Highlights from Devoxx 2017
At Alfa we work hard to keep our methods current, so we visit the key technology conferences to learn all the latest in best practice and what’s happening in the community in general.
Last week experts gathered at Devoxx 2017, the Java developer community conference. Below, we discuss a few highlights.
Keen to make use of the latest technologies, at Alfa we’re keeping a close eye on Java 9.
There were several practical and interesting talks on Java 9. We were lucky enough to have two heavyweights giving these talks: Mark Reinhold, Chief Architect of the Java Platform Group, and Trisha Gee from JetBrains.
Mark kicked off the conference with a Q&A on Java 9, following it up with a hands-on session showing off some of its features, including the highly anticipated module system. This was particularly pertinent following the announcements a week earlier regarding the objections raised by the Java Executive Committee.
Trisha’s talk also focused on practical applications of Java 9; in particular, looking at the considerations for those upgrading from Java 8 to Java 9. One thing we really like is JShell, a built in REPL (Read-Eval-Print Loop) shipped with Java 9, which makes testing snippets of code quicker and easier.
Leading Technical Teams
This was an interesting and relevant talk aimed at technical people who, through no fault of their own (!), have been asked to lead a development team. There were some very useful insights from Patrick’s career at ThoughtWorks, focusing on how to build good teams.
He suggested that leads should aim to spend 30% of their time with the team, coding, developing, reviewing, and generally trying to understand the direction the code is going in. He also stressed that we should aim for consistency over cleverness in the code base.
When assessing team culture, Patrick said that leads should be asking themselves questions such as: How long do builds stay broken? Do people offer new ideas and are those ideas considered? Do people ask for help? Do people feel OK to admit people are wrong?
He cautioned to “beware of the bad apple”; you may have nine motived and committed team members, but just one person acting negatively can affect the whole team. Patrick also asserted the importance of having a vision within a team. This is a big motivational factor - ensure that there is one, and articulate it, regularly.
Visualising Performance Data
One of the themes of Devoxx 2017 was managing big data, which often means finding creative ways to visualise that data.
Netflix use performance data to generate a neat diagram called a FlameGraph. These visualisations look a little like fire in a retro 80s computer game, and provide a great way for a developer to investigate what code an application spends most of its time running, and why.
It’s exciting to hear about new techniques that we can use to help pinpoint performance improvements in large and complex applications like Alfa Systems.
Learning From Atlassian
In a tech conference, this session was a valuable reminder that people are at the heart of everything we do.
Alfa is a growing organisation and we can learn a lot from Atlassian. In growing from 400 people in two locations to 2000 in eight, they have had to tackle the challenge of developing high-performing teams head-on. They identified a lack of useful resources to provide strong guidance on team development, so produced their own in the form of the Atlassian Playbook, a free online catalogue containing step-by-step guides (“plays”) designed to identify issues and find ways to make your teams great.
Dom pointed out that, although the teams in your organisation might already be great, it’s well worth the time to take a step back and find out for real.
The same track also included a really good “Culture Panel” session, on which Dom was present. It highlighted the importance for organisations of being extremely self-aware when it comes to culture, and what’s appropriate in the modern world. They discussed various ways in which organisations can help ensure their staff are fostering a healthy work environment for all, including unconscious bias training among other initiatives.
At Alfa we try to keep our finger on the pulse so that we can give our product (and development process) everything it needs to remain an outstanding choice for our clients. Learning the latest about Java 9, performance improvements and leadership tips gives as plenty to work with but, as Dom Price showed, there’s more to delivering great software than pure technology.