I had the chance to attend the Software Design & Development conference at the Barbican Centre this week. It was my first conference since the plague so it was a new experience. I will here coalesce some of the main points that I gathered. I may go into specifics in a couple of topics that stood out to me, but this is mostly so that I have some notes to aid my memory.
The conference is very well organised, you can tell it’s not their first rodeo. From a practicality point of view the Barbican is equally easy/cumbersome to get to from all directions, which is about as good as you can get in London where usually you will end up favouring proximity to a subset of main line termini, thus making the location cumbersome to get to for at least half the population (since there are airports in every direction out from the city). There were a number of timeslots where you truly had FOMO for choosing one track over another, which is a design goal of a program committee – so, well done SD&D! There was some unfortunate setting in the AV equipment which interfered with shortcuts in Visual Studio in interesting ways, but surely that can be addressed somehow.
The first law of developer conferences states Always Catch a Talk by Kevlin Henney if Available. It doesn’t teach you anything about a specific new thing, but it puts the entire universe into context, and always inspires you to go ahead and look up papers from the olden days that describe modern phenomena.
My biggest bafflement came not from the talks that showcased new C# features, such as the latest iteration of pattern matching and the like – as I usually get introduced to them when they show up as options in ReSharper – but by the old abomination that is default implementations on interfaces in C#8. This talk by Jeremy Clark was an eye opener. It is so jank you wonder how it could ever be released into production. My guess is that the compatibility argument from MAUI was the big reason, and it makes sense, but basically my instinct to stay away from it was right, but my guess is that you will have weird bugs because of it at some point in the future.
I also caught the C# Channels talk. I seem to recall the gestation of Channels, as if I remember correctly it was publicly brought into being through discussions on David Fowler’s twitter account (unless I misremember). Anyway, it is a highly civilised way of communicating between two async tasks with back pressure. Intuitive to use and safe. Like a concurrent queue but a lot nicer.
Allen Holub had a number of talks on Microservices and if you can I’m sure you should see more of them, due to the abundance of other brilliant talks I only caught his test driven architecture talk which I will mention below. Other than him though there were talks by Juval Löwy and Neal Ford that covered architecture and micro services. I caught Software architecture foundations: identifying characteristics by Neal Ford and Sander Hoogendoorns’s talk on migrating to microservices in small steps, both worth watching.
There were a couple of security talks focussing on automating security as well as the updated OWASP top 10 chart of threats as well as a couple of talks by Scott Brady about – I am guessing – – Identity Server. The dizzying array of choices meant I didn’t go to the identity server talks, but they are definitely on my to watch-list if there is ever video from this.
The security automation ones though Continuous Security by Kim van Wilgen and Add Security into your Agile Process by Cecilia Wirén took you through what you need to really improve the securiity posture of your development process. Kim v Wilgen was more in-depth on tooling whilst Cecilia Wiren was more about the whole process and what to consider where. The only sustainable way forward is to automate things like dependency vetting/tracking and as much static code analyisis you can, to bring these concerns as far left as you can, menaing early in the process. Rewriting a function even before you commit it is easy. HAving an automated fuzzing tool discover you have a buffer overrun vulnterability when you thought you were done is worse, but of course letting a bad vulnerability out into the wild is even worse, so whilst catching them in the dev cycle is preferable, attempting to catch stuff late through more heavy handed automation that is too time consuming to run on every commit is still worth considering as it’s better than the alternative.
Tests drive everything
How to stop testing and break your codebase by Clare Sudbery was an amazing talk that really hit home. It was like an experiment of what if I just skip test-first for a bit and see what happens? brought out of time crunch, tiredness and a sense that it would be a safe trade-off because I know what I’m doing and – in her case – I have acceptance tests . Like I have noticed in various side projects, when you let go of the discipline the drawbacks come at you hard and fast – almost cartoonishly so. It was one of the most relatable talks I have ever attended.
Allen Holub’s DbC (Design by Coding):applying TDD principles to architecture was fascinating. It started out by being a bit “old man yells at clouds” about how real agile is index cards on a board, not Jira, and although yes, index cards or post-it’s on a physical board is preferable to an electronic board, the electronic board prevents me from having to commute four days out of the five, so – no. The points raised about authoring million detailed tickets ahead of time being a waste though, hard agree, and the rest of the diatribe against big design up-front I was all aboard with and probably to some extent already doing. The interesting bit was to come though.
He presented a hypothetical technical problem that needed architecting. Instead of drawing a diagram or writing specs, he whipped out an editor with his favourite version of junit and wrote some java code through TDD – all in one file – that implemented tests and classes that symbolised microservices and their endpoints, as well as the interactions between them. Light weight, easy to read for developers, pleasant tooling and at least as useful as a diagram. In both cases you start writing the code from scratch, but you have a design document that makes sense. I’m not 100% sold on the concept but it’s worth considering.
Tuesday morning keynote was about quantum computing, and reluctantly I must concede that it probably is the future, and the community seems to be looking for converts, but I just can’t go from quantum entanglement to taking data from a web page and shoving it into a database, so I guess I have to wait those three years before it hits the mainstream and it will become digestable for the likes of me. If you are into cryptography as in encryption, not the various ponzi schemes, you should probably get into it now.
I caught a Kate Gregory talk – on naming – after only being a fan off of her YouTube talks on C++ vs C, definitely worth seeing. She proposed the strategy of “just mash the keyboard if you can’t think of a name and go back to it later” was also brought forward elsewhere on the conference, the point being: don’t get stuck trying to come up with a name, start writing the code and as you start talking about what the thing you just wrote is and what it is responsible for, a great name will eventually become evident and then you use that. The effort of coming up with a good name is worth it, and with refactoring tools it’s worth just moving past the instant rather than making a bad decision. Once you have finished the feature and proceeded, the caveats and difference between the name and the actual implementation will fade into obscurity and when you come back to the same code in three weeks you will have forgotten all about it and can be misled by bad names as easily as if you hadn’t written the code yourself.
I really enjoyed this conference. Again, with a past in a program committee I really admired the work they put in to cause so much anxiety when picking talks. Obviously the QE2 conference centre in Westminster is newer so NDC London benefits from that, and if you want to see Troy Hunt and the asp.net core guys Fowler and Edwards you would be better off over there at NDC, but SD&D had all the core things right and a wider array of breakout sessions, I mean like the food was a lot less chaotic at SD&D than it usually is at NDC. Compared to BuildStuff and Øredev – those conferences I only attended as visitor to the city, so I didn’t have to commute, meaning of course that’s nice.
If you like the environment you’ll be pleased that there was no shilling or abundance of obscure t-shirts handed out that would have drained natural resources, but I suspect that SD&D would have enjoyed more sponsorships and an expo floor which allegedly they have had before . Since this conference was actually SD&D2020 postponed several times over the course of two years, it is possible that SD&D 2023 will have pre-pandemic levels of shilling. All I know is I enjoy free t-shirts to clothe the child. Regardless I strongly recommend attending this conference.