Monday, 25 August 2014

Out and About: re:develop 2014, Bournemouth

This was a new 1 day conference this year that I heard about through a Microsoft mailer. I was late to the party so missed the very reasonable early bird pricing but was treated to a ticket by my wife for my birthday.

I like conferences. I won an all expenses paid ticket to TechEd 2013 and have decided to get to at least 2 a year since that experience, which was awesome. This is my second this year, being followed up with Agile on the Beach in Plymouth in September.

Personally, conferences can show you what you should be looking at next. They are usually a mix of stuff that you want to know more about and stuff that you should be paying attention to.

Re:develop 2014 was a nice mix and was pretty slick - they guys from Base did a really good job of keeping everything running and looking after everyone. The food was excellent and they made sure there were snacks and refreshments galore - it might seem like a weird thing to say first but the quality of catering goes a long way and seems to stick in peoples minds for some reason.

This is the first year, so I expect it will be even better next year (and hopefully the same price).

The day kicked off with a session from Tom Byers, who is a Lead Front end developer for GOV.UK. He basically went through 10 things he has learnt from his experience on the GOV.UK projects. Of specific interest was how design is a Tool, talking us through what they have learnt about how people read content using eye tracking and how different layouts affected how people accessed the info they needed.

Tom also explained how much effort they put into the actual content. There was also some great material on making forms easy to use, which was really interesting (including a very painful video showing how it can all go wrong!).

What you should be interested in is what GOV.UK have open sourced and written about various aspects of UX, here are a few that I jotted down:

Paul Davis from the Ghost Foundation followed up with a off the wall look at what it is like to work at Ghost. This was a great insight and maybe hinted at a trend that we will see more of in the future. Ghost work 100% remote - their way of putting it is "Our headquarters is the internet. If you have a wifi connection, we have an office near you.".

Paul revealed the pro's and con's of this style of working with flair and humour. Rather than a polished sales pitch, we got a guy who explained why he loved what he did and who he worked with - should we all be so lucky. Very cool and definitely the subject of most my thoughts on the way home. Check out Ghost for all your blogging needs:

Ben Howdle was a web developer but has since turned to the dark arts and become an iOS developer. This was a pretty code heavy intro into what is similar, what is kind of the same and what is just plain old odd about iOS development. I was really happy to see someone doing this as Objective-C has never been something that made much sense from all the articles, quick starts and blogs that I have read.You can read about his experience in this shift writing an iOS app:

Secretly, Liz Keogh was the reason why I had to go to redevelop, being a long time fan of her thoughts on BDD. It seemed effortless - taking us through BDD and Cynefin in under an hour. It was definitely too short, I could have listened to her all day. It was the little details that resonated with me. I am no stranger to BDD or Agile but sometimes a specific sentence makes you sit back and reflect on your own experiences. Liz provided me with several of these. Maybe I should start some sort of fan club? Does she sign things? A photo for my desk would be nice.... more awesomeness here:

The boys from the Guardian where not what I expected. Between Kaelig taking us through breaking down the boundaries between developers and designers and Patrick Hamann taking us through how they use continuous deployment there was a load of information to digest. To be honest, I'm still going through the things they raised and will be for a while.

For me the take away thought was about how short cycles mean faster feedback. 2 weeks is too long for these guys, who like to think in terms of what can be put into production today. Some numbers that blew my mind were 10,000 production deployments a year, 7,000 unique types of device using their service and 8 minutes to deploy. I wish I had counted but the amount of monitoring these guys use is amazing - there must have been about 7 different dashboards in use.

They have open sourced a load of stuff along with their deployment tool, Riff-Raff:

Phil Bennett from the Carswell Gould agency gave us a comic walk through of a project through to deadline, which he described as Panic Driven Development. He emphasised how no one tool or technique will help absolutely, you need to be flexible to deal with the different types of customers and projects you are dealing with. Interesting perspective and certainly explains the differences I have noticed in ex-agency staff once they leave agencies....

Richard Evans works for a company called WDS, where he works on AI within their R&D team. This was a really interesting intro to AI and it's increasing prevalence. His demo's show AI actors responding to social situations, which you could alter and effect by being an actor along side the other AI actors. He explained how the AI engine worked and how each actor is described in a language designed by Richard for this explicit task. Richard made this funny and easy to grasp, which was really good. This sort of AI is being used in customer service to help people find the content or department that will help them.

Ross Tuck was fantastic. This was a non-technical talk on advice - essentially advice on advice called "Things I believe now I'm old". Ross might have a funny accent but don't let that put you off, his delivery was slick, thought provoking and funny. This is one of those talks that you have to see - he is based in Netherlands so I consider myself very lucky! Check out his whereabouts here:

Throughout the day several themes re-occurred - these would be my takeaways:

Conversation - this was a theme that was revisited by several of the speakers. Liz hammered home the use of conversation in BDD above and before documentation and tooling and the boys from Guardian talked about the use of common language between their developers and designers. The AI examples we were shown revolved around conversation too, although the focus was on the social interactions within the conversations.

Feedback - "Assume you are wrong" (Liz), get feedback and iterate - do this as fast as you can. "Don't be afraid to break things" (Patrick), monitor, isolate, fix and repeat. We should be used to iterations - how often are we breaking down work based on the technicalities rather than the need to validate what we are doing?

Openness and Trust  - lots of speakers showed how they had benefited from open sourcing their tools and designs. Both Ghost and The Guardian thrive on trusting their teams which helps them buy into what they are delivering. The guys at Ghost seem to do everything, all the time 24 hours a day and are trusted to just get on with it. The Guardian have developed a culture where their developers are also DevOps and put things directly into production many times a day. Ghost also open their business to their employees - do you know how much your employer has in the bank? How about what they are spending each month? Food for thought.

Definately one I would go to again - any chance of a mailing list so I don't forget? It was the only thing missing :)

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