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If you attended DevDays in Cambridge, post your thoughts about it here. Links to blogs are also welcome.

DevDays reviews

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Also, if you attended DevDays: You lucky ducks!! I wanted to go so bad... whine, whine –  Randolpho Mar 24 '10 at 18:23
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6 Answers

(In true Atwood style) I've actually written a blog post about this.

Also I recorded a video of Jeff's talk which can be found on Vimeo if anyone is interested.

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Great quality video :) –  Ólafur Waage Oct 31 '09 at 12:48
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Cambridge
As a first visit to Cambridge it has a strange intellectual aura that made me feel like a philistine. Globalization doesn't seem to have made its way into the campus, only in the city center which was nice, but also threatened me as a Londoner! So many cyclists, and it's obviously socially acceptable to ride on the pavement in Cambridge.

8:00 - 9:00 Registration
A free goodie bag from Redgate at the start was a nice touch, and with a t-shirt!

9:00 - 9:50 Joel Spolsky
The scrubs themed video and Joel were an entertaining start. The conclusion was Apple products have the simplicity versus features mix just right

9:50 - 10:50 Christian Heilmann Yahoo! Developer Tools
Following Joel, Chris was also interesting and got a fair amount of laughs. I wondered what business use of the YQL service could be (besides for Web 2.0 startups). I already knew about YQL and the apis in similar detail to the talk but others were impressed.

Christian had said he worked on Yahoo Answers - I wanted to ask what he thought of Jeff + Joel's opinions of Yahoo Answers but didn't get the chance. Maybe he's already answered it.

10:50 - 11:20 Break
The coffee queue - the hall for coffee and lunch had real access issues and meant a long queue to get in. It would've probably been better if we had all just been given a Starbucks sized paper cup, and left the catering staff out of it. Developers want huge quantities of coffee!

11:20 - 12:20 Frank Stajano Seven principles for systems security
Frank works at Cambridge University as a lecturer in CS. This was the weakest talk of the day in my view, it consisted of mostly watching The Real Hustle and bullet points of the scams. The scams didn't really tie into anything software related and it may sound cynical, but I thought Frank was more use to academic lecturing instead of faster flowing conference talks. I don't think Joel was happy by the over run too.

12:20 - 12:50 Joel Spolsky Fogbugz
Joel's fogbugz sales pitch followed. My non-stackoverflow afficiendo co-workers were slightly bemused by having a sales pitch in a paid conference, atleast not during lunch or coffee. Personally I didn't mind, I haven't used Fogbugz professional since 2005 but it looks like it has a lot more to it since then. One gap I noticed is that (atleast what I'm use to) Scrum and agile methodologies are typically no more than 3-4 man teams, but parts of the demo were based around larger teams. I suppose not the entire conference uses scrum + agile though.

12:50 - 13:50 Lunch
Long queues for a very small amount of food consisting of bhajis, sausage rolls and thumbnail sized sandwiches - a fault of Cambridge University and not Carsonified. The table arrangement and small room size meant it was hard to get to the food, but I'm a fatso who likes a 600 cal lunch.

13:50 - 14:50 Steven Sanderson ASP.NET-MVC
The best talk of the day in my view. Steven had prepared everything well so there was no watching him code and was obviously aware of how to keep the audience interested. The talk had lots of MVC 2.0 features, and only a few minor 'missing-curly' style incidents.

Submit buttons are sexist

14:50 - 15:50 Remy Sharp jQuery
For people who hadn't used jQuery before (which was about half the audience) this would've been a useful introduction. For the other half it was likely to be less useful as it tended to be mostly overview. There was some more in depth selector information though and the talk went smoothly, apart from the twitter part at the end.

This is the bacon demo he didn't have time to show.

Michael Foord's Python talk was reasonable but I'm not a fan of the language, nor ever see myself using it. Jeff's talk I had been given a spoiler for from previous confererences but was largely entertaining.

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You think Cambridge cyclists are bad? I had only got to the other side of the street from Amsterdam Central station yesterday evening when a cyclist came very close to knocking me down. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Oct 31 '09 at 17:46
    
@Tom: welcome to Amsterdam :) –  Stephan202 Nov 1 '09 at 13:13
    
Cambridge University doesn't have a campus. The older colleges are in the centre of town, as are many of the departments. Newer colleges (such as Robinson, which is where we were) are on the outskirts. Also, although there are many bad cyclists in Cambridge, I suspect what might have caught you out is that many pavements in Newnham (where Robinson is) are explicitly marked as dual use. –  Robin Newton Nov 15 '09 at 20:48
    
Actually the pavements that weren't marked dual use had cyclists on (from the station), and ones that had no markings had people happily flying down them. I didn't bother me particularly –  Chris S Nov 16 '09 at 22:19
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Content

When I signed up originally, the topic list left me nonplussed - the question gnawing at me was: what would I get out of it? Few topics came close to my coding solar system - which is basically in-house desktop stuff, no web, no web pages: it seemed to kill off most of the talks in terms of relevance for me.

