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NewCrafts Paris: Conference Summary

A little over a week ago, I attended the NewCrafts conference in Paris. NewCrafts is a conference mainly about software craftmanship, an "ephemeral learning ground for professional developers who care for quality code and bettering their practices", to quote the official website of the conference. Having attended, I can only agree with that description.

This post is an attempt to summarize my experience, and highlight my key takeaways. Videos from all the sessions will eventually be available on the website, so in a future post (probably on our tech blog) I'll try to summarize the sessions I went to, and indicate which of them are worth watching.

Takeaways for a conference first-timer

This wasn't the first time I attended a developer conference, but it was the first time I attended one without the company of colleagues I already knew. I was a little nervous about this, especially since most of the other people there were going to be French and my French is very limited. Then, the day before the conference started, Scott Hanselman blogged this.

There's lots of good stuff there, so I recommend you go read the entire post, but there were a couple of things I found worked extra well for me:

  • Talk to people: A lot of the tips were about meeting people. Approach other attendants in the hallway, connect with speakers, don't be shy, etc. Some of them even came with tips on conversation starters. It's much easier to approach a stranger in an unfamiliar environment if you already have a couple of ways to get the talk going!
     
  • Take notes: I just drew on the conference schedule to indicate what sessions I attended. That way I found it easier to go back and remember what I did and what I learned. I also made sure to tweet at least once from every session I attended (and over the two-day conference, I probably doubled my total number of tweets ever...). However, looking back at my tweets, they probably aren't very interesting to anyone else. Still learning :) If you want to read them, find @tlycken and scroll to May 17-18, 2017.
     
  • Don't just listen: Compared to what I had planned when the schedule was initially posted, I attended fewer sessions and more workshops. I also took someone's advice to not stay at a session I found wasn't for me just because it had already started when I figured that out. These in combination led me to the best experience of the entire conference (namely a workshop on Event Sourcing - more on that in a future post!).

Takeaways for a software developer

One of the reasons I wanted to go to this conference in particular, was that it seemed to cater to a type of software professional that I can relate to: one who knows the basic stuff, thinks a lot about more advanced stuff, and is well aware that there is lots left to learn. This turned out to be a pretty accurate impression.

The feeling I walk away with, is a growing confidence in trying other ways to do software development than the "traditional" do too little research, write a CRUD-based system, try to fix bugs in production. At least in the projects I've worked on, many efforts that fall into that box have ended up there because someone felt they were "safe", or "well-tested", or less risky expressed in some other way. I walk away from NewCrafts with renewed confidence that there are other ways, and that some of them might be much better.

I also walk away with a growing confidence and sense of direction for my own personal development. NewCrafts inspired me to hone both my "hard" and "soft" skills, ranging from working more with e.g. functional programming, containers and event sourcing, to striving to become a "well-rounded" architect, to steal the words of Pat Kua in his keynote.

Many of the ideas are in no way new, and some of them are not even new to me. Still, being reminded and re-inspired is always a good thing. I'll defer the details to a future post about the sessions I attended.

Takeaways for the community

I can't help myself but to bring up a couple of things I noticed about the people and topics at the conference, that makes me draw conclusions about the community in general:

  • We might not find people who know that tech is no longer a valid argument
    I've always found the introduction of new tech, or new ways of organizing a team, with a client difficult, if the thing in question isn't already on a list of top 5 or so technologies and methodologies already in use in the industry. The main question should be "does this solve our problem?" but instead I often hear objections along the lines of when you're not here anymore, where are we going to find someone who knows X? The people and the sessions at NewCrafts showed me that the industry is full of software professionals who know about stuff that's not necessarily in the middle of the mainstream - and even more of us that are eager to learn.

    Thus, being reluctant to introducing new stuff (nb: stuff that could help solve your problem), because you're afraid you won't find people who know it, is an effective way to hold yourself and your team back. Instead, put a job ad out that asks for the techs, and see how many hits you get!
     
  • Diversity is possible!
    At the conference, half the keynote speakers and a quarter of speakers overall were women. Compared to the industry average, these are pretty high numbers, and I find this very encouraging!

    When talking about the lack of women in our industry, (and in many male-dominated settings in general) I often hear people complain that there are too few examples of successful women to use as role models. The speaker rooster at NewCrafts proved that idea emphatically wrong. (And it has probably been wrong all the time - I've just got yet another way to show it now.)
     
  • ...but there's still a long way to go
    On the other hand, except for the speakers, there were very few women in attendance. There were, in general, very few people who weren't very much like me - white men between 25 and 40, in the audience. Letting a bunch of awesome women show off their skills in keynotes and other sessions will hopefully move things in the right direction, but we can't sit back just yet... ;)

    It should be noted that NewCrafts made a very deliberate effort in this direction, something which I deeply appreciate. Except for bringing in a lot of good talent to the stage, all the rooms were named for famous women in computing, and the organizers have signed the Diversity Charter.

Ending notes

All in all, NewCrafts 2017 was a very pleasant experience. In every aspect - from the software and practices to the beer brewed specifically for the occasion - there was a glow of passion for craftsmanship, pride in doing stuff well, and eagerness to do even better. I'm very happy that I got to go this year, and I'm hoping for a reprise in May 2018!

Tomas LyckenNewCrafts