Friday, 28 September 2012

Agile Cambridge 2013

I really like Agile Cambridge. This was my only my second and I only made the Friday  keynote and my own session, but still had chance to catch up with some friends, speak to some exciting new people and I got to meet Dan North! I also did lots of SyncNorwich promotion and got plenty of positive response and lots of people wanting to speak and to visit us. Some people have already signed up!

Keynote: Embracing Uncertainty - Dan North

Although I've seen Dan North in numerous places I've never actually seen him speak. Embracing Uncertainty was a fantastic keynote. It had me nodding in agreement and laughing in equal measure. Suddenly here was someone who seemed to have much the same view of what's happening in the Agile world as me.

Dan explained that although the first principal of the AgileManifesto tells us to value  individuals and interactions over processes and tools, so many of us are arguing over which Agile process we're following. Agile is about repeating what works, not making sure you're following a particular process. Dan is the father is BehaviourDriven Development (BDD)  and pointed out that the only BDD tool is in your own head.

Of course the main thrust of the keynote was about how we, as humans, hate uncertainty.  Dan, like many of us, would rather be wrong than uncertain.

The main takeaway from this keynote for me was that code that has tests fitted retrospectively is indistinguishable from code that is developed test first. I'm not an advocate of writing tests first, although I don't consider it a bad thing to do. My code is still tested just as if I had written the tests first. It's such a relief to see someone else recognising and stating this.

I'm looking forward to meeting Dan again in the future.

The Walking Skeleton - Paul Grenyer

This was the final outing of my Walking Skeleton presentation. I'll be taking a break from speaking until 2013, but hope to do some of the conference circuit again then. Today's audience were great and all people I hadn't met before. I was able to go into a bit more depth than usual and really enjoyed it.

My First Hot Source

I became aware of Hot Source shortly after I setup Agile East Anglia a year ago (!!). Hot Source is a fantastic name for a group! When SyncNorwich came along 6 months later I saw Hot Source as a potential competitor. Last night was the first opportunity I've had in all that time to attend a Hot Source event and I couldn't have been more wrong. Hot Source is a fantastic name, but it is not a competitor for SyncNorwich. We can exist and indeed complement each other in the same space and last night we took the first steps by discussing how we could promote each other's events. I am hoping there will be a SyncNorwich presentation at Hot Source very soon.

I am not a designer. In fact my startup is currently trying out designers for future collaboration. Hot Source is where the creative people in the design space hang out. There were some people from SyncNorwich there, but very few and most were the usual Norwich networking crowd. The speakers were good and it was interesting to learn about the new local TV station that's coming in October and the other TV and media related products that are going on in Norwich.

I'll be back in November for the next talkie.

Raiders of the lost Ark

This film is and has always been fantastic! I don't believe there was anything like it before it came out. It is frequently imitated, but has never been bettered. I was far too young to see it at the cinema when it first came out and this is the first time I've had the chance to see it on the big screen since. And what a big screen! This was also my first time in an IMAX. What a picture! The detail was incredible, right down to the fly that disappeared into Belloq's mouth while he is goading Indy about the ark. Even if you just like this film a little bit, go and see it on the big screen if you get the chance. It's a genuinely amazing experience. I hope the other films in the series also come to the IMAX.

The Possession

I was extremely tempted to make this review one word “Don't”. This is an appalling film and adds absolutely nothing to the (horror) genre. We were just lucky it was short. The characters were fine, the story was ok, but extremely basic. There was little suspense, little horror and the tiniest amount of shock you can imagine. The problem was on every occasion you could see it coming from miles away and the whole story and all the better bits of the film were in the trailer. I wish we'd gone to see the Sweeney instead or watched Alien at home.

