Friday, 28 December 2012

TDD - is it worth it? by Phil Nash

This is the introduction of a very good blog post written by my very good friend Phil Nash. Please click on the link at the bottom for the full post.

There are many articles on the subject of what TDD is, why and when it is worth it, and which attempt to counter common objections.

This is not one of those.
Well. Maybe a bit.

This is more specifically a response to Marco Arment's comments in his podcast, Build & Analyze, episodes 107 and 108. Episode 108 was the last episode so there is an air of finality to the subject matter. Many Mac and iOS developers (as well as developers for other platforms) listen to the show and, while you'd hope they can all think for themselves and reach their own conclusions, it's undeniable that opinions, if not already well formed, may easily be swayed by what a respected figure says in a high profile, and well polished, medium. This can be unfortunate. I'm sure Marco didn't intend to do any damage. I've listened to every episode of Build & Analyze for over a year and enjoyed it. This is certainly not a flame against Marco or the show. However I'm going to walk through Marco's comments as a proxy for many who make similar statements. In doing so I quote him liberally, rearranging to fit my narrative. I'm including the time markers so you can easily listen to it in the original context.

Read more.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

NRUG: Run for the hills, Ruby 2.0 is coming.

I don’t get to embrace my inner geek very often. By inner geek I mean the part of me that is still hopelessly in love with software development, especially at the code level. This is why I love the Norwich Ruby User’s Group. Pandr were our hosts at Blurtit in Norwich and there were about a dozen of us talking geek for an hour.

Tonight’s presentation was from Tom Crinson. Tom's been a Ruby developer for 6 years now, starting off with Rails and then learning everything he could get his hands on with Ruby. Tom was the founder of IPRUG (Ipswich Ruby User Group), he's run Railscamps and presented at LRUG too. You could say, he know's what he's talking about.

Tom spoke about Ruby 2.0.  It's coming along with some interesting new features too, some dangerous and crazy, some really handy, some you'll wonder why they weren't in there from the start. Tom gave us an overview about each of the new features, explained how they can be useful or not.

Although I don’t have enough Ruby knowledge to follow everything Tom explained to us, I followed enough for it to be really interesting. It was also interesting to see some of the .Net features that Ruby is implementing, like named method parameters. As the opportunity to get heavily involved in a real Ruby project gets closer I find I’m getting really excited. I can’t wait for the next NRUG!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Devin Townsend & Fear Factory

The Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton is one of those venues, like the Glasgow Barrowlands where I see loads of bands advertise that they’re playing, but under normal circumstances I’d have no reason to go and see them there. On this particular tour it turns out Wolverhampton was the most convenient place for us to get to to see Devin Townsend and Fear Factory. What a great venue! It had one of the clearest sound systems with more definition of sound than you get in a lot of venues, but it was stupidly loud. Ear plugs were even on sale behind the bar. And being the midlands, everyone was really friendly.

Looking back, Fear Factory are one of those bands that I thought I really liked when I was at school, but it turns out it was just a couple of songs from the Demanufacture album. When they made a comeback with Mechanize in 2010 I got into them again and bought up their back catalogue. I still only like a few songs from Demanufacture, but the rest of their albums are great especially the debut Soul of a New Machine and the most recent, The Industrialist. I’ve seen them live before at Donington in 1994 and seeing them again now reminded me just how simple and infectious their take on industrial metal really is. I really enjoyed their set, especially opener The Industrialist and closer Replica. Definitely a band I want to see more.

Charlotte and I have had great difficulty in getting to see Devin Townsend. I missed him at Bloodstock on 2010 as we were having our first baby. Then Charlotte and I both missed him in 2011 as Charlotte was very pregnant and felt too ill to go on the day.  This time we didn’t have much luck either as Charlotte was unable to stand for long. However, we did get to see the hilarious videos that Devin plays before his set and the first four or five songs of the set including the amazing Supercrush and ZTO. He’s an all round performer and just plays so well. Long may he continue and could we have Strapping Young Lad back please?

Ironbridge & The Severn Trow

Charlotte and I have been keen to return to Ironbridge ever since we dropped in briefly on our way back from Wales in 2010. Last week we were seeing Devin Townsend and Fear Factory in Wolverhampton, so it made sense to take an extra day and visit Ironbridge.

We found an incredible little B&B, the Severn Trow. A former house of ill repute, the Severn Trow has many wonderful features including four poster beds (which got me many brownie points), very friendly and accommodating owners and free WiFi!

