Reflections on Prairie Dev Con 2015

Reflections on Prairie Dev Con 2015

Back at the beginning of June, three of zu’s web developers and I had the opportunity to attend this year’s edition of Prairie Dev Con in Regina. Prairie Dev Con is one of the few tech conferences that makes a regular stop in Saskatchewan, drawing attendees and speakers from across the prairie provinces and beyond. In fact, our own Cory Jacobsen gave a session on “Simplicity: The Power of Boring Technologies”, which he’ll be addressing soon in an upcoming blog post. Like many conferences, Prairie Dev Con sessions range from very focused technical talks to presentations on the “soft” aspects of software development, such as professional growth, company culture, and team building. With four of us attending, we were able to cover a good range of topics over the two days of the conference. Rather than try to write up a summary of all the sessions we attended, I polled the others for their key takeaways and highlights from Prairie Dev Con 2015, and here are the results:

David Wesst’s session “Learning to be IDE Free” was probably my favourite. This idea jives with my simplicity mindset. There was some discussion, though, around the productivity gains afforded by IDE’s like Visual Studio, Eclipse, Intellij, etc. The consensus from the discussion was that a web developer should always know “what’s going on under the hood”. This allows you to make informed decisions when adopting new tools and technologies, and decide when tools like an IDE or source control GUI could be replaced by a text editor and a few shell scripts for a leaner, meaner web development environment.

- Cory Jacobsen, Developer

I found Jessica Watson’s “Creating a Culture that Enables Growth” session particularly interesting. Jessica told her story of growing from a junior web developer to a confident professional, discussion facilitator, and co-leader of Ladies Learning Code in Winnipeg within a few years. She highlighted number of key points about culture and its importance within a company:

  • Culture will influence how successful people become
  • Culture is defined by the people in it
  • Successful cultures empower others
  • Successful cultures are optimistic
  • Successful cultures are growth-oriented

Jessica also shared her five tips from personal growth, which resonated with me:

  • Say ‘yes’ to a challenge
  • Ask questions
  • Get focused
  • Fail fast
  • Follow your fear
- Cindy Mack, Developer

I enjoyed the breadth of topics, from java memory models to advanced web development UI in iOS, and hearing more about technologies that I might not otherwise see in my day to day work. Two of my favourite talks were Steve Rogalsky’s “No Estimates” and “Your Design is Only Mostly Dead”. In “No Estimates,” Rogalsky challenges the notion that agile development teams must estimate stories, and that the real value in agile is building trust between clients and vendors so that more effort can be put into building value instead of trying to nail down timelines and budgets early on in a project. In “Your Design…”, he promoted “diverging and converging” over traditional group brainstorming sessions for designing products and systems. The best designs result from envisioning as individuals and then converging in groups to identify the best candidates and refine iteratively.

A highlight for me was also seeing Adam Barrett, a former co-worker at zu, presenting on new features in JavaScript ES6 and advanced JavaScript development. Conference aside, having two days of energetic shop-talk with my coworkers over dinner and couple of drinks is always a blast.

- Ryan Padget, Developer

At zu, I do the majority of my work in the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache/Nginx, MySQL, PHP), but I cut my web development teeth on .NET back in the 1.1/2.0 days with ASP.NET webforms. I enjoy the flexibility and extensibility of Linux-based open source development, and did not miss the arguably more prescriptive and closed model of development in the .NET world when I transitioned to LAMP development. At Prairie Dev Con, there was a fair bit of excitement around Asp.NET “vNext”, which represents a shift in Microsoft’s vision to embrace open source development and community initiatives.

While not a big part of the conversation at the conference, Microsoft has pledged to make ASP.NET 5 cross-platform, meaning you can write MVC applications that will run on Linux. While this has been previously possible to a degree using the Mono framework, it was never with the official support of Microsoft. Now that the folks in Redmond are officially getting behind Linux (heck, they even announced Miux, their own Linux distro) we’re likely not far off from a “ready for primetime” way of running .NET web apps on Linux. In between sessions, I took the opportunity to spin up an MVC 6 sample application on CentOS 7 using Kestrel fronted by Nginx and was surprised at how relatively painless the process was. I always liked that I had the option to run PHP under Windows and IIS, but I love that I might one day be writing C# and ASP.NET MVC and deploying using Docker on Linux.

- Cam McHugh, Developer

On the drive home from Regina, we all agreed that the conference was a great opportunity to take a step back from our daily work and see what the rest of the world is doing. We were encouraged by the fact that many of the things we do at zu, such as test driven web development, Git version control, Vagrant/Virtual Box web developer environments, automated deployment, configuration management, cloud hosting, etc. align with industry best practice. We were also inspired by the energy and professionalism of many of the presenters, and the idea that in software development, you’re never done learning.