Experiencing re:develop 2014 conference

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This was the 1st year of re:develop, a 1 day developers conference with the aim of sharing trends, techniques and insight as to where the future of development may lead. The conference’s primary target audience seemed to be web developers and most of the people I talked to at the event were PHP devs, that being said, although I have web development experience I don’t consider myself a ‘Web’ Developer but even-so I,
One: really enjoyed every talk given,
Two: feel that this conference gave a lot of new ideas and inspiration.

I first heard about re:develop while visiting the Bournemouth ODL (Open Device Labs) along with some colleagues, Jon at the ODL mentioned he was currently doing some organisation for the event, he opened up the website to show us some of the event’s speakers, mentioned an after party and tickets were soon booked (Courtesy of my employer).

What follows is a small paragraph on each talk to give you a feel of what was covered at the 2014 event.

Click “READ MORE” to read about the talks.


10 things learnt from 2 years of working on gov.uk – Tom Byers

To kick-off the conference was Tom Byers from GDS. Working with gov.uk for two years, Tom shared with us unique challenges that him and his team are faced with when working on technology that is designed to be used by every single person in the UK, from renewing your car tax to getting information on employment law, gov.uk covers many areas. Tom shared a lot of great insight, one of my favourite points of his was this; While you can run tests on your site to ensure its compatibility with many different devices (GDS do a lot of this), you can never ensure that it will work on every device, Tom suggests that even if your site is broken on a device, if a user can still get the information that they are looking for from that page then they will (most of the time) forgive you, he further explained how this effects the design of gov.uk and other statistics found during their research that effected design too. Another surprise for me is that a lot of the .gov.uk project is available open source on GitHub.

Working at Ghost Foundation – Paul Adam Davis

Next, Paul’s talk was straight to the point. Projected was a picture of him on an exotic beach, “This is me at work, on company time” he said, from then on he had everyones attention. Paul works for Ghost Foundation, Ghost is an open-source blogging platform who’s employees work remotely from many different parts of the world “if you have a wifi connection, we have an office near you” he explained. Having worked remotely before, I could empathise with some of the positives and negatives that Paul raised, he went deeper into how his team deals with communication and raised interesting points such as; When working remotely it’s hard to tell what mood someone is in and explained how to cater for this, his team need to in-fact be more open and explicitly state how they are feeling to their remote colleagues.

iOS for Web Developers – Ben Howdle

Ben Howdle is a freelance developer and designer. Since I have been professionally involved with iOS for sometime now, I was clearly not the target audience member that he envisioned for this talk. However, I think that Ben did a great job of introducing some fundamental differences and comparing attributes of iOS development to a Web Developers ‘Mother tongue’, whats-more I also think that some of his comparisons between web and native technologies I will use myself when talking to Web Developers in the future. Objective-C is not the prettiest language from the outset and this actually puts a lot of people off learning it so I think lots of web devs appreciate this talks aim of lowering the bar to entry, you can also checkout his original post on the subject.

Embracing uncertainty with BDD and Cynefin – Liz Keogh

I have before seen instances of BDD becoming synonymous with ‘Test automation’ and the majority of its benefits being lost within companies. Liz set the record straight, sharing things such as; if what your working on is ‘new’ then the business may not even know the logic yet, so automating at this point is useless. A key point of the talk was coming back to the primary focus of BDD and that is not the automation aspect, but the communication process and conversations had. I’m positive that this talk has given a lot of devs (including myself) a lot to think about including, Cynefin (that’s pronounced ‘Kuh-ni-fin’ if I have remembered correctly) in her own words this is “a framework for making sense of the world, and for approaching different situations and problems depending on how much certainty or uncertainty they have.” Liz also explained to us some of the limitations of acceptance criteria. Some of these subjects and more are covered on her website.

Bridging the gap between developers and designers with Sass at theguardian.com – Kaelig

Kaelig is a front-end developer at The Guardian, giving the 1st in one of two talks under ‘The Guardian Section‘, Kaelig’s talk included techniques for how web developers and designers can work better in tandem with one and other using CSS pre-processors such as Sass, he also showed us The Guardians implementation of these tools along with ones they have developed themselves such as sass-mq a sass mixin that helps with manipulating media queries in an elegant way. One thing that I was not aware of before Kaelig’s talk is that The Guardian have actually open sourced a lot of their code on GitHub

Ship it!: A story of continuous delivery & front-end ops at theguardian.com – Patrick Hamann

In the second of the two ‘The Guardian section’ talks, Patric Hamann (Senior client-side engineer at The Guardian) covered how him and his team ship software. Many areas of their Continuous delivery and deployment process were covered during the talk and Patric also explained how they have benefitted from theie implementation of Feature Switching. A key point of their Continuous delivery was ‘Ownership’ and how every single member of the team should feel and exercise ownership over the entire project, for some, the thought of every member in the team having the power the deploy at any time is quite a scary one, but Patric made a great case as to how and why it has worked for them.

Harnessing the power of Panic Driven Development – Phil Bennett

Phil is a web developer at Carswell Gould his talk focused on his 13 step development methodology PDD. The PDD methodology had everyone entertained and laughing but also lead to a serious and interesting point: Sometimes working in a smaller agency sticking to a single methodology won’t work for you, one example he gave was “For agile to work in a small agency, you need client buy in.” this can be costly for a client and therefore maybe unlikely to happen. Phil elaborated on this point by explaining how he recommends a more ‘Pick ‘n’ mix’ approach and how this has worked for him, his team and clients.

Group Minds and Individual Personalities – Richard Evans

Richard Evans is an award winning AI Researcher known among other things for his work on ‘The Sims’ and ‘Black and White’ video games. Not originally listed on the re:develop ‘speakers’ this talk came as a nice surprise. The primary focus of this talk was on his AI engine Versu a version of which you can see in the game ‘Blood and Laurels’ (Available on the App Store). The amazing thing about this AI is that each AI character has its own goals and ambitions as well as being contextually aware. At one point in the talk we were given a demonstration of three AIs having a social debate about weather they think true AI is possible. Richard also explained that the scope of AI is increasing and gave examples where AIs are now actually learning the rules of playing video games.

Things I Believe Now That I’m Old – Ross Tuck

Ross Tuck is a developer and speaker with a great style of presenting, if you’ve not been lucky enough see any of his talks before checkout the one posted on his website. This talk was primarily on developers giving and receiving advice and how to handle and determine the validity of that advice as well as the best ways of putting it into action, he broke advice down into these areas.
1. Consider the source
2. Consider the context
3. Be open to advice
4. Use it
5. Meditate on it
6. Give advice
7. Collect it
Im pretty sure that points from this talk will help not only throughout peoples careers but possibly in everyday life too.

My Thoughts

If there was a theme for this years re:develop then i’m pretty sure that Ross Tuck got it right in saying that the common theme is ‘Context’, context is what we as developers can sometimes miss at any point during a project, we should always strive to get more of it.

“Methods like BDD are on the rise because they’re about gathering context, and it’s all a matter of context.” – Ross Tuck

I would have liked to of gone deeper into this, Unfortunately for me, I was unable to make the after-party this year.

re:develop 2014 was a really strong conference with a great speaker line-up as well as being really well organised, I will be booking my tickets for 2015 and would encourage any other developer to do the same.

You can find even more information on the official re:develop website redevelop.io

Luke Hines

Luke is a husband, father and software engineer who enjoys spending his time in a multitude of technologies. If he's not writing software then he's probably on a motorcycle.

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