Monday, 18 May 2009

ACCU Conference 2009

Wednesday Keynote: The Birth of Software Craftsmanship by Robert Martin

Brilliant! Simply brilliant! Uncle Bob is an enthusiastic and wonderfully engaging speaker. Through this keynote he chronicled the, now well understood, pitfalls of big upfront design, the emergence of XP and the birth and journey to maturity of Agile. Bob explained how Agile was adopted by business as it is more people focused than XP and how that caused the technical practices that made XP so good to be left behind. He highlighted how we need to reengage with the technical practices moving forward. We should all be using Test Driven Development, Continuous Integration and Pair Programming and Uncle Bob demonstrated why. In 2009 the benefits of using these are measurably several magnitudes greater than not using them. Uncle Bob has also brought out a new back to basics book to help us all remember how to write good code.

Security in Distributed Systems and SOA by Nicolai Josuttis

At previous conferences it has always been very difficult for me to find sessions that are directly related to my everyday work, so Nico's session intrigued me greatly as securing web services is something my team was due to attempt shortly after the conference. Together with joining the ACCU Nico is responsible for kick starting my career. I learnt more about C++ and the standard library from his book than almost any other source. What I learnt, in a very short period of time, allowed me to absolutely trounce a job interview and increase my salary by 30%. So I always try and go to Nico's sessions.

The session was everything I hoped it would be and answered some key questions that had been going around in my mind for some time. Nico took us through the different issues and methods of securing web services and methods of avoiding common denial of service attacks, such as XML bombs.

Measuring the Effect of TDD by Keith Braithwaite

This was another interesting session, but unfortunately some of the maths and detail went over my head. However, the gist was that code that is designed for test and has good test coverage is almost always less complex and "better" than code that does not. Instead of this being just a general feeling, Keith showed how this could actually be measured.

The Model Student Episode II: A Fresh Hell by Richard Harris

Richard Harris is one of the brightest people I know and his command of maths far outstrips my own. I completely failed to follow most of his talk, but it was fun when I got picked on to choose the numbers in the Countdown simulation. The session was full of entertainment and special effects and left me wondering what Richard would do to better it next year.

Keynote: Welcome Crappy Code - The Death of Code Quality by Nicolai Josuttis

I wasn't the only too come away from this presentation wondering if Nico had lost the plot. I must admit I found myself hoping that Nico's German humour had got lost in translation somewhere. The basic message was that we as developers are not given time to write good code, so we should stop worrying about it so much and accept crappy code. The whole way through I was waiting for the punchline that never came.

Thursday Keynote: The Benefits of Abstraction in Patterns by Linda Rising

Linda Rising is obviously very passionate about patterns. She sees them, quite rightly, everywhere. Not just in software engineering. I'm sure there was some very interesting material in her presentation, but unfortunately it was all lost in the delivery which was slow and at times a little boring.

Memory Allocation and Garbage Collection in Java by Angelika Langer

This was another session where I was hoping to learn something that I could apply in my everyday work and I wasn't disappointed at all! Before the session started I was wondering how Angelika was going to fill 90mins with a relatively straight forward and well understood subject like garbage collection in Java. However, she went in a great deal of detail about the Java memory model and how it has evolved, especially with respect to threading. Angelika also covered some of the tools that can be used to see what is happening with memory inside the virtual machine.

Kirk Pepperdine also attended the session and, as always, took over in a few places. However, I think everybody enjoyed and learnt from his interruptions.

Designing for Testability by Sami Vaaraniemi

I've been designing for testability for years and I wanted to go and see if someone else had a different take on it. Unfortunately Sami, ironically a Microsoft employee, was explaining a lot of stuff such as the use of interfaces and the bridge pattern that I've been using a long time. To my dismay, amongst other things, he also advocated having constructors just for testing purposes where a solution that at least called the production constructors as well could have been employed. There was a lot of useful information for the novice here, but a little bit of caution is required.

Friday Keynote: Geeks, Nerds and Other Prejudices by Susan Greenfield

Susan Greenfield's key note was highly enjoyable and entertaining. She looked at the differences between men and women at the brain level and proved, with plenty of humour, that women are no less capable than men at computer science and pointed to the way in which society portrays computer science and computer scientists as the reason few young women choose a career in IT. Of course if this presentation was flipped on its head and became about why men are as good as women at computer science it would have been condemned as sexist!

Boilerplating Database Resource Cleanup by Paul Grenyer

Paul Grenyer was brilliant! Superb! The star of the conference....Well of course I wasn't really and if I had been I certainly wouldn't be bragging about it. I do feel, however, that this was my most successful presentation to date. Not in terms of number of attendees, but due to the new confidence I feel when presenting. It all comes down to preparation and practice. Next year I'm going to do another 90 minute presentation (if they'll have me).

Processors Processors Everywhere, But How Do I Actually Use Them? by Russel Winder

As I have said in the past, I find Russel very entertaining and this was another enjoyable session where Russel demonstrated the performance of a number of different languages (C, C++, Java, Python, etc) in a threaded environment. Unsurprisingly Java didn't do very well compared to C++. Again, I learnt plenty and was able to contribute. This was three hours well spent.

Saturday Keynote: Considerations for Successful Management

Allan has passed over to the dark side and frustratingly is very good at it. During his session he gave a lot of common sense practical advice about managing agile teams and of course plugged his book.

All in all this is probably the most useful ACCU conference I have been too. I learnt a lot of stuff that I have since been able to apply and there's more to come. During the week I was persuaded, not only to edit three issues of CVu but also to join the conference committee, so I am looking forward to helping shape another great conference next year. Roll on 2010 (isn't that the year we made contact?).

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