It rained pretty much the whole time we were there and by the time we’d dragged ourselves out of bed in Wolverhampton and driven across to Ironbridge it was already early afternoon. We had an extremely nice lunch in the somewhat trendy Malthouse. The afternoon was spent wandering in and out of the many gift and ornament shops along the river and chatting to the friendly shopkeepers. In the evening we went looking for and failed to find Da Vinci’s and ended up in another Italian across the road, which was ok. Of course we found Da Vinci’s on the way back.

Ironbridge really is a lovely little town and an afternoon and evening doesn’t do it justice, so I think we’ll be back!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

SyncNorwich Really Starting To Pay Off

When the SyncNorwich co-founders and I set up the group in the summer, we had no idea of the amazing response we’d get: over 400 members and a series of fantastic packed events before we even made it to Christmas. But what’s even more satisfying for us that we’re now starting to hear about the real, tangible benefits that the group is having in the local tech community.

We know several people have already found new jobs because of contacts made between companies and recruiters at SyncNorwich events (more on that in a future blog post) and local tech start-ups are also reporting great progress towards success thanks to the feedback and advice they’ve received from fellow members.

Take the young founders of Incredibli, for example. Lauren Hine and Andy Parker launched the first version of their new online group-funding service in the autumn, just months after graduating from UEA’s Norwich Business School. They’d looked at the graduate jobs market with a growing sense of doom and decided that in the current economic climate they’d be better off going it alone with their idea for a tech start-up. But with little experience beyond their business degrees and no technical background at all, the pair had an uphill struggle.

The SyncNorwich November event was just days after the launch of their alpha site and when they stood up to present it to a packed house at the Blurtit offices, it was the first time they’d shown the fledgling service to a technical audience. Lauren and Andy had built the site themselves after a little self-taught coding practice and admit they were pretty daunted by the prospect of showing their handywork to such an expert audience.

The concept of Incredibli is (like most of the best business ideas) simple but brilliant. It’s a group-funding internet service that makes it easy to collect money from the people you know. It builds on the familiar models of and to help users organise the finances for anything from a mates weekend away or office outing to a collection for a colleague’s leaving present. By tracking who has paid and how much they’ve contributed, Incredibli takes the hassle out of organising a collection, allowing its users to focus on making great things happen.

After explaining the concept behind the site, Lauren and Andy made a very honest appeal for feedback and technical advice. Lauren was bowled-over by the feedback they received at the event, including lots of tips and heated discussions about the website’s target market. The experienced developers in the room gave plenty of advice about how the fully-functional version of the site could be improved with more thinking about gamification.

But they’d also made a particular plea for help with marketing. Within minutes, they’d been approached by Joseph Spear, a marketing manager from SyncNorwich sponsor Smart421, show was so impressed with their savvy and their passion for the project that he volunteered his own time to help them. The very next morning the three got together at UEA for a brainstorming session: “They were explaining to me some of the ways in which they had already positioned their offering and I was challenging them to refine it. They succeeded in transferring their enthusiasm and their passion to me” says Joseph.

Lauren says Joseph’s advice has been invaluable: “It’s made a significant difference. We were floundering in terms of our marketing strategy and Joseph’s really given us some direction in terms of what we need to be doing and what’s the best way to push this kind of project forward. So he brought forward quite a few ideas that we’re planning to implement in the New Year”.

Joseph has no doubt other would-be entrepreneurs could also benefit: “I think SyncNorwich is a brilliant platform. There’s a lot of technical expertise here, there’s a lot of good business sense here as well. Those two things are often not found in any one person so it’s a team effort and SyncNorwich is all about team efforts”. His advice to other local people who are working on start-ups is pretty simple: “I recommend them to get along here at the earliest opportunity and find out how other people are doing it. Maybe they can learn some shortcuts, learn some lessons and pitfalls that they don’t have to fall into themselves.”

You can find out more about the Incredibli project here. A fully-functioning version of the site is planned for release in early 2013.

Thank you to Beccy Johnson for writing this piece.

SyncCity: Here comes SyncIpswich

The SyncNorwich team are very excited about our first new SyncCity! SyncIpswich has been setup and is being run by Carl Farmer of Chrysalis Technology. Carl and his team will be bringing a SyncNorwich like group for people interested in technology, Agile and startup companies to Ipswich. The first meetup is scheduled for March and is going to fantastic. I expect you’ll see some of the SyncNorwich team there too! Please give Carl all the support that you can.

Follow SyncIpswich on twitter here.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

An Introduction to MongoDB from Ross Lawley of 10gen

What: An Introduction to MongoDB from Ross Lawley of 10gen

When: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 @ 7pm

Where: The Reindeer, 10 Dereham Road, Norwich, NR2 4AY


The expert speaker at the first East Anglia MongodDB User's Group event will be Ross Lawley of 10gen.

