Yow! Brisbane 2011

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Brisbane Yow! Conference.  This was a great conference with talks to interest developers across many languages platforms and experience.

This blog is a summary of the more interesting talks that I attended and my thoughts on them.

Keynote – Top 10 JVM Erroneous Zones – Cameron Purdy

The opening talk of day one was a very technical discussion from an Oracle VP, taking us through what he thought were areas that can/could/should be improved in the Java Virtual Machine.  It was a reasonably low level talk for a Keynote but this was a developer’s conference so not entirely unexpected.

Purdy spoke about low-level extensibility in terms of abstracting on primitive types and the limitations of building word length into compilers.  He also touched on precision, lack of continuations support and made comparisons with other languages such as C++ and Scala to support his points.

These points were then used to relate back to development work being done at Oracle on the JVM.  The case was made that since Oracle took over JVM development and maintenance, many improvements and efficiencies in the language have been made. As Java remains a flagship product for Oracle they will continue to do so going forward.

What I took from the talk was that someone driving development is being constructively critical of the language, which is undergoing a lot of criticism in  light of the popularity of dynamic languages such as Groovy.

Lean and Agile  – Continuous Design – Mary Poppendieck

This talk from the Lean Luminary was not quite what I expected. It focused more on a wider view of product design from conception to market place whereas I thought it would be covering incremental design, how best to manage that within an agile environment and how best to integrate that with a continuous delivery approach.

Although the talk was a little broader than I expected, Mary continually reaffirmed the 3M philosophy of make a little, sell a little and learn a little.  This was then discussed in terms of product cycles and how important design conception is and how it can then be refined through iterations of testing and using the design to the point that it can be taken to market.

A lot of comparisons were made between Google, Apple and Dropbox in terms of defining and refining products before they go to market and what comes after go live in terms of design.

An interesting point was her discussion on enabling toggling of features in production so that unfinished features do not disrupt the continuous delivery cycle. She discussed doing small releases via load balancing to test out new features on a smaller audience in case they fail and drive people away.

Overall this was a great talk to be listening to if you were taking a new product to market or worked within a start up type environment.   Of course it was quite a privilege to hear Mary Poppendieck present and she is an excellent presenter.

 DevOps – We’re all Developers Now – Julian Simpson

This talk eventually got underway after a few technical hitches with the speaker’s laptop not co-operating with the projector.  You definitely don’t want technical difficulties in front of a room full of developers.

Once the talk began, it was basically a quick overview of DevOps and then mainly a comparison of Puppet and Chef.  Both Puppet and Chef are automation tools for Sys Admins.   The talk was very interesting showing how a sys admin would manage the installation of an application using the Nginx web server and Jetty.  Examples of how this is configured in Puppet and Chef where then shown illustrating how the configuration is then version controlled to provide change control management and one version of truth.

The power of this was demonstrated very well as Julian discussed how the configuration defined where specific components were to be installed across many virtual servers, allowing the administrator to roll out changes very quickly to a scalable number of machines.  Very powerful and quite dangerous – all the more reason for source control and proper change control!

DevOps is a fast growing and very interesting development in the industry and is leading to more responsibility for the developer as the gap between development and production is closing….

I thought this was a very good talk and I am looking closely at the various DevOps movements within our clients.

Action shot - Yow! Brisbane 2011

Transitioning To The Cloud – Challenges Transitioning To The Cloud – Rod Johnson

A very interesting talk from Rod Johnson, the founder of Spring.  This talk was Rod discussing what he sees as the issues and challenges facing the drive of software into the cloud.

He defined the differences between Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platforms as a service (PaaS) and Software as a service (SaaS) and then spoke of the trends he thinks will happen with these.  These were namely that there will be more growth in PaaS and likened it to the second coming of the main frame.  He talked about a standardized stack such as a Ruby or a Java stack, which might see developer’s choice narrow and will also see the tools as part of the platform.

It was very interesting hearing someone of Rod’s experience and foresight discussing the cloud and what he saw it meaning for developers in the future.

The Interactive Web – The Live Web – Dan Ingalls.

Dan Ingalls is one of the founders of Smalltalk so it was quite surreal to have him present a demonstration on a JavaScript web IDE for building HTML 5 applications.

The Living Kernel is a component architecture for HTML and runs in the browser.  It lets developers build and compose with existing components in a canvas like fashion and then tie them together with events, animations and scripting to quickly pull together visual applications.

While the examples shown in the talk were all relatively lightweight there was some scope of the power of this show when he quickly generated a graph based on Unix output to show CPU utilization of a server.  This would then be saved as a HTML report.  His entire presentation was also built using the tool, which showed its versatility.

What was missing in this talk was the business benefits of these tools.  He mentioned towards the end that they generate some reporting for come clients using this but it was only mentioned in passing.

Better Testing for Less Work – QuickCheck – John Hughes

This very entertaining talk was based around the speakers experience using QuickCheck.