But hey, glad I went along despite my reservations. I've dabbled in the web from time to time, just never for money, and the talks on Yahoo Developer Tools, jQuery, ASP .NET MVC, let me know that web development really has moved forward since the last time I sniffed around that particular patch. jQuery got me interested in Javascript again. The ASP .NET MVC went a bit over my head as I've never worked in any form of ASP before.

The security talk didn't offer much of a concrete takeaway, although it was interesting. I guess my favourite was the Python talk which I followed all the way through; Python's devotion to indentation won my heart years ago, but I'd never spent any time with the language, so this was the time to rekindle those feelings. I was actually more interested in hearing about the Excel-replacement from Michael's employer but Michael didn't stay for the drinks afterwards, so I'll have to stalk him through the internet. [That reminds me- what do you say to a software development celebrity like Joel Spolsky that you've been following since 2001 when you meet him for the first time? Do you say how pleased you are to meet him in person? No, you ask if Michael is coming to the drinks because it's him you want to talk to =) ]

Keynotes are keynotes and well there's nowt to say about them apart from: I hope Joel uploads the opening video to the web when Dev Days is done.

I had no complaints with the commerical presentations, considering how cheap the conference was. There was no deception here. At least it wasn't like one of those panels where speakers subvert a discussion to promote their product. The oddest thing was I came away with little idea of Red Gate's products! (I found it difficult to hear the Red Gate presentation clearly and their own stand was more about recruitment than what they sell, which is developer tools I understand)

I'm not a great fan of live coding, it takes me back to my mathematics lectures in uni- at a certain point you'd lose your balance and then that was it, the rest of the lecture would be gobbledigook until you went home and studied it. I managed to keep up with the Python code, but I got lost in the web ones (maybe because of background, who knows).

Venue

I'd heard the complaints about the London venue but the smaller, more cosy size of the Cambridge conference seemed to work in its favour. There were a few queues and it got a bit tight in the eat/drink area but it wasn't bad, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the day. There were also some issues with lighting and sound in the auditorium, something to do with the control room having the same characteristics as solitary confinement.

EDIT: I would add it seemed way too far from the train station with taxi being your best bet.

Copying DNA

One of the things I was hoping to do was meet a number of developers beyond my cramped desk in London, and I don't feel there was enough time to get to know people. We were even encouraged to cut lunch short to attend an optional Red Gate presentation. I think perhaps the day was a bit too dense as Jon Skeet alluded to for the London day - but not sure what I'd advocate "cutting", and expanding to two days would drastically change the economics of the event.

There was nowhere to go to if you wanted to skip a presentation and just meet up with the people. Those who weren't interested in a talk would crack open the Wi-Fi. It amuses me that the organisers (you know who you are) thought developers would prefer sitting in the dark with their laptop as a companion than outside with real people. Where on Earth did that stereotype come from? Ah yes, that was Jeff. He was barely off his laptop all day =)

Were You Glad You Went?

Yes.

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I was using my laptop to answer meta questions! :) –  Jeff Atwood Nov 2 '09 at 11:10
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I attended the StackOverflow DevDays event in Cambridge yesterday, here's my review now I've had a little time to compose my thoughts...

Overall I enjoyed it lots - I saw lots of interesting bits and pieces that I want to go back and investigate properly. Here's the session-by-session breakdown:

Keynote - Joel Spolsky
Joel's theme was Simplicity vs Power and the (perceived) paradox that giving users more choice makes them less happy. It was an interesting session with some food for thought about UI design.

Yahoo Developer Tools - Christian Heilmann
I'd expected this to be about the YUI Yahoo Javascript library, however it was actually more about creating mashups using Yahoo's YQL library. Which is fine because YQL seems very cool. It takes SQL and applies it to the Internet- sites like Flickr and Yahoo Maps look like tables and can be joined, so you could, say, put up a map and overlay it with pictures taken in the appropriate places.
One thing that was very impressive was Christian's use of the tools to create a tag predictor for StackOverflow, which when you type a question, looks at what you've typed and uses it to generate a set of tags for the question - I expect we'll see this implemented on the site before too long. An audio recording of Christian's talk is here.

Seven Principles for Systems Security - Frank Stajano
This talk showed the principles by which people get scammed, whether in a shell game in the real world, or as part of a 419 fraud. Frank used video from BBC's The Real Hustle to demonstrate some of these principles. Unfortunately I didn't think there was enough linking of the principles to designing security into systems, so whilst it was an interesting session, it was only generically so. Frank's original paper can be found here.
(I should mention that I don't think I'd fall for the scam involving the honeytrap - I'm a geek, if a pretty girl starts talking to me, I'm instantly suspicious!)

FogBugz - Joel Spolsky
I saw Joel last time he came to Cambridge on the FogBugz World Tour, so I'd seen much of this before. The section on Kiln was new though, and it looks interesting. It does however rely on an available Internet connection - our company lost our main Internet feed last year for about six weeks, we'd have been boned if we'd been using it then.