MongoDB (from "humongous") is a scalable, high-performance, open source NoSQL database. It stores data as a collection of documents and is one of the most prominent and widely adopted NoSQL data stores.

This talk will cover:
  • Getting started using MongoDB using the JavaScript shell.
  • How to creating schemas in a document-oriented DB
  • Look at how you can scale with MongoDB (replica sets, master/slave, auto-sharding)
  • Interesting features for developers (geospatial indexing, capped collections, file storage, upserts and more)
There will be time for questions at the end -- plus MongoDB swag to be grabbed.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

SyncNorwich 6 Review: Aviva Christmas Special at Carrow Road

SyncNorwich is going from strength to strength. A year and a day before the Aviva Christmas Special at Carrow Road, I was sat in the Coach and Horses on Thorpe Road for the very first Agile East Anglia meeting. A year ago there were half a dozen of us, tonight, after the addition of Norwich Startups and Norwich Developer Community and rebranding as SyncNorwich in June, there were 110 of us in one of the most prestigious venues in Norwich. It’s difficult to describe how incredible that feels, so I won’t try, anyone who was there will have seen how much it meant to me.

Tonight’s event was sponsored by Aviva. SyncNorwich is very grateful to them for hiring the venue, buying a drink for everyone and three fantastic speakers.

First up is Juliana Meyer who gives an introduction to SyncNorwich for those who are new to the group and a recap of many of the events that SyncNorwich has been involved with over the last six months. I have seen variations of this presentation many times, but Juliana always makes it feel fresh and new.

Juliana was followed by the charismatic John Marshall from UK Trade and Investment, who uses his two minute presentation judiciously to tell SyncNorwich about the companies he is working with and the money he has to give away to help companies trade overseas. Tonight he is just as informative and entertaining as at Hot Source a week ago.

Next up we had SyncNorwich favorite, ignite style lightning talks. This time around there were four. Chris Leighton was up first and despite her slides working against her gave an excellent and well delivered presentation on startup training from the Business Skills Clinic. Chris was followed by local entrepreneur Keith Beacham who took us through a very slick presentation about the highs and lows of startup companies and investment. I first saw William Harvey give his lightning talk on funding for low carbon companies at SyncNorwich Corner at the Common Room in November. It was great to have him at a full SyncNorwich event and soak up some of the infectious enthusiasm. Last up were Tom McLoughlin and Josh Davies from FXHome. They gave us a hilarious description of the trials and tribulations of making their startup successful and told us about some of the amazing people in the video industry that they’ve worked with.

Before the break SyncNorwich gave FXHome the chance to show their latest promotional film to the group. It was fantastic and you can watch it here.

After the break it was the turn of Rob Houghton whose charismatic and engaging Northern style was the highlight of the evening and went down extremely well with the SyncNorwich crowd. He told us about Horses Vs Tanks and his vision to revolutionise the use of technology at Aviva. Rob’s session was followed by an extremely interesting, amusing and informative question and answer session.
The last of the presentations came from Jason Vettraino and Jason Steele who spoke about the joys and perils of a mobile application that they developed at Aviva. This was the first technical presentation we’ve had at SyncNorwich since Dan Wagner-Hall from Google spoke about testing. It was great to have some good honest technology back in the programme and again this presentation was both amusing and informative and followed by an engaging question and answer session with Sky Viker-Rumsey providing his usual difficult questioning to the Jasons.

The Aviva SyncNorwich Christmas special was wrapped up with a run down of future events, including SyncConf given by John Fagan and our January Student/Employer Speed Dating & CyberDojo event given by Seb Butcher. After that were the Smart421 robots! The highlight that many had come for.

Please visit the Smart421 blog for another review here.

Keith Beacham video
William Harvey video
FXHome Video

Friday, 7 December 2012

ACCU Christmas Dinner 2012

I was back in London on Wednesday night for the ACCU Christmas dinner and this time I had Charlotte with me. I always enjoy catching up with the core ACCU London crowd and as usual it was a very good night. I’m still not drinking, but the wine was flowing for two couples we’ve know for many years, which meant a it was quite lively. After dinner at the usual Pizza Express on the The Strand we ended up back in ACCU favorite Chandos, just off Trafalgar square. One man has drawn me to work at the banks in London twice and never managed to meet my wife on either occasion (despite being invited to the wedding)! On Wednesday night they finally met...

