This past weekend, Kevin and I made our way to San Francisco to attend CodeConf. This is the second generalist conference that we’ve been to together after last fall’s fantastic Strange Loop in St. Louis. While here at Emma, we are a predominantly Python-based shop, generalist programmer gatherings like CodeConf are great at exposing us to ideas and problems that we didn’t know existed or maybe just haven’t encountered yet.
CodeConf was created and hosted by the folks from Github. This meant the crowd and presentations skewed heavily toward the open source software community. As a company that has benefitted greatly from the products and the community that surrounds open source software, Emma is always eager to find ways to participate and nurture those communities. Everyone on the team is also a big fan of Github, and it was easy to see that we aren’t alone in support of their mission of “social coding.”
All of the talks were interesting and inspiring, but I’ll just touch on a few here that had particular resonance with our current work.
Dr. Nic and the tool fairy
The first presentation was given by Dr. Nic Williams, one of the founders of Engine Yard, a Ruby/Rails hosting company. While making us all laugh with his metaphor of fairies and being dressed in a tutu and wings stolen from his daughter, he gave us some insight into his idea that making great software tools is a worthwhile endeavor. He even talked about the tools he has made that make other tools. Here at Emma, we’ve built a few small tools that help us do things like manage our code and deploy it to our servers. Some are even integral parts of our new platform that we’re building. We hope to open source some of these soon.
Coda Hale and his metrics
The next presentation by Coda Hale, of Yammer, blew Kevin and I away. Coda’s content about measuring and monitoring your application through his metrics project was fantastic, but he also spent the time to delve into some of the underlying algorithms and theories behind the math he was using. The ability to gather metrics about our application is something we’ve been looking into these last few months. The goal is to have a lot of it baked into our new platform when it launches.
Documentation is Important with Jacob Kaplan-Moss
Jacob Kaplan-Moss, of Django fame, gave a succinct and well-reasoned presentation about the value of documentation and its effect on the quality of the community that surrounds a project. If you’ve ever seen Django’s documentation, you’ll understand that he has created a culture of documentation with that project that is pervasive and successful. With our new platform, we’re striving to write quality documentation as we add features. Some of this is to help new developers to get up to speed with the system and start being productive as quickly as possible. The other reason is that we hope that this quality documentation is a nice foundation for the documentation we’ll deliver with our public API.
Jeremy Ashkenas shows us that code is literature
Jeremy Ashkenas of DocumentCloud presented a deeply philosophical walk through how code can be considered literature. He took us from the realization that code is a “new thing” unlike any other creative output humanity has produced, to code as logic, code as law, code as art, and finally code as literature. As a former English teacher, I found this talk especially intriguing. Kevin has a deep interest in linguistics, so we found quite a bit to talk about after this presentation. It was nice to see some of the theoretical underpinnings of software development espoused by Donald Knuth being taken to their logical conclusions. Thinking about this work we do as an art with its own internal structures and metaphors seems esoteric, but drives home the point that we’re creating something from nothing for the hopeful pleasure of others. At Emma, we’ve always had a strong focus on making our customers happy, and this is just one more way that we developers can imbue our application, at its deepest levels, with the ease of use and happiness our customers appreciate.
Wil Shipley on farming and mining
A late addition to the lineup due to another speaker being unable to make it, Wil Shipley gave a talk on the subject of his recent (and somewhat controversial) blog post which discussed differing motivations for creating a software company. Wil’s talk was hilarious at times and hard-hitting at others, with comments like, “When you do a deal with Steve Jobs, he’ll leave you cold, naked and scared in a corner, but still you find yourself whimpering ‘I hope I get to work with him again sometime…’” It’s clear that Wil has a passion for creating great products and a strong sense of integrity, both of which shone through in his talk in a way that I found particularly inspiring.
The startup culture is strong in San Francisco, and CodeConf had its fair share of that energy. It was great to hear some of what’s happening on the bloodiest of the bleeding edge. We’re embarking on some big projects right now, and a little bit of that startup energy goes a long way.