ACCU London September 2012 from where I was

I normally complain about what a long way it is from Norwich to London for just an evening. On this occasion it was even more so as I was speaking in Ealing (West London)! This is the first time I've spoken at ACCU London for quite a while as I didn't make it down for my usual pre-ACCU-conference slot. I really enjoyed myself! The venue on this occasion was 1e Ltd on Uxbridge Road and my host was Ed Sykes, who did a great job of organising beer and pizza, a great audience and a live broadcast. I still don't know if anyone was watching! Either way the Walking Skeleton seemed to be well received and sparked lots of very interesting conversation. All to soon though it was time to had for the tube and the long slog back to Norwich.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

My First Norfolk Network

Last night was my very first Norfolk Network. I really wasn't sure what to expect. Most events that I attend, even the networking ones, tend to be predominantly orientated around digital technology or infrastructure. The Norfolk Network is more straight business focused and is run by the superb Lucy Marks. Tonight was a panel discussion on innovation in Norfolk with a panel consisting of:

  • Matthew Jones, the new COO for the Norwich Research Park and ex head of strategy and corporate planning at Lotus Cars Ltd.
  • Simon Coward, Director for innovation and enterprise Norfolk County Council and Director of Hethel Engineering Centre
  • Anthony Denny, Publishing Director of East Publishing
  • Jane Chittenden, Founder of copywriting business Format Words and guest editor of Suffolk IoD Magazine
  • Rob Halden-Pratt, producer, journalist, communicator and project lead for MakerSpace Norwich

and chaired by Lucy. I knew Rob Halden-Platt reasonable well from his involvement in SyncNorwich, but the rest were new to me. All we're very interesting and knowledgably. However, I really wasn't able to grasp how much innovation there really is going on Norwich or how much real money there was about. Norfolk businesses do not pay well and, in my opinion, need to invest more in people to get the best of local talent, which is sparse as it is.

The panel discussion lasted about 40 minutes and then the audience was able to get involved for the final 20 minutes. I'd like to have seen the audience brought in sooner and/or there to be more time for it at the end. This is probably because the right  opportunity to mention SyncNorwich didn't materialise, despite the fact it was mentioned by Rob and Lucy a number of times.

The real jewel in the Norfolk Network crown is the networking that goes on after the main presentation. I'm used to networking from SyncNorwich and the countless other events I go to, but this was difference. There's more enthusiasm and people seem very keen to help and get involved. I made some good contacts and I'm hoping something will come of them in the next few weeks.

After paying £26 to attend, as a non-member, I came away thinking I definitely wanted to join. However, having looked at the website and found that it will cost me around £175, as an established business with 1 to 5 people, I think I need to experience a few more events before I buy to make sure I'm going to get real value.

I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

SyncNorwich 3: Kanban: What is it good for?

Thursday 13th September saw another hugely successful SyncNorwich with attendance from around 65 people. This time around we were at the Kings Centre on Kings Street and our hosts were Business Revolution. Again, Smart421 supplied the beer, James Neale Photography took the photographs and we were joined for the first time by Lambda Films who filmed the main presentation. The film can be found here.

The main presentation was given by Benjamin Mitchell, a well known Agile consultant who is based near London. He gave us an extremely engaging and entertaining talk on Kanban entitled “Kanban: What is it good for? An introduction illustrated with war stories”. Benjamin clearly knows his stuff and just oozes charisma. The reviews linked below go into more detail. I’m very much hoping that Benjamin will come back and speak to us again.

We’re still finalising a venue for the next main SyncNorwich event. It will be on Thursday 18th October and feature Daniel Wagner-Hall speaking about testing at google and Simon “Agile Pirate” Cromarty doing a workshop on Agile planning. You can sign up here.

We’re also taking SyncNorwich to Aviva on 4th of October. This is an event for Aviva staff and will see a return of a handful of the most popular lightning talks from the August event.

Finally, some people from SyncNorwich will be taking part in the Norwich Half Marathon. If you would like to join them you can sign up here

Smart421 Review
Duncan McDonald Review
Matt Law Review

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Cerebral Bore, Revocation, Job For A Cowboy and Dying Fetus

Last night Cerebral Bore, Revocation, Job For A Cowboy and Dying Fetus all played in the studio (the little upstairs room) at the Waterfront in Norwich. I couldn’t understand why until I saw the size of the crowd. It was tiny and mostly young enough to be my children! This was just one of many ways I felt old this evening.

