I was fortunate to attend Socrates UK 2016 this year, which was hosted in the beautiful Wotton House, near Dorking in Surrey.
I’ve not attended a Socrates conference before but I’d heard great things about it, as Socrates has at heart the idea of promoting software craftmanship.
After arriving in the early evening and after hearty meal we were ushered into the main conference room for the evening Lightning Talks.
The two talks from that evening that stuck in my mind was one about Team smells, which has nothing to with hygiene but are signs that a team is not operating optimally. A rather informative mind map of Team smells was created and discussed
Franziska Sauerwein showed her presentation of Outside in TDD, something I’ve done throughout much of my career
As I met more and more attendees, I was struck by how friendly and welcoming they were to newcomers like myself. It was their desire to make software a craft rather than getting code out of the door as soon as possible, and attempting to improve professionalism of the industry.
Using the Unconference format, the agendas of the conference was unplanned before the conference start, where sessions were decided upon at the beginning of each day of the conference.
The on the first day of sessions I opted to attend the following:
This was a session where the attendees arranged themselves to sit in a large circle and take turns to share their tales of software anti-patterns. It generally was a case of recounting war stories of incompetence and project failure, as we all took turns to tell our account of when a project didn’t go well, and then what we thought could have solved the problem.
Now I had an appetite for some technical sessions, so went on to attend a session about an application built on the SMACK platform
SMACK is an acronym listing the stack if technologies used in a single platform namely:
Spark, a distributed data processing framework, often used to analyse large datasets
Mesos, a distributed Linux kernel designed to operate on many nodes and host distributed systems
Akka, a Java runtime framework optimised for message based distributed systems
Cassandra, a highly scalable database
Kafka, a high throughput distributed messaging system
The application of this stack was used as a monitoring tool to log and analyse metrics from cloud based servers.
Having worked on a application at 7digital which uses Kafka I was interested to hear the problems that other session attendees had encountered and solved in their own platforms.
The next session I attended was titled Microservices vs Monoliths which became a discussion over the problems encountered with either architecture. I related my experiences of how breaking out a monolithic application into smaller APIs whilst sharing the same data store was not ideal, and how one had to consider fault tolerance when doing so.
Mashooq Badar of Codurance led a session on Serverless Architecture which I found very interesting. He talked about how his team built AWS Loft website was created only in AWS tech, namely using the Lambdas and API Gateway
One of the main advantages of using Lambda is the very low cost, rather than hosting your application inside EC2 or Beanstalk instances, one can pay for the resources used to execute the requests. Amazon will bill you appropriately per request, rather than for the resources used to maintain the uptime of your instances if they are not used.
After the hour was up, I moved onto a session titled Mentorship Patterns which is a role I’ve performed at 7digital, helping apprentices improved their skills and become more proficient software developers. I learnt that I could improve myself as a mentor by setting the what expectations I’d expect of the apprentice from the outset. Giving regular feedback was also essential, and this was something I’d do via regular 1-2-1’s.
As the end of the first day wound up, dinner was served, and in the evenings the lighting talks began. Attendees were encouraged to perform a short 5 minute talk in the evenings.
Radical Candor: Training guidance vs feedback. I wanted this talk to continue for more than its allotted five minutes as the concept of Radical Candor is to tell your team members constructively that they need to improve. The talker linked to this excellent article:
It sounds so simple to say that bosses need to tell employees when they’re screwing up. But it very rarely happens./
Forty Days of fixing, by @suzyhamilton commit to make a single change to a project to improve it, one change a day. Small changes to large messy project can slowly make it better, by following the boy scout rule; when making a change, always leave that part of code base in a better state than when arrived in it.
Discussion of the book Non-violent Communication
There was a story of introducing Agile into an enterprise waterfall project, which lead to a discussion of the book The Phoenix Project, a novel about how an IT project was turned around to save the company. It’s heavily inspired by the classic novel on the Theory Of Constraints by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, The Goal and has a contemporary setting.
Antony Marcano finished the lighting talks with by demoing how to applying SOLID principles to PageObjects when writing Acceptance Web Tests using Selenium & webdriver.
Serverless architecture was a subject the had piqued my interest so I spent a double session working on a hands on exercise
Mashooq Badar led a hands-on lambda session where we set up our own AWS web app powered by lambda. The lab was based upon his blog post on codurance’s site
When build applications on AWS it’s worth considering how to make them fit easily within the AWS ecosystem.
During the session I pushed my version of the lambda gateway application up up on my github account for future reference. This was probably my favourite technology session at SocratesUK.
Moving back onto the soft skills required to be a good developer, I headed over to join the session titled YOU’RE a developer?!
which was a discussion on the lack of diversity in technology sector, in particular the lack of women. There is still a cultural barrier that puts women off a industry sector which could do much more to become more professional. There is still a lot of sexism that goes unchallenged and we exchanged incidents of this occurring. Then we moved onto ideas around encouraging the changes in attitude that can help the situation. There’s clearly much more that can be done.
