SoftwareEngineering, Thoughts

Getting some much needed inspiration - QCon London

This week I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go to a developer conference called QCon in London.Its a four day conference, but I was only able to go for the last 2 days. However that was more than enough to get a huge, (and much needed) dose of inspiration.

If you are a professional, in ANY field, you should be going to relevant conferences. Seriously, look up the next one that is anywhere near by, and book a place on it. (or better yet get your employer to book you a place on it)

For years at IBM, I only went to conferences that were about IBM software, and I was only there to talk, I rarely had time to attend other sessions, and when I did it was constrained to the business of using IBM software, not writing it, so they were not really my field. At my current employer, I have had the chance to go to a couple of conferences that are actually relevant to the field of being a software developer. Hearing ideas, techniques, war stories all related to what I'm actually doing day to day.

It is so easy, under the pressures of work to get yourself buried in a small world view. You don't even notice it happening, its just work, you take what you know and apply it to solving the problems that need solving, and this may even go well. Whilst  your experience is your greatest asset, it can also narrow your view. When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

But attending a conference is a fantastic way to open you mind to new ideas, different ways of solving problems that may be better suited to the issues you face. Or even just have your eyes opened to the issues that are happening around you that you didn't even notice, but really need attention paid to them.

I think that in my case it was a great injection of ideas that remind me how passionate I can be about the industry I work in, about the ways in which problems can be solved to make a real difference, and it makes me want to go learn more, try more, just do more than merely knock off the next task, raise the next bug, chase the next thing that is immediately in front of me. Work is work, and some part of it will always be the thing you do to get paid, rather than the thing you wake up in the morning desperate to get started on. However I am fortunate in that my job does overlap heavily with something I love, and have always loved. writing software to solve interesting problems! Ever since I was typing in the games on the zx spectrum 48k! (love those rubber keys) from magazines that literally printed out the code listings (that seems like such a weird idea to me know, but at the time it seemed great).

I *like* taking these multipurpose machines and making them do my bidding, I *like* optimizing something to go faster and be more efficient. I *like* taking something manual and making it automated. And it turns out there are a whole load of tools, techniques and languages out there that I've not played with yet that allow you to do all of these things in new and interesting ways.

I can only imaging it is the same for all fields, learning from those more experienced, or even just those with different perspectives, is just downright invigorating and can surely only lead to you being better at what you do. Learning really shouldn't stop once you walk into your first job, qualification in hand. Taking a course might be a good for some people, but that really implies you already know that you need or want to know more about a particular subject.

A conference is a great way to sample a whole load of ideas and subjects in a short space of time, like an ideas buffet, and actually just like at a buffet, I found my biggest problem was simply not having room to try everything on offer, being forced to chose between some great subjects on in the same time slot was at times torturous. To some extent twitter helped, as you could pick up some highlights from other talks after the fact. Though on one occasion I chose badly and wound up in a panel discussion that really did nothing for me, and spent the time jealously observing the tweets of others who had chosen better.

Whilst at the conference I took a lot of notes, really a LOT of notes. so I will likely write up some thoughts about a few of the specific sessions I attended in future posts. In making these notes, I discovered that my transformer prime was practically *made* for this kind of usage. I literally spent 6 hours (6 sessions) a day, making notes, reading tweets, checking mail etc etc. all without every carrying a charger with me, and still having enough charge to sit on my sofa in the evening browsing on the tablet. Whilst I drained the keyboard battery every day, I was never unable to use it to type during the sessions, and the tablet never dipped below 50% charge even after a day of practically continuous usage. Given it's also super light, it was really easy to carry around, sit on my lap and be productive with all day without a problem, and I didn't have to play hunt the plug socket at all. These things really come into their own in this environment.

My one complaint to the qcon organisers (sponsors?) relates to the end of each day. There were beers provided for general socialising and winding down after a day of absorbing information. But it was just literally that. beer, no other choices. I am perhaps unusual in that I really don't like beer/larger. So the absence of another choice (wine? cider?) felt like an omission. So if qcon is reading this, see what you can do about that for next year?