I’ve wanted to see Cerebral Bore [8] for a long time! I missed them at Bloodstock last year because I couldn’t go! It’s unusual to find a death metal band with a female vocalist (I said unusual! I know there are a few!) and Simone “Som” Pluijmers is just superb. The only shame is that the band didn’t have a good PA sound, but they were tight and I would have liked them to play longer. The vocals live are just as powerful as on the album. The highlight of the evening was when I met Som!

Revocation [7] were completely new to me. I spent quite a while trying to work out if they were a thrash band or a death metal band. Either way they were very good. There was certainly some Slayer and some Metallica in their sound, as well as some some traditional death metal. I’ll be getting some albums by them sooner or later.

Job For A Cowboy [6] are just, Job For A Cowboy. Like marmite you either love them or hate them. They’re a great band musically. Most people are turned off them because they got big on the internet. They don’t have a great stage presence or a great live sound, but they were still quite good. Better than when they headlined with Whitechapel.

Dying Fetus [6] are ok. They certainly had the best PA sound. I only bought one of their albums as I knew they were headlining when Cerebral Bore were playing and I wasn’t overly impressed. Live they were much better, but I only caught half their set due to someone elses’ inability to hold their alcohol.

It’s time Som and the boys got their second album out really. So glad they came to Norwich though.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Keeping Up-to-Date

I started this piece in February 2012 and finished it the following June. I’ve been really keen to publish it, but I wasn’t the only one so I had to wait! This piece was originally published in the ACCU’s CVu(24.4) magazine. I realise there are some controversial ideas here, but they are based on my own experience. I showed this piece to a few people along the way (you know who you are) and the feedback I had  helped me mould my ideas from black and white to shades of grey. I welcome constructive discussion. Most of all I hope you learn something and are inspired to learn more. Please let me know!

It is not uncommon for people to ask me how I keep my technical knowledge up-to-date, especially after I’ve just given a presentation on a subject that is new to them. This is odd because I don’t consider myself as someone who does keep up-to-date and many of my presentations are based on things I and other people have been doing for many years, so it’s hardly up-to-date.
I’ve said this many times, but in my experience there are generally two types of people (or developers if you prefer to narrow it further), those that enjoy their work (live-to-work) and those that are just there for the money (work-to-live). I am firmly in the live-to-work camp and very grateful that I am lucky enough to do a job I enjoy every day. Not only do I enjoy what I do at work, I do more of it at home and get together with likeminded people at local specialist interest groups and conferences as often as possible. I’m constantly striving to be the best at what I do and that generally requires a lot of reading (books, the internet, journals, etc). Of course being the best is usually an unachievable goal, but it is important to have something to strive for.

It is unfortunate that, in my experience, most people are in the work-to-live camp. Even developers.  Actually, maybe they have it right and have a much better work life balance than I do. However most of those who work-to-live don’t do anything in their own time to improve their skills, they don’t communicate with other people outside of their organisation and a lot of them don’t even look to people within their organisation to try and help themselves improve. They’ve always done it a certain way and they don’t see why they should change now, even if there is an industry out there that has moved on to bigger and better things. I hope it’s obvious that these are two extremes of the spectrum and there are plenty of people that fall somewhere in between.

It’s clear that to keep up-to-date (for some value of up-to-date) the first hurdle is wanting too. The chances are that if you want to you are closer to the live-to-work end of the spectrum and in my opinion that’s the best place to be. After that what do you actually do? Here are some of the things that I do in no particular order.

Read like there is no tomorrow and you have to know everything now. Read books, read journals, read blogs, read the things your friends and colleagues have written. You will learn an extreme amount from reading. Then do. If you read and then don’t do you’ll forget it.

Write software in your own time. The goal is to be up-to-date and to do that you need to use up-to-date technologies. Find the latest technologies that you are interested in and use them to write software. You’ll learn the most if you try and solve a real world problem. Aim to write a complete library, tool or application. By solving real world problems you will learn the most about how to use the technology in a useful way.

