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CodeConf Recap

Matt Todd

April 9th and 10th in San Francisco was the first ever CodeConf. Read on for a recap on this incredibly insightful and wonderful conference.

h2. People

I know we talk about the presentations a lot when we do these conference recaps, but we always seem to gloss over the amazing people we meet at the most important times of the conference. I mean, that’s really what going to conferences is about: the people.

CodeConf was put on by some outstanding people: GitHub, but specifically Melissa Severini (@”luckiestmonkey”:http://twitter.com/luckiestmonkey). This was her first time organizing a conference and she killed it!

It’s always great seeing the faces of people I’ve known for what feels like ages but never had run into before. And all the old familiar faces were a sight for sore eyes.

At these kinds of cool conferences, it’s hard to find people that aren’t doing what they believe in and are passionate about. Nearly everyone I spoke to was working on awesome projects, solving hard problems, and having a great time: and that’s what I love about these conferences. It’s infectious.

Speakers

I won’t go without sharing some amazing insight from the speakers. But before I do that, I want to observe the great variety of speakers at the conference: not all speakers were professional developers, or at least not all had been so for long, and many of the speakers spoke about real issues with open source: abandoning projects, involving and embracing the community, and knowing better what to build. The variety of perspective was refreshing and essential to how awesome this conference was.

The Talks

Coda Hale’s excellent talk Metrics, Metrics Everywhere illuminated not only the real value of metrics, the business value that you can continually increase when making the right, informed decisions, he also outlined in detail how to measure and collect those metrics then how to understand and act on them. My favorite talk by far, the insight from this one talk answered many questions in my own quest to “make better decisions by using numbers”.

“We improve out mental model by measuring what our code does.”

In fact, John Eward started working on a Ruby Metrics library, inspired by both Coda’s talk as well as his original open source library for Java/Scala.

Jacob Kaplan-Moss, of Django fame, shared a very poignant, repeatable observation about good documentation: it’s fractal in nature, repeating these four elements at every level of detail:

  • Introduction: for the uninitiated

  • Overview: clearly describes in detail what something is and how it works

  • Reference: go into detail about the actual implementation, such as the supported public API

  • Troubleshooting: addresses (actually) frequently asked questions, how to begin disecting problems, or where to look for answers

Mike Krieger from Instagram talked about dealing with the uncertainty of new ideas, experimental features, and quickly iterating on ideas. The two goals to keep in mind are:

  • Be wrong faster

  • Make being wrong less painful

He did this by using agile tools like Python and Django and iterating quickly.

“Stand on the source code of giants.”

Jeremy Ashkenas, creator of CoffeeScript and Backbone.js, and developer at DocumentCloud, spoke on Code as Literature. He quoted Knuth and Dijkstra continuously providing counterpoints to ideas and brought back a key point in Coda Hale’s talk: “mind the gap” between our understanding and the reality of it. “Code has two audiences”, Jeremy points out: the computer and the developer. “Programming is constraining the unlimited possibilities” into the finite, but a program can be meaningless if there’s no clarity for either of them.

Nicole Sulivan’s talk reminded me of a recurring theme in my own thinking: simplicity changes based on the context. The simplest possible way to approach a problem will be different in one context than another, but it’s often better to not over-engineer something because you aren’t solving a real problem until you’re context changes.

Wil Shipley repeated a theme from Mike Krieger’s talk: the minimum viable product isn’t just reducing features, it’s “shipping fewer features, better.”

And the lightning talks were especially great: it was awesome seeing a brand new and awesome feature of GitHub, Issues v2.0, being deployed on stage.

Finally

I hear there will be plenty more conferences in the future from GitHub: I can’t lie, I am really looking forward to it.

There were some great notes from The Changelog Show’s Steve Klabnik on the conference talks:

Do you have any observations or stories you’d like to share from the conference?

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