This is the second time I’ve attended Nordic Ruby, you can read about what I thought last year here. This year I enjoyed the conference more, for several reasons. There were some small changes in the way it was organized, (on a Friday and Saturday instead of taking up a whole weekend), a better choice of speakers and topics, (less technical, more inspirational), and I knew more of the people there.
One of the themes of the conference was diversity, which I was very, very happy to see. There was an inspiring talk by Joshua Wehner about this topic, taking up some depressing statistics about the IT industry in general and open source software in particular. What struck me most was that he said the statistics for women involvement are improving in many formerly male-dominated disciplines, like maths, physics and law, but in computing, the situation was actually better 20 years ago than it is now. The curves are pointing the wrong way in our industry.
Having said that, there were slightly more women at the conference this year than last, I think I counted 4 of 150, compared with 2 of 90 last year. There were also far fewer references to science fiction movies from the speakers this year 😉
Joshua did take up several things that we could do practically to reduce bias and positively encourage diversity. He’s written about some of them in this blog post. Another one he mentioned that I liked was the “no asshole rule”. If people engage in arrogant one-upmanship, talk down to others, and emphasize their superior programming abilities, they should be regarded as not just annoying, but actually incompetent. Developing software is a multi-faceted skill, and it takes a lot more than just writing good code to be a good software developer.
Joe O’Brien continued the diversity theme in his talk “Taking back education” by basically arguing that having a degree in computer science correlates very badly with being a good software developer, and that we should be finding ways to bring people into our industry who have non-traditional backgrounds. He advocated companies to start apprenticeship programmes, while conceding that this model of education doesn’t scale very well. He talked about getting a group of companies together to set up a “code school”. He said “forget universities when it comes to education [of software developers]. We’re better at it”
I applaud his efforts to bring a more diverse range of people into the industry, and I think my recent experiences teaching a group like this are relevant. I think I’ll write a separate blog post about that experience, but basically I think the idea of a “code school” is a good one, and similar institutions probably already exist, and could add a course in software development to their programme of courses in practical skills. For this to happen it’s up to companies to put in time and energy setting them up, rather than just complaining that when they put out a job advert, all they get are white male applicants between the ages of 25-35, so it’s not their fault.
Another talk that deserves a mention is the one by Joseph Wilk. He spoke about “The Limited Red Society” which is an idea that Joshua Kerievsky came up with. I heard Joshua speak about it at XP2009, and I thought Joseph did a very good job of explaining what it is, and why it’s important.
Basically the idea is that although you need your tests to go red during TDD, if they stay red for any length of time, it can get you into trouble. While they are red, you can’t check in, ship your code, or change to working on a different task. This is one motivation for trying to measure, and limit, how much of the time your tests are red. It’s also about more generally improving the feedback we get for ourselves while we work. Professional sports stars spend time analysing and visualizing their performances (where balls land on a tennis court, footballers rates of passing etc). We programmers could benefit from that kind of thing too.
Joseph has invented a tool that helps him to track his state when doing TDD. It’s a simple monitoring program that makes a note every time he runs his tests. It’s not as elaborate as the commercial tool offered by Joshua Kerievsky’s company, but it does work with Ruby and Cucumber. Joseph also has his tool connected to his CI server so that it runs tests that have failed recently in his and others’ checkouts first in the CI test run. He also gathers statistics about individual tests, how often they fail, and whether they are fixed without the production code needing to be changed – a way of spotting fragile tests.
I think this kind of statistics gathering is really interesting and I think Joseph will just have more insights to share as he gathers more data and does more analysis. I’ve been experimenting with the tool provided by codersdojo.org for measuring my performance at code katas, but Joseph seems to be taking this all to the next level.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Nordic Ruby. (I still think it would be improved by some actual open space sessions though). I talked to loads of really interesting people, enjoyed good food and drink in comfortable surroundings, and listened to some people give excellent talks. Thanks for organizing a great conference, Elabs.