Saturday, November 6, 2010

At SCNA: Part 3

This is the third post in a multi-part series.  The conference covered two days, with many presentations, lightning talks, and conversations about software craftsmanship.

Chad Fowler: McDonalds, Six Sigma and Saxaphone

Fowler, like many other people at SCNA is a "musician/developer" - he chose software development as a career after trying to make his way as a musician.  Exactly how much that influences his craft is hard to say, but it seems to happen often enough to take note of it.

He described what we do as in the middle of a continuum with "Art" on one end and "Commodity" on the other.  A parallel is that art is about form, while commodity is about function.

My take-aways:
  • Treating your work as "art" means that you can talk about it subjectively, which is a cop-out.
  • Internal quality is irrelevant.  Customers don't care about "form", only "function".
  • We can't make software better than McDonald's sells burgers.  Having a system for what you do matters.  He cited the Standish Chaos report to support this idea.
  • Having a training program with objectives for each phase helps for marathons.  A training program is essential for each of our careers.
  • The Six Sigma Design->Do->Measure->Refine->repeat cycle likewise applies to our on careers.
After Chad's talk, I told him I bought his book twice, not realizing "The Passionate Programmer" was the same as "My Job Went To India".  His answer was that they tried to make it very clear that it was essentially the same book in all of the descriptions of it.  It may have been the nicest way anyone has ever called me an idiot.

Keavy McMinn: Fine art and software development
McMinn talked about her transition from fine art to programming.

My take-aways:
  • Keep in mind both the internal (what are my motivations?) and external (what are the fears and motivations of my customers?) questions in any project.
  • Keep a sense of play in your work.  Do some things for yourself.
  • "As programmers, change is relatively cheap.  We have no excuse." (not to change our work product for the better)
  • Group critiques in art can be brutal, but they really move things forward
    • We have processes we can use to do this
    • We're too complimentary to each other - be polite, but dig into what the problems are!
    • Having a culture of blame will kill this - eliminate it.
  • Learn from larger problems, then solve smaller ones.  (Backwards from the usual take on this.)
  • "The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty." (Piece of art that revealed this message when you rubbed it - done in graphite)

Lightning Talks
The one that stood out the most was done by an oddball guy who claimed that he puts the fact he smokes pot on his resume.  (This wasn't part of the talk - I just overheard him loudly hitting on a pretty French software developer earlier in the day.) 
My favorite quote from his talk:  "If I think it's about me, I'm a narcissistic douche."
Another talk was on Genetic Programming.  The concept is:
  • Use a program to write a program.
  • Generations of grammar / evaluator determines which algorithm is the most fit.
  • Needs good tests - it isn't "fit" until it meets the expectations.

Enrique Comba Riepenhausen: The Forsaken Value
I spent quite a bit of the in-between session time (and at the bar the previous night) talking to Enrique.  He's a great storyteller, and a very good photographer.  I stole the photo of Corey for this blog entry from his Flickr site.
My take-aways:
  • "Why become as good as you can?"  To create productive partnerships.
  • Try to find the right customer to create such partnerships.  You're better off saying "no" to potential customers that you know you can't serve well, whether because you aren't able to meet their needs, or simply because you can't do it within their budget.
  • Some customers don't need top value.  They need something quick & dirty that will tell them if they have a market (and help them find investment if they do).  You can still work with them later if you advice them during start-up.
  • "We're not going to work for you.  We will work with you."
    • We're the experts in producing software.  Don't just do anything the customer asks.  We do have the right to refuse if it is foolish and will derail the project.  Just be diplomatic about why and make sure that you understand all of the assumptions.
  • Beauty is how we build our software, but that's purely internal.