When I first joined the ACCU one of the existing members took me under his wing. One of the things he told me was that I needed a website. "What for?" I asked. He told me it would be for all the articles I was going to write. I didn’t think for a moment that I would have anything to write about. Of course I was wrong. Writing turned out to be enjoyable, rewarding and most important of all a learning activity.  When you write about something you examine it in detail to make sure you understand it correctly. This usually reveals that you don’t, so you look even closer until you do and of course learn much more in the process. Even if you’ve learnt something it would be a real shame for people not to read what you’ve written. So write for your website and other websites, write for your blog, write for journals, write for your colleagues. Do everything you can to get get people to read what you’ve written and make sure you get feedback so you can improve.

Talk to other software engineers. It’s very difficult to learn in a vacuum and arrogant to think that you don’t need to speak to other people doing similar things to you to learn. Even if you have other software engineers working with you join software related groups, like the ACCU, where you can talk to other software engineers. Discuss your ideas and problems and ask questions. You’ll learn a lot this way and the chances are someone in the group is working with the latest technology that’s interesting to you or knows someone else who is.

What better way to meet other software engineers than attending local Special Interest Groups (SIG) and conferences. You can go along and hear about how other people have solved problems with new technologies that interest you and then speak and learn with them afterwards. Writing and giving your own presentation is a great way to learn in the same way as writing articles. People will want to ask you questions so you need to know your subject inside out. People in your audience may know different things to you and answering their questions and interacting with them is another great way to learn.

To keep up-to-date find out what works for you and keep doing it. If something doesn’t work for you, stop doing it. Above all learn and have fun.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Watch

Terry Pratchett this isn’t! This is another film where most of the good bits are in the trailer. Unlike Keith Lemon, I quite enjoyed this film. It has some genuinely funny bits and although there is a lot of language it wasn’t gratuitous. I hated Ben Stillers character from beginning to end, but then I was probably meant too. Richard Ayoade is just brilliant throughout. There were lots of cliches and a really straightforward plot. This is a fun film, that I wouldn’t see again.

Total Recall

I’ve heard lots of bad things about this film and none of them are true. It was great, all the way through! It’s true that it doesn’t follow the majority of the plot from the original film, but then it doesn’t need the original film to prop it up either. This is a remake, not a sequel. There are plenty of references to the original. Kate Beckinsale is fantastic and beautiful throughout. I know what memories I would go to Recall for! It’s just a shame she’s dead at the end, but then there isn’t  a setup for a sequel either. The plot moves along nicely and the action and chase scenes are really good. There are quite a few places when a hail of bullets or a fall from a great height should have killed Quaid and Melina. I was disappointed that all Cohaagan wanted to do was take over the colony, surely something more exciting could have been thought of. Bill Nighy was of course brilliant, if brief.  This film lives up to its trailer, go and see it! Now, if someone could just cast Kate and Claudia Black in the same film next year I would be a very happy man!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

1st SyncNorwich Dinner

Tonight was the first SyncNorwich dinner. We held it at Pizza Express on St. Benedict’s in Norwich. There were fourteen of us in total with some familiar faces and quite a few new ones. It was a fun relaxed evening and time just seemed to fly by. The social aspect of SyncNorwich is really taking off. The evening ended in the 10 Bells. Next month we’re thinking of going to Jamie Oliver's Italian.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Hello September

September is shaping up to be my busiest month this year. I’m attending a lot of events. If you’re coming along too, please do and come say hello:

6th SyncNorwich Dinner
13th SyncNorwich 3: Kanban: What is it good for?
15th The Cult & The Mission (Birmingham)
17th Dying Fetus, Job For A Cowboy, Cerebral Bore
19th Norfolk Network
20th ACCU London: The Walking Skeleton
27th & 28th Agile Cambridge (The Walking Skeleton)
30th WASP

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

SyncNorwich 250

Today is a very important day for start-ups, people interested in technology and people interested in lean and Agile in Norwich, because today is the day that SyncNorwich reached 250 members! Our 250th member was one James Ashton. If you want to be part of something huge in Norwich, get yourself along to and sign up now.