ASP.NET MVC - Steve Sanderson
This was a tour through developing an application using the MVC stack for ASP.NET, although ASP.NET MVC 2.0 would have been a more accurate title as Steve used the MVC 2 bits for all his code. Which was no bad thing, and it was really interesting to see him using jQuery, including jQueryUI - I did feel that this session and the session after it would have worked better the other way round, with an intro to jQuery first and then showing it 'hands-on' integrating with ASP.NET. Steve went through it all really quickly, which I think may have worked against him a bit as he was on after lunch, however for a change in the first afternoon session of a conference I managed to stay awake and interested!

jQuery - Remy Sharp
This was an overview of the core jQuery library, and although Remy was an engaging presenter, I felt it suffered a bit in trying to go through everything that jQuery covers, I thought it would have worked better in focussing on some of the common tasks that developers need to address with JavaScript and showing how using jQuery makes it easier/less code etc. One thing Remy did cover was how to create a jQuery plugin, which takes a lot less code than I'd anticipated. At the end of the session Remy started to use jQuery to build a tag cloud based on the Twitter lists he's on, which was getting really interesting until he ran out time. I thought he was going to finish coding it in the break and then show it at the start of the next session, but actually he finished and demoed it in the break, so I missed it :-(

Python - Michael Foord
The last technical session of the day was on IronPython, which is something I've flirted with learning now and again. Michael demonstrated using it to build a spell checker which uses the algorithm that Google uses when you mistype something and it comes back with 'Did you mean...'. Which is done in 21 lines of code and uses some statistical analysis based on some source text like a dictionary, the works of Shakespeare etc. It works out every permutation of letters based on what you typed and compares it to every word in the source text to find the most likely word you meant e.g. in the source text 'the' occurred about 80 000 times, meaning if you type 'teh' it's most likely you meant 'the' and that's what it matches you up with. Michael then demonstrated that the results of the algorithm can be fed into itself enabling it to correct two errors in a word. Very neat and worth some investigation.

StackOverflow - Jeff Atwood
Jeff talked about the evolution of the StackOverflow trilogy, the team, StackExchange and the importance of having someone hate you. He talked about how it's OK to fail sometimes as that means you are pushing the boundaries. But his main thrust wasn't particularly about coding at all, it was more about the importance of writing, which he said is probably the single most important skill for developers. He backed this up with quotes from people like Douglas Crockford and Jon Skeet. As part of this, he revealed the etymology of the Strunk and White badge on the SO sites - it comes from this book, which certainly in the UK I don't think is known at all (I think this may be the closest equivalent). (Jeff said on the way to the pub that he accidentally localised the site to the USA with this badge!)
As a result of seeing Jeff's thoughts on this, I resolve to try and write better SO answers!

On to the infrastructure:
Even though I've worked in Cambridge for years, the colleges aren't somewhere I'm really familiar with. So although my satnav got me to the right road, I was then looking for the college. And I nearly drove right past it whilst looking for a sign for a car park. Which then led to my discovery that there was no car park - I ended up parking down a side street where I think I got just about the last space.
Check-in was good - I'd expected there might have been a problem as I originally registered for the London day, then switched to Cambridge. Amiando would only let me print out a London ticket, but in the event there was no issue at all with this. And it was nice to run into my old friend Graham Parker helping out.
The food was fine - having seen some of the talk on Twitter from London about what had happened there, I was a little concerned about this. I didn't try the biscuits or the fruit cake, but the main finger buffet lunch was fine, particularly the sausage rolls! I have to say, though, that having seen the tables laid out in the refectory, I'd expected we were actually having a sit-down lunch. The coffee was OK, not great by any means but it contained caffeine which, let's face it, is the important thing.
In the hall itself I found the chairs pretty comfortable, but I'd have preferred chairs with a fold-out desk that you could have put a pad on to make notes.
The big annoyance for me was the wi-fi - I was accessing it on my phone, which meant that I kept having to put the key in and then accept the terms & conditions. I would have thought an open connection would have been easier for everyone.

All in all, a solid day's learning - I'll most likely be back next year!

(Cross-posted from my blog at http://diaryofadotnetdeveloper.blogspot.com/2009/10/stackoverflow-devdays-cambridge-review.html)

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I'm in the UK and I have a copy of Strunk & White right here on the shelf above my desk. –  Dan Dyer Oct 31 '09 at 18:24
    
The implication I got from Jeff is that it's a book everyone uses in secondary (high) school, whereas I'm not sure there's a UK equivalent. That said I might get a copy now I've found it on Amazon. –  PhilPursglove Oct 31 '09 at 18:51
    
It's a style guide for American English. The closest equivalent in British English is Fowler's Guide to Modern English, which is quite the chunky little tome more like a reference than something you would read through. Nonetheless, language continues to evolve and both books carry baggage from ye past; they are useful but not everyone loves them. –  Joel Goodwin Nov 1 '09 at 0:07
    
Apart from Fowler's (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Modern_English_Usage) there's also Hart's Rules (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hart%27s_Rules) - both hugely influential. –  bananakata Nov 3 '09 at 20:27
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Good conference in great surroundings (for the extended version see my blog post). I didn't like much the joke addressed to Christian Heilmann at the end of his presentation though...

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As I rambled endlessly, I won't crosspost, and I'll just link to my blog. :)

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