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March 23, 2009

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QCon London 2009 – A huge breath of air before a long apnea in the IT real world

March 22, 2009

QCon Badge

That’s a long time since I didn’t post here. After 4 days at QCon London and one week of ski in Argentière, I decided I would bend the rules of this blog by exposing my feelings, here about QCon.

To make it short, it was a great moment of thoughts and convivial discussions. It is by far the best conference and IT event I attended so far for different reasons:

  • It covers an extremely broad spectrum of the IT World. With 5 main tracks at the same time during the whole days, the content is well diversified: Languages (functional, mainstream, …), Architecture, SOA, Agile, Performances, Finance and a newly very original track about Historically bad ideas.
  • The panel of speaker is incredible: Sir Tony Hoare (Quicksort inventor and much more), Martin Fowler, Joe Armstrong (father of Erlang), Rich Hickey (Clojure inventor), Ola Bini (JRuby developer and more), Rod Johnson (Spring Inventor), Dan North, Eric Evans (Mister DDD), and many more… Now you have an idea of the amount of experience and research accumulated by such a group of people.
  • It is not polluted all around with commercial presentation with stuff to sell.
  • The organization was very good, conference center is quite central (my hotel was 20min walk from there) and comfortable, wifi, food (very good for such event!), a free beer night for speakers and audience.
  • I had the chance to meet Floyd and other editors from InfoQ (Dionysios, Stefan, Ryan, Diana, Sadek, Werner, Mirko, David, Jon, Roxanne, Alex) and we had a pleasant time in restaurants and pub.

Now getting back to the presentation it started with a Keynote from Sir Tony Hoare about scientist and engineers and how to qualify software development. This is very well summarized by Gojko. This was definitely a great introduction to QCons.

Unfortunately I did a mistake by choosing Architectures in Financial Applications track. As a developer for various financial institution and vendor, I was expecting striking real world finance applications, but I was mostly disappointed. I didn’t learn much from it. And it was a wise decision to part this track and attend Martin Fowler presentation instead. In Three years of real-world Ruby, Martin talked about his feedbacks on the 64 (or 63.. I cannot remember) projects done at ThoughtWorks. Martin is a brilliant speaker and by relying on a nice metric his whole presentation was convincing. That’s too bad I was too shy to ask Martin this question: 10 years ago, cool kids were doing Java, 5 years ago they were doing Ruby, today cool kids are working with Haskell, or Erlang, do you plan to follow the cool kids again and give a presentation about Three years of real-world Functional programming in QCon 2012? But well I had an idea of the answer in the multi-paradigm IT world we live in today.

This first QCon day ended with QCon Conference Party in a pub not far from the conference center, with free beers and serious talks with Stefan Tilkov, Werner, … and less serious ones about wine and miscellaneous stuff with Cameron Purdy, and other attendees. Was nice to see such people like Ola, Kirk Pepperdine or Rod Johnson hanging around with a pint.

I spent the second day on the Functional and Concurrent Programming Languages Applied track which was led by Francesco Cesarini. The high moment of the day was the presentation by Rich Hickey about Persistent Data Structures and Managed References about states, process, identity and applications to Clojure. Multicore Programming in Erlang was also quite interesting. This whole track convinced me to have a closer look at Clojure, but also confirmed my choice to learn a functional language in 2009 which is the reason why I came back in Paris with Real World Haskell book in my bag (Yeah I know, Erlang is cool and was well covered during QCon but a friend advised me to have a look at Haskell). At the end, I learnt many concepts and ideas that could be applied in my day-to-day job or side projects. Second day ended with a pleasant time with InfoQ editors at a restaurant.

Third day was again very rich intellectually. I followed most of the Historically bad ideas track. This track was a very original good idea. But as Aino Corry stated, convincing speakers to participate to such a track was far from being a piece of cake (we all have our egos ;)), unless… Sir Tony Hoare would be part of the track. His Null References: The Billion Dollar Mistake session was a good historical overview of what lead him to introduce Null References. Later I parted the Historically bad ideas track to join Systems that never stop, with Joe Armstrong introducing Erlang (A language for programming reliable systems). He introduced Erlang and why he invented it (for Ericsson Telecom Infrastructures). Relying on quotes from prestigious sources, Joe outlined the six laws Erlang is based on:

  • Isolation
  • Concurrency
  • Must Detect Failure
  • Fault Identification
  • Live Code Upgrade
  • Stable Storage

If you need all this, Erlang should be a good candidate for you. The presentation was one of the best I attended and Joe made it a very pleasant moment.

To finish this last day, I decided to attend the interview with Tony Hoare and another one about REST for SOA: Using the Web for Integration with Ian Robinson & Jim Webber. Apart from being very charismatic persons, Ian and Jim are very pragmatic architects, and Stefan asked them the perfect questions.

We had a last dinner with Floyd and InfoQ team, and some more beers at the pub.

So well, as soon as the videos are out on InfoQ, you must absolutely have a look at the following presentations:

  • Opening Keynote: The Science of Computing and the Engineering of Software by Sir Tony Hoare,
  • Null References: The Billion Dollar Mistake by Sir Tony Hoare,
  • Erlang: A language for programming reliable systems by Joe Armstrong,
  • Persistent Data Structures and Managed References by Rich Hickey.

And interviews:

  • REST for SOA: Using the Web for Integration with Ian Robinson & Jim Webber.

Now some random thoughts:

  • It’s funny to see the success of retro-engineering and empiric architectures or languages: REST, Erlang. Compared to Sun’s first-specify-then-implement approach.
  • QCon is a tasty moment for a computer science enthusiast like me but well it’s so frustrating to see the IT enterprise reality: java, java and java and the rest only for the Happy Few… And in big structures even when you would be pushing to adopt more suited solutions discovered at QCon (or wherever: blogs, …), there will always be a higher ranked guy who is reluctant to changes and everything it implies.

I just wish I had chosen a different track instead of the Financial one on the first day. It should be interesting to have a small fun and provocative introductory session next time on How to schedule your QCon, what to avoid. I already imagine Jim Webber presenting this and nagging Martin Fowler. But seriously this is a very hard task. Basically you’re never disappointed by big names, so you should favor them but still you can be surprised by other small sessions.

All in all, the feedbacks I had from people in the audience, and speakers or people on the net tend to confirm my opinion that QCon London 2009 was a great success. I’d like to thank Floyd, and the whole InfoQ Team for this great moment.