Marcus Brigstocke: The Brig Society

I don’t always agree with Marcus Brigstocke’s political views, but he is a fantastic comedian! It’s a shame that on this occasion he didn’t feel he had the audience with him. Some of the laughs were a little slow coming and even over the head of some of the audience, including me at times, but he was hilarious and his observations of recent events genius. We will definitely be going to see him again when he comes back to Norwich. He’s just as good on stage as he is on the radio and the television. Some of the audience were quite concerned when he relieved them of some of their money during the performance. You’ll have to go and see The Brig Society to find out if they got it back. Still not sure about the beard though.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Agile East Anglia: A Short History

December 2011 to June 2012

Agile East Anglia was started by Paul Grenyer as an Extreme Tuesday Club (xTc) inspired pub meet on Monday December 5th 2011 at the Coach and Horses on Thorpe Road in Norwich. Attended by a handful of people from local firm Aviva it was followed on Monday 9th January 2012 by  a less well attended meeting at the same place.

On a cold and snowy Monday 6th February, with sponsorship from Ipswich based consultancy firm Smart421, Agile East Anglia put on a presentation on Agile User Stories given by well known Agile consultant Rachel Davies at The Assembly House in Norwich. Around 20 people attended, predominantly from Aviva, but also people from other firms such as Archant, Smart421, Axon Active AG and Proxama.

On Monday March 26th Agile East Anglia put on a second Agile presentation, this time it was a Dialogue Sheets workshop given by Agile consultant Allan Kelly. Again it was at the Assembly House in Norwich and sponsored by Smart421. Around 20 people attended. This time there were more people from local East Anglian companies such as Ifftner (Ipswich), Redgate (Cambridge), Call Connection (Ipswich) and Purple Tuesday, as well as people from Archant, Smart421 and Axon Active AG.

On Tuesday 10th April Paul Grenyer presented The Walking Skeleton for the newly formed facebook group, Norwich Developers Community. The group was created and run by Stephen Pengilley to bring together Norwich’s software developers.

On Thursday April 19th Agile East Anglia regular John Fagan gave a presentation on the Lean Startup book for the Norwich Startups meetup group. The group was created and run by Juliana Meyer to bring entrepreneurs, developers, and anyone interested in startup companies in Norwich together. Starting in September 2011, Norwich Startups had already had a number of well attended meetings and was well established.

It was about this time that Paul Grenyer and John Fagan independently had the idea to bring all of the groups together with the aim of making something bigger and even better. Purple Tuesday co-founder, Seb Butcher had also expressed interest in getting involved with Agile East Anglia. Stephen Pengilley and Juliana Meyer were both approached with a view to merging Norwich Developer community and Norwich Startups with Agile East Anglia.

On Thursday 3rd May at the Gunton Arms near Cromer, Paul Grenyer, John Fagan, Seb Butcher, Juliana Meyer and Stephen Pengilley got together to discuss and shape the new group, which had the working title “On The Code City”.

On Thursday 7th June Agile East Anglia held a meeting at the Hog and Armour in Norwich. Nearly 30 people came to hear Agile consultant Liz Keogh speak about behavior Driven Development. Smart421 continued their sponsorship and there were attendees from Ifftner, Redgate, Call Connection, Purple Tuesday, Smart421, Axon Active AG and newcomers Silo18 (Norwich). During the introduction it was announced that Agile East Anglia would be merging with the Norwich Developers Community and Norwich Startups under the name “SyncNorwich”. Seb Butcher, Stephen Pengilley and John Fagan were introduced to the Agile East Anglia group and the date of the first SyncNorwich meeting was announced as 5th July, with a presentation from Colm McMullan on his one man startup.

With the formation of SyncNorwich, this became the last Agile East Anglia event. Future meetings had already been planned, including Lightning Talks, a presentation on Kanban from Benjamin Mitchell, a session on iteration planning from Simon Cromarty and a workshop on GIT from Pete Goodliffe. All of these sessions were adopted into the SyncNorwich programme.

In six months SyncNorwich has attracted 400 members and regularly gets in excess of 60 people to its events. The first SyncNorwich conference, SyncConf is set for 15th February 2013.

It's been quite a year.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Interviewed by James Chesters of 10gen (MongoDB)

I was recently interviewed by James Chesters of 10gen (MongoDB) about setting up and running user groups. You can read the interview here.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


I am sure this is one of those shows that appeals to women of a certain age. Jenny Eclair says as much during the show. I am of course neither. Jenny Eclair is great on Radio 4, but just like Jo Caulfield, over the top and disappointing on stage. There were a number of funny moments, but most of it was too much. However, judging by the reaction of the thin crowd in the Playhouse I was in a minority. It wasn’t a night wasted (an evening out with Charlotte never is), but I won’t be bothering again.