Developer conferences are awesome. Well, the one at Microsoft was great… ok, I had only been to one conference as a developer. There are plenty of others that looked fantastic, but I prioritised my previous job over trying to attend them, and thought the likelihood of similarly-large conferences being staged local to Bournemouth was unlikely soon. Thus, when a few devs at Unicorn voiced their interest in the re:develop 2014 event, I was really happy to be given a ticket to find out what I’d been missing these past few years.

Let’s start by stating the obvious, at least for us lucky locals: this was hilariously easy to reach. Traffic is not often a problem, plus the Pavilion is simple to navigate, meaning I arrived in under ten minutes. The food provided throughout the day was excellent, and left us with no excuse but to sit back and enjoy some great presentations. Of those, the ones I had anticipated the most, namely 10 things learnt from 2 years on GOV.UK from Tom Byers, and Ship it!: A story of continuous delivery & front-end ops at theguardian.com from Patrick Hamann, were as good as hoped, but I was unexpectedly blown away by Group Minds and Individual Personalities from Richard Evans. I briefly studied Artificial Intelligence in my final year at university, and haven’t yet been able to apply the techniques commercially, so was really pleased to witness a funny and excellent demonstration of its application to games. Or pub football banter between ‘bots of different eras!

Group Minds and Individual Personalities by Richard Evans

Everyone will have learnt and been inspired by different points from the day. If it helps, here are some of mine:

  • Users forgive you if they can still get to the things they need, even if your site is effectively broken.
  • Does your form work as a conversation?
  • Screen readers rely on good-quality markup.
  • Having conversations is more important than capturing or automating Behaviour-Driven Development.
  • Start by assuming you are wrong.
  • Stakeholder stories are different to user ones, e.g. a user doesn’t want the bank to actually debit their account!
  • Mitigate risk via small changes using continuous delivery.
  • Deployment in a continuous delivery environment is still manual, as automation led to complacency.
  • Software apoptosis: use a switch to enable a feature and judge its success before it expires after a set time-frame.
  • AI is used in customer care to judge personality, categorise problems, etc.
  • A high standard is the standard.

Check out the great visual notes taken throughout the day, too.

Interestingly, the overall theme that emerged from the conference was conversation, but not just from the sources I had originally expected. I only briefly attended the after party — although did manage a couple of cheeky ciders whilst talking to colleagues and a funny Python dev — because I left to meet local friends and family, to host a good mate from uni. I had also spent most of the day with another good friend, again from our course at Bournemouth university. It’s been six years since we finished, and many of us are still in touch, and I find talking to them as inspiring as ever, so the conference helped prolong those inevitable tech discussions. Overall, I have been left with a little more to become excited about, investigate further, and hopefully use to improve the products that I help develop, so for that, the day was well worth the investment. Thanks everyone; let’s hope it becomes an annual pilgrimage.