No food reviews here I’m afraid

This year I was incredibly lucky to score a coveted ticket to YOW! in beautiful Melbourne. I was also asked to be a track host for a couple of sessions, so that was quite an honour too. This post is a whirlwind wrap-up of the conference, and only includes my favourite talks from the two day event. If you’re hoping to hear detailed reviews on how the coffee/food/WiFi/venue was, then you’ll be greatly disappointed (it was all great BTW).

Keynote: Lynn Langit / Denis Bauer – Cloud Data Pipelines for Genomics from a Bioinformatician and a Developer

“a single test on our datasets costs about $9,000”

Wowsers! What a fantastic opening from Lynn and Denis. When was the last time you saw two women open a tech conference, huh? I actually know Lynn because we are both part of the same Google Developer Expert program, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her present in the past. But, I’d never seen Denis on stage. Their tag-team style presentation was terrific, and the dynamics were spot on. The content wasn’t half bad either.

They talked about building serverless data pipelines for genomics analysis on AWS (but the principle/architecture could be applied to any public cloud though), and how burst computing has dramatically changed how Denis and her team are able to get their shit done faster and cheaper now. Love the use of tech to solve an incredibly complex problem.

Some of the stats that they quipped during the talk were mind boggling. Like, how genomics data dwarfs all other datasets (including even YouTube), or how they use 80 million features in their ML models (say what!), and that running one single test across all their data costs close to $9K on AWS. And you think you’ve got big data? Yeah, right.

Brian LeRoux – Architecture as Text: Setup AWS Lambda, API Gateway, SNS, and DynamoDB on Easy Mode

“miss a space in that YAML file, and you’re fuc@ed”

Kudos to Brian for handling the video hiccup so well. The screen/projector was on the blink during his talk, and nobody could see his slides/demo, but he dealt with it like a real pro by keeping the audience laughing with his delightful Canadian humour while it got fixed up.

He’s a great presenter, and even though I’m not a DevOps dude, I still really enjoyed his talk. It was primarily about arc.codes,  a lightweight plaintext manifest for deploying cloud (although it currently only supports AWS) infrastructure that uses a NPM engine for building and deploying. He compared it such syntax like YAML, and showed off its simplicity and ease of readability.

Finally, he gets the “demo of the day” award from me. It was badass!

Aaron Bedra – AWS Security Essentials

“humans clicking buttons is what creates security holes”

Loved it. What a fantastic talk from Aaron. My boss (an AWS security nut) will be chuffed to learn that I voluntarily attended this talk. He’s always banging on to me about how I need to brush up on my security knowledge/skills. But it’s so damn boring, right?

Wrong.

Well, at least Aaron makes it interesting and fun in his talk. This face-paced, no bullshit talk dropped nuggets of gold at every turn. Some of my top picks were: “humans clicking buttons is what creates security holes” and “Don’t give anyone access to the <INSERT CLOUD PROVIDER HERE> console. Just don’t do it!”. He made the complex things sound easily, explained security terms/principles well enough that even someone like myself could understand, and also introduced the audience to Scout2 – a little security auditing tool for AWS environments. His five security checklists were spot on, and if you missed his talk you should check out the video of it later when it’s available.

Simon Brown – Software Architecture for Developers

“software development is not a relay sport”

Simon’s talk was standing room only, so clearly this architecture thing is kind of important. I enjoyed it a lot. He’s a really engaging speaker, and also an inspiration to anyone thinking of embarking on the architect journey. This was a back-to-basics talk about how you do still need to design your software/solutions, but without falling into the classic waterfall, ivory tower problem – “here’s a 100 page SAD, now go implement it my loyal minions, while I sit back and bask in its glory!“.

He offered some sage advice, and he’s clearly been around the traps and seen a lot. He retains the view that software architects still need to code, but understands that getting the time to do so can be challenging. To offset that, he suggests doing POCs, or making sure all the tools/tech in the solution will work together etc. He also touched on the fact that soft skills play a major role in being a great mentor and leader, and that many people simply forget this.

