af83

Mix-it

Last week, the Mix-it conference took place and three aviators (@nono, @shakaman and myself) were in Lyon for the event. For those who are not familiar with it, the conference is centered on two main topics, agility and development, plus some alien subjects. You could pick between talks (40 minutes), or lengthier workshops (2 hours) ; the full planning of the events is available here. We tried to split up a bit to cover more ground, but there were way too many things for us to see everything…

In the audience, there was a majority of Java developers, some agile coaches and various kinds of consultants, so one may have believed that the conference would be a bit "corporate", but thankfully not so much. Of course, there was quite a bit of Java, but fortunately for us, the subjects of the talks were well distributed, so you could always dodge these talks. (You would sometimes find a bit of Java hidden in a seemingly harmless presentation, but let's say it was in tolerable doses).

Agility

There was a handful of talks about project management (good to see that more folks are seriously considering agility). As a developer it is always good to get some perspective from the "manager's" point of view, and I found some real insight on what the title scrum master actually means. As pointed out by Angel Medinilla, this title is never mentionned in the founding literature of the Agile movement, although he has an essential role in the transition that leads to self organized teams.

There was an interesting experience feedback from Anne-Sophie Tranchet and Olivier Servieres (from TEA) on the agile practises of their development team. Once again, it was good to have some real-world views of agile practices, and examples of adaptation to the specific situation of a team. Working systematically with Pull Requests to ensure code review seems a bit extreme to me, but I guess that coupled with a continuous integration plugin to build and merge feature-branches, giving a quick overview of everyone's progress, it wouldn't be so bad.

On another matter, Jonathan Bonzy presentation on the lean startup methodology was also a great one. He explained the theory of making hypothesis, and validating them with relatively rapid iterations, but with pragmatic and funny anecdotes from his own company, Une Petite Mousse (It was even possible to win a few dégustation beers during the talk!). But beware, rapid iterations do not mean rushing into decisions, actually, collecting relevant data takes time. You will have to find the good medium if you want this method to work for you. He also insisted on the importance of good metrics, that will lead to the right decisions for the current hypothesis.

Development

On the development side of the event, the diversity of the subjects was quite impressive. Front-end, Back-end, Devops, Continuous delivery, … Here are some of the talks we attended.

Paul O'Shanessy made an interesting point on the problem faced by most of the JavaScript applications that interact with the DOM: it is slow and painful to work with. We have built some heavy single page applications, and we know the incidental complexity that arises from the DOM handling.

A typical Backbone example is when you want your views to update partially on some model changes. Nest those views in a hierarchy, powder with a generous amount of interactivity, and you just made yourself a rendering nightmare, which of course rapidly degrades into a performance problem. Although you could add a lot of unnecessary complexity to your views, in an attempt to speed up rendering (and you may very well succeed), it will also become more painful, and you will be all the more reluctant to make further changes.

Paul presented React, which tackles this exact problem with interesting new concepts, for example their shadow DOM. I think we will be playing with it at af83 to see what it has under the hood.

Aliens

In addition to development and agility thematics, the organizers have included what they call "alien" talks. For example, the first workshop I attended was a drawing workshop (by Angel Medinilla). My mastery of the stick man is still rather limited, but I guess it could come in handy.

The last talk we all attended was Consulting secrets for effective communication, by the very entertaining Jeffrey Davidson. If you are wondering how you could get a whole lecture hall to strike a Superman pose, he is probably your guy. Some of his advice were surprising, for example the fact that simply by assuming a "power pose", a person is "chemically" wired to show more confidence. So fake it until you make it!

All in all…

All in all, we had a pretty good time. The organizers made an awesome job of animating the event. The after-party, organised on a boat (free beer is always a compelling reason to attend), is just one example of that. It was nowhere cheap except for the actual price. See you there next year!

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