This Saturday, I attended Developer-Day in Durham, NC. Overall, the conference was outstanding. Priced at $50, it was definitely worth the 4-hour trip from Washington DC. Below you will find a quick review of each of the talks.
Refactoring Your Wetware by Andy Hunt
Andy Hunt of the Pragmatic Programmers gave us a brief overview of his latest book: Pragmatic Thinking And Learing. He described the way our brains are wired and offered advice to take advantage of what we know about our brain’s architecture.
Andy started by explaining the concepts of Systems Thinking, as described in The Fifth Discipline. Systems Thinking is when you get out of the habit of thinking of things as discrete objects, but as systems instead. Once you start looking at objects as belonging in a system, you began to see how they are interconnected. Having graduated from the UVA Engineering School where Systems Engineering is the most popular department and working with Ahson Wardak, a Systems Engineering PHD candidate, I’ve had some exposure to the discipline and concept.
Andy followed by describing neuroplasticity, the fact that your brain can grow new neurons if you exercise it. He then moved to a discussion on The Dreyfus Model of skills acquisition. In summary, the best way to become an expert is through deliberate practice: 10 years of practice! Imitate the experts, then assimilate, then innovate.
Andy explained that the brain has two sides: the left and right brain, which he would rather call the Linear Mode and Rich Mode, respectively. Think of the Linear Mode as the mode that is prevalent with geeks and the rich mode as the one that is non-verbal, non-rational, synthetic, non-linear, asynchronous like a search engine, analogical, spatial, intuitive, holistic… The Rich Mode of your brain sometimes has trouble putting into words what it is processing but this is where the innovation/ideas comes from. A lot of inventors report that they discovered things in their dreams. Therefore, Andy suggested to try out Free-Form Journaling: wake up every morning and write down 3 pages of stuff (by hand, no typing) before you do anything else. Don’t censor yourself. Write about anything.
Then, Andy explained how our memory is not very good or, I quote, ‘is a piece of shit’ so it is important to write down things. When you think of a new idea, write it down. If you don’t keep track of your ideas, then you stop having great ideas. Once you have an idea, the best way to explore it is with a mind map (on paper, no computers). Once you are done with the mind map, putting that information in a personal wiki can be helpful.
Finally, he challenged the audience to try meditation and warned us against multi-tasking. The benefits of meditation far outlasts the actual practice itself. Multi-tasking is really bad for your brain so avoid context switching.
I enjoyed Andy’s talk and I will definitely pick up his book in the near future.
Evolving Your Git Workflow by Jason Rudolph
In this talk, Jason Rudolph showed us a few special git commands and how we can take advantage of them to improve our workflow.
He started showing us the power of git bisect by walking us through a debug session using the command. He used git bisect to find out when a bug was introduced in his codebase using the following commands:
git bisect start head %%commitid%%
git bisect log
git bisect good
git bisect bad
He then showed how you can automate the whole process with:
git bisect run %%command%%
I thought that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!
After having used git to do some ‘Biology’, he proceeded to show how git can help us with ‘Archaeology’. The latter is the ability to be able to clearly tell what happened in the past by looking at the history of a code base (through a version control system log). It is important for your projects to have a clear, well-defined archaeology, so that new programmers can look back and figure out why things were done in a certain way. Jason shows us how git makes that easier. For example, with git, you can amend commit messages or your can commit changes from one file in two different commits. Pretty slick!
In the third section of his talk, Jason showed that branching in git is easy, cheap (41 bytes), fast, and have low ceremony. Therefore, there is no excuse not to branch and we should Branch All The F***** Time (BATFT).
Optimizing Perceived Performance by David Eisinger
In this talk, David showed us how improving the perceived performance of a web page can greatly improve the user experience. David used a sample application called DBDB (DoucheBag DataBase) to illustrate his idea which got the crowd laughing a lot.
After lunch, we had the lightning talks. Here is a set of links from the talks:
Getting Girls With Musical Magic and Ruby by Jess Martin and Chad Humphries
Jess and Chad showed us how they are using Ruby to make mashups. Check out Girl Talk for a good demonstration of this style of music.
Jess wrote some ruby code that wraps Sox to create mashups. He built a really slick frontend for it (CHOP40) which lets you select some tracks and automatically mashes them up for you. I’ve been a big fan of the style (especially diplo‘s stuff) so it was cool to see the techniques behind this art form.
From Paralysis to Static Analysis by Aaron Breda
At every conference I go, I always have a moment where I kinda zone out (thinking about cool stuff I could do with the stuff I just learned about). It usually lasts only for one/two talks before I get my focus back. Unfortunately for Aaron, it happened during his talk this time :-/ ( I’m curious to know if it happens to every one so let me know in the comments. )
From what I picked up though, Aaron and Chad should be awarded some kind of heroes award for the work they are putting into upgrading rcov to Ruby 1.9. Thank you guys!
Scala: A Modern Programming Language by Clinton Nixon
Clinton gave us a great introduction to the Scala programming language. Scala was created in 2001 by Martin Odersky. It runs on the JVM, compiles beforehand or JIT. It is a functional language where everything is an object (like in Ruby) and it supports actor-based concurrency (so it is future-proof with the trend to have more cores on CPUs).
Pros: interoperability, scalability, beauty (of course that is subjective)
Cons: JVM (if you do not like that, though I think this is a pro rather than a con), hard to navigate libraries if you do not know Java, small user base, no killer frameworks/libraries.
Clinton posted his slides at http://crnixon.org/talks and they are the kinda of slides that you can read and learn from without seeing the presentation so go check them out.
I really enjoyed this talk since I’ve been meaning to learn more about Scala and this served as a great introduction.
Page Caching Resurrected: A Fairy Tale by Ben Scofield
Ben’s talk was great. He showed us a creative use of Rails Metal with page caching. The idea can be summarized as follow:
- Cache your page with only the content that will be seen by all users.
I can’t decide which was my favorite moment of the conference: whether it was seeing git bisect in action, learning about Scala, listening to a mashup that was created with Ruby, or seeing a cool use of Rails Metal.
This was a great conference with really good talks both in content and delivery. Thanks to Viget, Relevance, and Ben Scofield for putting it together. I look forward to the next one in Washington DC.
If you want to get other opinions on the talks from Developer Day, see how the rest of the audience rated the speakers at speakerrate.com