useful software and integrating it into agile processes. Really powerful stuff that I think every developer should really go through.

Reflections on my talk
Titled, “Collaboration by better understanding yourself”, I presented on the idea that we have lots of in built reactions as developers that really hold us back from collaborating more effectively. My goal was for people to go away, thinking more about the things that effect them and why they don’t collaborate as much as they should. I got some great feedback and was particularly nervous because not only did I have a good number of people but I had many other presenters I really respected in attendance including Portia Tung, Doc List, Johanna Rothman, Jean Tabaka, Jim Benson and more.

Although I’d practiced, there’s a few more tweaks I would make to this, but was very happy with some of the people who came up to me throughout the conference who felt that they really connected to the topic and felt really enthused to do something about it. Exactly what I wanted. 🙂

Converting Code to Images

I needed to convert some code into an image for a presentation recently and found a number of different ways of doing so. The easiest, of course, is when you take a screen capture of the code in your IDE. This fails when your code goes well past the side of your screen and you still want to show it all.

Alternatively, you can do this in a two step process.

  • Save the code to HTML – I know that both IntelliJ and NetBeans allow you to do this for Java code.
  • Use webkit to save to an image – I used PhantomJS for doing this. Take a look at the example code of how to do this.

Leave a comment if you’ve had any other good experiences doing this. I’d be interested in other ways that have worked for you.

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