Mark Aufflick / Xerxes Battiwalla – Bionic Implanted and Mobile Software in Six (years of) Easy (ish) Steps

“by the time you’ve embedded a device sending electrical pulses in someone’s head, you better be able to scale”

This was the first talk I had to track host for, and boy was it a doozy. Mark and Xerxes walked everyone through the history of the cochlear implant – a truly fascinating solution to an important real-word problem. Once they had taken us through the history of the device, they then delved into the tech stack and what it is made up of; primarily Swift (they were one of the first people to get access to it when Apple first announced it, and Python (there’s always some Python!).

They also talked about how they scaled the teams, and how they ultimately were able to distribute the device globally. Probably, the most interesting thing about this topic wasn’t actually in the talk itself. I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Xerxes just prior to him going on stage, and he gave me some insight into how people react when they first switch the device and they can hear. He pointed out that he’s never personally been present when this has happened, and he correctly pointed out that it’s a very intimate moment that is usually only shared with family and very close friends. However, I surprised to learn from him that sometimes (contrary to the inspiring videos we’ve all seen on YouTube that we’ve all watched) a patient can have a negative reaction to the device. It can quite simply be such an overwhelming sensation/moment for them that they do not know how to handle it, emotions get the better of them. That’s something I’ve never considered before.

Kasper Lund – Flutter: The Best Way to Build for Mobile?

“It looks just like any other ‘auld app. But that’s the whole point”

To be perfectly honest, Kasper’s talk on Flutter caught me off guard! I was track hosting his session, and so I was required to stay for his talk even though I’m not a mobile dev. So, I was wasn’t expecting much (no offence Kasper if you’re reading this). But, oh boy was I wrong. It really was a super talk. Kasper’s presentation style, depth of knowledge, and how he keeps the audience engaged was terrific, and a wonderful example of how to deliver a talk to an inspiring presenter like myself.

Yes, I’m not a mobile dev, but he kept it interesting even for me. He outlined how Flutter makes life a lot easier for mobile dev across multiple platforms, its awesome hot load feature (change code on the fly in the IDE and see magic happen in emulator), and he dove into how it’s built on the Dart language. He even went as far as touching on the compiler and garbage collection mechanism. But, the star of the show were his live demos. They were terrific.

Finally, he gets the “the talk that surprised me most” award from me.

Sara Chipps – Introducing kids to code through hardware using C++

“what’s more fun than teaching 7yr olds to code? Not 40yr olds, that’s for sure.”

Last, but by no means least was Sara talking about her beloved Jewelbot bracelets that help young girls learn programming – in C++ no less! This talk in particular resonated with me because I volunteer CoderDojo (free programming clubs for kids 7yr-17yr) so I was able to relate to her a lot. Sara’s infectious energy and love of what she has built is wonderfully inspiring. She gave an intro to the product itself, the journey they’ve embarked on over the years, her wins & losses, and she even threw in a demo of the bracelet for good luck!

What I found most interesting about her talk, wasn’t so much the tech that’s powering it, but more around how they had to adjust and market the device to get kids interested in it. Or, as Sara eloquently put it:

“we had to rebrand coding to relate to young girls”

When they first started introducing the programmable bracelet to the kids, they started off with “hey, do you want to learn some C++ on an Arduino board?“. But they quickly realised that wasn’t going to work, and they got a lot of glazed looks from the girls. However, when they said stuff like “hey, do you want to program this bracelet to be able to send secret messages to your friends, or flash red when a friend it near you?“, then they immediately got their attention.

Brilliant.

The end

I thoroughly enjoyed YOW! 2017, and been asked to track host was also very cool. I managed to catch some really great talks, and getting the chance to chew the fat with local peers is something that makes this conference somewhat special and a bit more personal in my opinion. Oh, and the Nutella doughnuts they served up at the break were amazing (thanks for the tweet Kris). DAMN IT! I said I wouldn’t comment on the food 😉

That’s me out. Laters.

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