QuickCheck is a testing tool, which based on a set of rules will then generate a specified number of tests with random data.  If an error is found, then the tool will focus on reproducing that error as many times as possible to determine the simplest cause of the error from the random data it generated.

John Hughes explained the tool at a high level and briefly showed how to specify a property rule but the basis of his talk was his experiences using QuickCheck in industry.  He discussed the use of the tool in car industry software and how he identified an issue in a production database.

John Hughes was such an entertaining presenter the entire audience was hanging on every word and we all erupted in applause at the end of the talk.  His passion for his work was evident and this translated into a surprisingly interesting talk on a low level-testing tool.

Keynote – Escape from the Ivory Tower – Simon Peyton-Jones

You could be forgiven for calling Simon Peyton-Jones  “Monty” and John Hughes’ “Python”.

Both went to university together at Cambridge and have the same passion, humour and comic delivery which makes for an excellent presentation. This was a wonderful follow on from the John Hughes talk.

This talk covered the history of Haskell, a functional programming language which has largely been academic until recently.

With the rise of parallel programming Haskell has attracted far more interest and suddenly Simon as a co-creator of Haskell is very much in demand as a speaker.

The speech centered around the history of Haskell and the differences between Haskell and other functional programming languages.  For non-functional programmers Simon recommended some exposure to Haskell to help them think about programming in a different way.

Again the speaker was very passionate about his topic and his presentation was so well put together that the audience was very much engaged.

JavaScript Everywhere

The next few talks that I attended painted a better picture for me on the rise and rise of JavaScript.

Web As A Platform – Dart, a new programming language for structured web programming  – Kasper Lund

This talk introduced Dart, a new programming language (almost) released by Google, still very much in its formative years.

Through coding up examples, the presenter highlighted a number of the language features mainly comparing them to JavaScript.   I took it that Dart was positioning itself to rival JavaScript. Dart can either run on it’s own VM or can be compiled down to JavaScript… which leads me into the next talk.

Web As A Platform – The Web Browser is a Transitional Technology – Allen Wirfs-Brock

This talk was based on the premise that we are moving into a new era of computing. We went from corporate computing to personal computing and now into what Mozilla’s Allen Wirfs-Brock labeled the Ambient Computing era.

Ambient is defined as “completely enveloping” so I take it he was trying to capture the fact the now people have multiple devices which they want and use all the time, therefore we are enveloped in the technology.  Bit of a stretch for me I’m afraid… I don’t think that phrase is going to stick.

In any case, he made good points that the new gadgets entering the market do not typically use a browser any more to interact with the web.  However a lot of them still use the same technology stack just without the browser chrome.  This web platform can sit directly on new hardware losing the PC and the browser.  To relate back to the title of the speech, the browser was a PC based, transitional technology to get us to this point.

The biggest point I believe Allen made was that JavaScript was directly built into this technology stack and was the only language present.  By this fact alone it foretells a bright future for JavaScript as it would be very difficult for an emerging technology (such as Dart) to proliferate to the point that all vendors across the Internet and gadget market will replace JavaScript in this platform.

I guess that’s why the Dart guys have ensured Dart can compile down to JavaScript….

Web As A Platform – NodeJS and the JavaScript-Everywhere Strategy – Matthew Eernisse

Yammer’s Matthew Eernisse talked about JavaScript on the server side and the rise of NodeJS.  In the talk Eernisse wrote a web server from scratch to show how quickly you can get off and running with NodeJS.  He discussed some of the tools available to help with NodeJS development and highlighted some of the trouble shooting lessons he had learned.  With so many callbacks and asynchronous code it can be difficult finding root causes of issues.  Eernisse showed how he changed his debug to help address those issues.

The majority of the Yammer upload apps are NodeJS applications and Shine Technologies has also done some major project work with a Melbourne client on various NodeJS apps.

This talk complemented the previous ones on highlighting the rise and rise of JavaScript to me.

The only other talk I should mention was the Keynote by Damien Conway on extending Perl to implement quantum physics. This was genius in PowerPoint but while I enjoyed it and followed it to a degree, I could not hope to summarise it due to its complexity.  Presentations like Conway’s go a long way to inspiring people in the field to take their profession far beyond what anyone thought was possible.  Sensational stuff!


There were some other interesting talks, which rounded out the conference plus a good chance to meet other developers and people in the industry as well as the speakers themselves who were very approachable.

This was a very well run conference and I will be lining up next year again for it.

Alistair Sutton is a Senior Consultant for Shine Technologies and has recently moved to Brisbane to open a Brisbane branch for Shine.


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  2. This is a brilliant Blog, I am so glad I’ve found it – very insightful for someone like me who has no idea about development – however is in a position to find and developers of all levels find cool opportunities…🙂 Thanks, Shine Technologies.

  3. This is a brilliant Blog, I am so glad I’ve found it – very insightful for someone like me who has no idea about development – however is in a position to find developers of all levels find cool opportunities…🙂 Thanks, Shine Technologies.

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