YOW! 2022 – YOWZA! or MEH?

YOW! 2022 – YOWZA! or MEH?

In December 2022, I had the privilege of attend the YOW! Conference. To be honest, I had never heard of it before, yet I was excited to be going to a conference, where I could meet and connect with like-minded people sharing a love for technology and code quality. We had a bunch of exciting talks to choose from, and with YOW! 2023 just around the corner now, I thought it’d be fun to recap my two favourite talks from last year’s conference.

“Code Red: The Business Impact of Code Quality” by Adam Tornhill

Adam Tornhill talked about Technical Debt, how it impacts code quality and its impact on the business. He began his talk with a quote from Software Design X-rays: “Technical debt is code that’s more expensive to maintain than it should be”. Then he moved on to point out the 2 main consequences of tech debt: resource waste and security vulnerabilities.

Adam pointed out that businesses conveniently forget about the code quality to achieve short-term gains. He introduced the audience to the term “Hyperbolic Discounting” which means we humans make choices today that our future selves regret. This relates to the addiction to trading maintainable code for the lure of quick fixes and short-term rewards. We as developers need to educate our businesses on the importance of code quality.

He introduced the concept of code health, which he uses to measure code quality. A code base can either be in the green, yellow or red zone of code health. He pointed out that in the red code base, it can take 9 times longer to introduce a new feature, and that new feature can have 15 times more defects. 

He discussed prioritising the fixing of technical debts in hotspots. He based it on the code change frequency, so not all the red code needs to be fixed straight away.

He shared research he and his colleague Markus Borg collected from 39 companies measuring the code quality of their source code. To ensure that their research was not industry or language-specific they analysed code written in 14 different programming languages, including C++, Java, Javascript, Python, and more. The collected data included lead times for implementing a new feature.

With all this information and analysis it’s easier to convince decision-makers of the cost of technical debt on their business, whether it’s a delay in the release of a new feature, the high risk of bugs, or the cost involved in fixing them later. Better to do it right in the first place, than to do it quickly. He pointed out that “There’s never enough time to do something right, but there is always time to do it over.”

“Sensible Defaults for Tech Management” by Michelle Gleeson

The Tech Diversity Lab’s co-founder, Michelle Gleeson started by sharing her early experience as a junior software developer. She faced gender prejudice upon submitting a solution to a code problem back in the pre-StackOverflow era: there was more discussion amongst coders around her gender rather than the submitted solution.

Michelle talked about gender diversity in the software industry, and how the reported numbers are inflated. When she started, she was the only female developer in her team, and had to work harder than her peers to get recognition. She mentioned that most of the time decisions about software being made are made without any woman in the room. 

While sharing her experience, she talked about a hallway talk she had with a peer. She said “Wouldn’t it be nice to have more women in the team?” when she was the only one woman in the group, and her peer replied “I guess we should but we don’t want to lower the bar”. This wasn’t the first, or the last, time she heard the “lowering the bar” comment in her career. Experiences like this made it hard for her to stay in the industry, despite her love for coding.

She described how she wanted to quit the software industry after 10 years. While doing some research for some alternate career, one where her coding experience would work as a transferable skill, she came across a bunch of articles about how most women quit their jobs in tech after 10 years of experience. She started a diversity inclusion committee with some like-minded people to encourage more women to take up coding at school, and to improve the hiring process to include more women in the industry.

The committee helped more women join the industry, but they were not getting promoted like their male counterparts.

After describing all the biases and challenges faced by women in the industry, Michelle introduced her sensible defaults:

  1. Use good tech career growth frameworks to make equality possible.
  2. Recognise and reward behaviours that build inclusive, high-performing, teams.
  3. Underpin everything with your career growth framework.

She believes that using the above defaults to create a framework, and using that framework to drive hiring, feedback, and promotions, will create a better, more equal, and diverse workforce. Being a partner to a woman in tech I could relate to the talk. I want to see women get the recognition they deserve and promotion in their fields.


YOW2022 was a learning and eye-opening experience for me. I specifically chose these two talks as I could relate more to them than the others.

As a software engineer with some years of experience under my belt, I have seen my fair share of tech debt that stays in the backlog, rather than making it into the active sprint. When it finally makes it to the active sprint, it is too large to be easily fixed or improved upon.

When I started my software career I noticed the heavy male-inclined gender ratio, where a team might have 5 male engineers to 1, or a maximum of 2, female engineers. Though I can see change in the industry now, we still have a long way to go. 

Connecting with people from different backgrounds and positions, I could understand how business runs, how management has to make tough calls, and how one decision can lead to big technical debts. Listening to people telling anecdotes and sharing their experiences and good food, made this YOW conference memorable for me. I would recommend a colleague or friend attend one if they get the amazing opportunity.

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