Friday, 30 October 2009

Cambridge Stack Overflow Dev Days

I've just got back from the Stack Overflow Dev Day. Definitely worth attending (and well worth the price).

The opening key note from Joel focused on the balance of features vs. choice. 37 Signals popularized the idea of "simple software" (illustrated by simple bug tracking software). However, FogBugz figures don't back this up the number of sales is proportional to the number of features.

I got the feeling that this talk was targeted at companies whose business it is to sell directly to the customers. In larger software corporations you aren't targeting real end-users, you are trying to convince a budget manager that your software is better than the competitions. I guess this leads to the explosion in features (e.g. Word vs. Word Perfect, Lotus Notes vs. Excel) and ends up with over complicated solutions that do everything adequately and nothing outstanding.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and will definitely be going next time. Also found out about another related event.
Next up was Christian Heilmann who is a "developer evangelist" for Yahoo!. The talk show cased some of Yahoo's developer tech. I was very impressed by YQL which provides a consistent SQL-like API for accessing a whole suite of web api's (not just Yahoo). It was very impressive to see mashups created in a few seconds and I'll definitely need to poke around the APIs. The term JSONP came up together with Caja (a safe subset of JavaScript) - both of which I'd never heard of but sound like things I should know.

Frank Stajano gave a good talk of the human aspects of security, focusing on social engineering and illustrating it with examples from The Real Hustle. It seemed slightly at odds with the rest of the talks, but it was interesting and well presented! And I got some new terminology, sock puppets, astro-turfing and Sybil's.

After lunch we had the fastest introduction possible to ASP.NET MVC. Steve Sanderson went through a few slides of the architecture (very similar to Ruby On Rails!) and then proceeded to build a simple file management application at breakneck speed. Very enjoyable presentation again. And ASP.NET MVC even has Linux support with MonoDevelop.

Remy Sharp gave a similarly fast paced presentation of JQuery. It was impressive to see JQuery in action and the simple steps to build a plugin were good to see. The presentation ended with a heroic attempt to "live-code" a tag cloud application into Twitter!

The penultimate talk was about Python by Michael Foord. I wasn't too keen on this presentation. There were statements like "Dynamic Programming makes it easy to test" and "Dynamic Programming means I type less" that I didn't agree with and there was no follow up to back it up. The presentation gave a quick overview of Python using Norvig's spelling corrector as an example.

Finally, Jeff Atwood gave a quick talk about Stack Overflow which was short on detail but definitely watch-able. Whatever has been written about this guy, he (and a couple of others) are responsible for a huge web site that is apparently the 895th biggest site on the whole web! It's been hugely successful so it was interesting to hear where the ideas came from and so on.

In conclusion, definitely worth going too and roll on the next one.