JAX London

I spent two days this week at JAX London – a conference for Java Developers that runs every six months in London. As always it was well organised and had great speakers – I particularly enjoyed James Governer’s keynote and was a bit sad that he had trouble rousing the audience who I suspect had enjoyed the free beer from Atlassian the night before. But James was philosophical about it – as he said, the beer and networking is a pretty important part of the conference.

In a recent post Barry talked about the value of developers attending conferences. In most of my post-conference posts I take a few minutes to rant (mildly) about employers that don’t understand the benefits of sending their developers to this kind of event. But I won’t this time – partly because Barry has said it so well  already and partly because the economy is tough, some people really are struggling to just keep going. So, if you are a software developer in a company where you can see the directors frantically trying to raise another round of venture capital, or where you know they have just lost their best client, or if you can see the stock price plummeting – hang on in there, give them your support and be prepared to look after your own education for a bit. Look out for JAX discounts from the LJC and come to our Open Conference on Saturday 26th November. On the other hand – if your directors are still flying first class and have just awarded themselves another ludicrous bonus – maybe it’s time to question their sincerity when the say they can’t afford to look after your professional development. Time to move on perhaps?

Just like everyone else who attended JAX, I have come back with a whole bunch of new ideas, enough to keep me busy for another six months anyway. I’ve started on one already and it’s going to be a-ma-zing!




Monki Gras

Monki Gras was the best conference I’ve been to for a long time. I have been to some very good conferences over the past few years, so being the best is quite good.  That’s a nice English understatement.

I spent a while this afternoon analysing why it was so good. This is the list of things that I want get from attending a conference -


  • To come away with at least 2 ideas to follow up – maybe 3 or 4, but no more than that.
  • To be given sketches, glimpses of what different technologies can do – but I mainly don’t want a whole lot of detail on how.
  • To get the ‘vision thing’.
  • To be entertained.
  • To catch up with old friends and make a few new ones.


Monki Gras gave me all of this and more, and I’m tired because it was also hard work. I’m also full of energy and enthusiasm for …. well you may have to wait and see.

PHP UK Conference

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a PHP conference. I stopped actively contributing to PHP in mid 2009 when my IBM job changed. Of course, I had hoped to continue in my spare time but I found learning about OSGi took up all my IBM time and all my spare time. In November last year I finally had time to get re-engaged with PHP and volunteered to do what I could to help organise the PHP UK conference. I will doing a much longer write up of the conference for the Web and PHP magazine, so this is just a short post on a couple of personal highlights.

The first thing I want to say is that it’s been a huge pleasure to be part of the conference team. PHP was the first developer community I got involved in and it was a delight to see how much had changed in two years and how much, the warmth and friendliness, was still the same.

That leads on to my second point. Rasmus Lerdorf gave the first conference keynote and the message I took away from that is that PHP still needs more contributors – in particular we need people to fix bugs. If you are bored – and especially if you work on Windows – please try this:


and see if you can help us fix a bug?

The best talks always teach me something and leave me with a picture. June Henrikson (Redpill Linpro) gave a talk about creativity in which she explained something I knew already but was reluctant to believe because I didn’t have have a good mental picture for it. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve sat in front of a screen trying to solve a problem, knowing that it was taking too long and that I was tired, but just fixated on staying at the keyboard until I cracked the problem. Deep down I always knew that the best answer with that sort of problem is to take a break – here is  why:

Dual CPU model of the brain

Imagine your brain as having two CPUs, one side (CPU1) does the analytical problem solving part and it’s operating while you are concentrating on trying to fix a bug, solve a technical problem etc. While that side is using the memory bus the other side of your brain (CPU2) has no access to memory. When you stop using CPU1, for example – go for a walk, get a cup of tea, you give CPU2 a chance to start working on your problem – which it does as a background process. Eventually – given enough time, CPU2 will deliver a solution, it will feel as though it has just popped into your head. In summary – if you have a difficult problem to solve -  force yourself to take regular breaks.

It’s probably slightly bad form to list my own talk was a highlight – but it was for me. I was a little nervous about doing it the way I did – I owe a huge apology to the people who thought I was serious to start with. In fact I meant almost precisely the opposite of almost everything that I said. I was calling out bad development management practices which I have seen, and even been part of, in large organisations. There was one final twist that (if you don’t know IBM that well) most people probably missed. IBM’s newly appointed president and CEO is a “Lady Cat”. I am ridiculously proud of this fact – also that she holds a degree in Computer Science so is an example of someone that started as an engineer and is a hugely successful manager.

I would love to extend the “Misguided manager” talk – but I need a few more examples. Mail me if you have one and I’ll try to work it in.

There were many outstanding talks at the conference, Hugh Williams gave some fascinating insights into Ebay, Stefan Marek talked about the journey towards CI at Plusnet, Ian Barber talked about why fraud detection is so complex, Patrick Allaert gave a great talk on how to implement complex data types efficiently. All of the talks were recorded and will be made available within the next couple of weeks. I am looking forward to watching the ones I missed – in particular Davey Shafik’s “PHP 5.4: The new bits” which I somehow managed to miss on both days.