Last Wednesday I was at the StackOverflow DevDays event in London (and the AltNetBeers afterward), and finally this weekend I was able to collect my thoughts and find the time to write my review.
In 30 seconds
If I had to sum it up one sentence I’d say that DevDays was a quick overview of the “cool” technologies of the moment, all at a pretty basic level. And since I didn’t know most of them if found the event useful and worth the 99€ of the price and the effort to take the plane and come to London.
If you want more details
It all started with a pretty entertaining and inspiring talk by Joel Spolsky: whether you like his approach to development or not, you cannot say that this guy cannot speak. His keynote was about simplicity in software applications and definitely left something to think about.
Then came Python, and Michael Sparks explained how the spell check algorithm of Google works: it is done with Python, and it’s just 10 lines (and if 10 was not the correct number, something around that size) of Python code. I didn’t care a lot about Python, and the speech was not that great (partially due to a low volume).
After the break (I headed to a nearby cafè because the queue at the catering was too long) and a sales talk about FogBugz, it came the first of the three overviews of the mobile development SDKs: Android.
It was definitely boring, more a marketing talk than something to make you (as a developer) want to try and build something for it. This also probably caused by both a blurred screen with small characters and very low volume of the voice coming from Reto Meir mic.
The one presented by Remy Sharp is definitely the best talk of the morning. I already knew jQuery (even if I don’t consider myself an expert), but got a lot from his presentation which was well organized, with a lot of samples, that was both entertaining and rich of contents. It also showed one of the new features of jQuery, the live method. Big thumb up to Remy Sharp.
Jeff Atwood’s talk: good developers are good communicators
After lunch we had Joel trying to sell something again: this time it was the hosted version of StackOverflow, stackexchange.com and a bunch of new “produces” that StackOverflow is adding. Then a great talk by Jeff Atwood, about StackOverflow, the reasons behind the project and a inspiring discussion about how being a good writer and communicator makes you a better developer.
They are exactly the same reasons why I decided to start writing this blog and one of the reasons why I wrote my book: when you have to ask for help on a forum, you want to write a technical blog post or are trying to explain a concept inside a book, you have to think about what you have to communicate and make it clearer into your mind. Otherwise the people that are going to read your question will not understand your problem, or will not understand your idea and thoughts, and the readers of your book will not learn what you wanted to tell them. And all this additional “thinking” will make you understand the problem better, and thus, become a better developer.
Probably this was the main takeaway of the day.
The second mobile SDK was the iPhone. I already developed an iPhone application, but the introduction Phil Nash did about Objective-C is what I would have wanted when I started developing with the iPhone: explained all the single concepts in a very clear way. And if you didn’t attend, the slides are available on his blog.
And then Jon Skeet came: together with Tony the Pony, a jr developer that doesn’t know anything about the basic concepts behind numerics, strings and dates manipulation and localization. He reminded us that localization is a very complex topic: you have different charsets, you have Unicode, you have timezones, you have different formats to represent dates with strings. But it’s no point taking everything in consideration if you are developing an intranet or application that will only be used in your country. But remember that there are all these problems that you will have to address if you are going to build an application that is going to be used in countries with different timezone, formats and charsets.
The third (and last) mobile SDK was Qt of Nokia. It was mostly a marketing talk, but Pekka Kosonen was very amusing. I don’t think I’ll ever have to write an application for a Nokia (I don’t want to get my hands wet with C++ again), but I really liked the way he described the SDK, even if he might have done better with the demos. The slides are already available online.
The “academic” talk was something I didn’t expect much from: but Paul really beat my expectations. He explained why scripting languages (or better, why script interpreters) suck so badly when it come to performances and that they cannot do nothing to solve the problem because otherwise they would break all the parsers of the given language. And the slides are online as well.
And the last talk was about the Yahoo Developer Tools: the Christian Heilmann (actually I think he is heavy-metal rock star from the ’80s rather then a developer) explained about the YUI CSS and then he showed YQL in action: and YQL is the second great takeaway of the day. I never used it, actually I even never heard about it before, but seems to be a great way to build serverside mashups, by querying various APIs (Flickr, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter) and even screenscraping “normal” HTML pages. And his slides and demo are available online.
Let’s talk a bit about the venue, the organization and the side-services.
The venue was big enough for everybody, but the audio/video system had some problems: the screen was a bit blurry and the audio, especially the one from the speaking position on the left, was too low. Then there was the catering: once you got to it, it was great (Lasagne FTW!), but there was only one desk, and it took the full one hour lunch break to serve everybody. Maybe, next time, have two or three serving desks instead of one.
And one last big win for this event, and probably unexpected also for the organizers, is the WiFi: it worked all the day, with 900 people connected in the same room, with just a few reconnects needed. Too bad the batteries of my iPhone died before the end of the conference.
Collecting my thoughts:
- Jeff Atwood’s talk about social skill for developers
- Scripting Languages
- Jon Skeet
- Nokia Qt
- Joel’s sales talks
Not everything was good, but I had some topics that I consider worth studying more (YQL for sure). And if they keep the same price, I’ll definitely come again next year.