After another hearty dinner it was time again for the final five minute long Evening Lightning Talks
My former colleague Matt Butt spoke about the The Dangers of Empathy, and Emotional Contagion, and how to avoid Empathy Burn out. He recommended have a chat/slack room to vent one’s negative feelings. One should try to cultivate compassion without getting emotionally involved.
Finally Matthew Forrester demoed his code which could create diagrams of database schema from a YAML file
Socrates UK was the best conference I’ve attended. It really opened my eyes to the software craftmanship movement, some of the practices I was familiar with and use every day, but software craftmanship seems to tie them together succinctly. The attendees I met really seemed to care about writing great code that solves the right problem, and were a friendly and welcoming bunch to boot.
I want to attend next year’s conference and I wholeheartedly encourage others to do so as well.
- Further reading; information I learnt during the conference:
Tips for allow software developers to develop and grow. Seems to be informed by one of my favourite software books, Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister
Monitoring tool with SMACK architecture: instana.com
On 31 July I participated in the 2016 Prudential RideLondon cycling event, a closed road 100 mile course along the streets of London and the hills of Surrey.
I completed the course in 4 hours 57 minutes, 53 minutes faster than my time last year so I was very happy with my improved performance.
I set out to raise money for Haematology Cancer Care, a charity operating in UCL Hospital in Euston, London.
On my fund raiser page I raised more than £800 for Haematology Cancer Care
Here are my cycle stats with all the juicy ride data:
I couldn’t have done it without the great team of fellow cyclists working together in a mini peloton!
On Sunday 2nd August I cycled 100 miles through London & the Surrey Hills as part of the Prudential RideLondon, and I’m raising money for the charity Leukaemia And Lymphoma Unit, based in UCL Hospital in Euston. (LALU)
This the second time I’ve done a fund raiser for any charity, the last one was for LALU five years ago!
My connection with LALU is that they have been helping my uncle battle Leukaemia for the past decade.This charity have been supporting his out-patient care whilst he is undergoing chemotherapy; they provide bursaries for the fantastic post-grad Leukaemia nurses who work there.
Here’s the link that will let you donate, all proceeds will go to the charity:
I finished the ride in 5 hours 50 minutes, well under my target of 7 hours 30 minutes! It was an amazing day and unforgettable experience to ride along closed roads, particularly those in central London. At the finish I relaxed with my friends and family in Green Park.
Here’s my route with the all the juicy cycle statistics: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/852419031
The weather conditions were perfect, sunny and with very little wind. I had to cycle from my flat in south east London to the beginning, and I took advantage of the fact that the Blackwall Tunnel was closed off to traffic and only RideLondon participants were allowed to use it. Free wheeling down there from Greenwich north bound in a empty tunnel was incredible; and I hadn’t even started the ride by that point!
At the northern end of the Blackwall Tunnel I was confronted with the sight of hundreds of cyclists riding along the course towards central London. I mistakenly joined them and rode along for about half a mile before realising they weren’t heading to the start point in Stratford, so I turned around and eventually found my correct destination.
The start point was the Olympic Park in Stratford, and the route began with us riding down the A12 which was closed off to traffic. Zooming along three lane highways and through underpasses like the Limehouse Link and Hyde Park Corner underpass were such an adrenaline rush!
At Kingston the outbound and inbound routes ran along side each other on the same road; here I spotted some of the fast riders who had left a few hours ahead of me, rushing into central London.
The famous Surrey Hills were beautiful and rolling along it’s narrow, leafy country lanes packed with hundreds of cyclists called for careful attention to be paid. After a 20 minute stop atop Boxhill for some well deserved cake made by the villagers of Boxhill, I continued again.
The numbers of riders thinned out somewhat and I was able to pick up the pace, weaving though the slower riders on the largely downhill sections back to central London. Heading back through Kingston, I think I spotted some of the professionals heading back to the Surrey Hills for RideLondon Classic; famous riders such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were amongst their number.
Here I am crossing Putney Bridge, with only seven miles left till the finish!
The last 30 or so miles were along dual carriageways for large stretches which were closed in both directions; having six lanes to ride along was a very rare opportunity so I made the most of it by cycling on the wrong side of the A-Roads whenever I could and soaking in the views.
My friends caught some video footage of me on the final sprint finish along The Mall!
I didn’t notice them until I had already passed, and I didn’t want to stop at that point!
Of the 25,000 entrants, I was in the last few hundred participants to depart, with a departure time of 08:51. Some of my friends had left at around 06:30 so were in the earlier waves of riders. It turns out I had underestimated my average pace when I filled in the form to enter the sportive with rather unambitious eight and a half hours completion time. This spent most of ride over taking most of the cyclists around me, since the faster groups had left earlier. Unlike when one is running overtaking other participants requires quite a lot of care and there is a risk of a crash. Thankfully I avoided that and took my time.
Once past the finish line I took an obligatory selfie:
I couldn’t have done it with out the help of my friends who I trained with, here we are at the top of Boxhill:
My friends who also rode the course had finished a few hours before me; they stuck around as we had a picnic in Green Park:
It was a fantastic experience and I certainly hope to be able to cycle in the RideLondon 2016 next year!
Bonus video footage of the ride by my friend Dave on his GoPro: