Goto; Amsterdam part 1 of 2 – Software engineering is changing

I was really happy to be asked to both attend and speak at this years Goto; conference in Amsterdam. I just got back and whilst I had been tweeting (probably a little too much) from the conference I thought I would try and distill a few things that I noticed and felt about the whole thing. Firstly thanks to Dan (@mintsource) for inviting me along, we were on the emerging interface track and so it was the mad end of software engineering, but as with all emerging stuff as we know, it’s the future.
The venue was the old corn exchange right in the heart of Amsterdam, a very impressive structure and has been modernised inside in some interesting ways that do actually fit.
Great venue for #gotoams
Our track was in the glass cube inside the brick frame πŸ™‚ A cool space (though a little warm πŸ™‚ )
Tomorrow's venue after lunch talking blended reality, learning, games and tv #gotoams
I knew what our track was going to be like but I have not been to a pure software engineering conference for a long time. Times have changed.
The first keynote was from the wonderful Linda Rising. @risinglinda talking about Incentives: why or why not?”. She is a very inspirational figure as she explains the path she has taken in tech and now even more so in dealing with people not process and into the realms of neuroscience. Not as a researcher but as a student. She also explains she may seem an odd person to see at a tech conference for various demographic reasons. This talk was the start of something I was surprised to see addressed quite so much. The importance of actual people, doing actual work and their motivations to do that. Linda pointed out the amount of real research that indicates certain well held corporate beliefs in what motivates people are pretty much wrong. Taylorism seems to have got hold and taken hold everywhere. Several other books were mentioned including The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Also the Pygmalion of Management HBR research showing that people clearly make a first impression and when they are managers they manage to that impression of someone. Which is of course detrimental all around.
Obviously with slightly rebellious and provocative attitude to the ridiculous practices in corporate life that I have often challenged she was speaking to the converted. We had a good chat after the presentation at one of the breaks and I was very much looking forward to her next talk the following day. As I have been busy reading (yes actually reading) Thinking, Fast and Slow and the author was mentioned in the talk it fitted really well as a kick off for a conference for me.
We then split off into tracks. The Rise of Educational Startups, HTML5 Rocks Javascript, Big Data NOSQL search, software craftmanship and bring your own language.
As usual you can’t go to everything. I stuck with the rise of education startups and with HTML5 and Javascript. The former because I do a lot of that sort of thing, the latter because I wanted to see what the high end world of software engineering was saying about the potentially anarchic new web tech.
The first pitch by Matteo Manferdini was a bit of a busman’s holiday as he was pointing out the flaws in educational games that try and have education as an end reward for some play. It did dovetail nicely with the keynote as really this is about rewards or incentives and why anyone would want to do something, including playing a game. He ended up showing the videos that were played at IGBL 2013 too with the never ending bin and the musical stair case. It was also a place for him to tell Jane Mcgonigal (@avantgame) story and also mention Raph Koster and theory of fun. This all made sense, and I was glad to see it being presented as it meant I wasn’t going to be doing my talk to a load of people who had never heard some madness πŸ™‚
The next pitch was Nick Grantham of @fractuslearning asking “Are You Giving Teachers Blisters? – Finding the Right Fit for an EdTech Startup”. being an Aussie who lives in Ireland he had a suitably different presentation. Relating education to shoes. The wrong shoes at the wrong place give you blisters. So chucking in educational tech for the sake of it causes friction, and therefore fails. It was a very good one, some good war stories and consulting style references.
After lunch it was time for HTML5 etc.
Sergi Mansilla started off talking about “HTML5 is the future of mobile” It was really a direct pitch about the new Firefox OS. Not so much as a sales pitch but pointing out the politics of mobile. The walled garden native apps causing all sorts of problems for developers, the lack of open API’s to help use any device in anyway. Also the fact that HTML5 is often thought of as a single thing, just like a simple markup. It is instead a mix and match ecosystem of so many bits and pieces that its flexibility is also its drawback.
Next it was tech royalty time. Douglas Crockford the creator of JSON talked about some code he was working on “Managing Asynchronicity with RQ”. Now this was real code, talking about a set of helper functions to allow multiple asynchronous calls to go out to the world and be composed and returned as results without blocking. Definitions like, call these 3 weather API’s I don’t care which one comes back first, but if one does come back, use that and move on. It was a different model to event driven systems and despite being just code slides it made a nice counterpoint to the other presentations. Well worth checking out.
Finally in the tracks for that day and before the party. Brian Le Roux did a talk “Best of WTFJS”. This was based on him having gathered a collection of weird and wonderful JS bugs and features, work around and hacks. He did the entire thing in a terminal window just typing them πŸ™‚ They all made sense, but were all daft at the same time. It was a great live pitch. One of my favourite pitches too.
Wtfjs #gotoams a live terminal showing mad js
e.g. 3 > 2 > 1 returns false πŸ™‚
Anyway it was nice to end on some code but have started on people. Then it was back to people, beer, wine and food for the mid conference party.
However just before that we had another keynote. Eric Meijer gave a dynamic and crazy speech about “A Monadic Model for Big Data”, basically pointing out the huge flaws in the relational database model. It was partly a joke, but not really. It did conclude with the fact that if it works use it, but that there are better and simpler ways that doing a select statement. In particular when you are dealing with live data, it is just there, not a summation of a report of stored information. The web is a huge repository of live data, distributed and now. His example of an earthquake app pointed out that the application was going to find an earthquake as it happened. Not go and lookup the data of yesterdays reports in a relational table πŸ™‚ Anyway it was a buzzing and well done pitch from Mr c#.
#gotoams party flyers
Much fun was had by all (and some great chips afterwards too πŸ™‚ )
Part 2 to follow. (actually here it is :))

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