qcon2009sf: other talks

Posted by anton
on Monday, February 01, 2010

for completeness sake, in addition to outstanding talks, i should mention a few others that were memorable.

i caught the second half of eric “DDD” evans talk – it was moving at a glacial pace (a trait of a professional consultant that is paid by the hour?) and was terribly overcrowded, but i liked what i heard. he took the roundabout path to get to the importance of evolution of the existing systems, but he made his point well with some great insights along the way. i have been setting aside his book for years, and i know it is long overdue, but i should read it.

i was surprised that none of the talks on the “cool stuff with java” track appeared all that cool to me. perhaps i have already looked at the tech behind them too closely, and the talks did not offer much on top of that.

nevertheless, project voldemort talk was a good refresher on brewer’s CAP theorem, consistent hashing (or DHTs), amazon’s "dynamo". i wish it were more technical, since the devil is in the details, and i wish there was more comparisons to other systems in this landscape (e.g. cassandra which seems to be further ahead).

hadoop is pretty much a household name these days, so a generic intro to the tech and its ecosystem did not do much for me. still, having built and run ETL environments in the past, i think that anyone in this position must consider hadoop these days – after all, if your ETL environment is trying to scale vertically and is using one of the big boys’ mammoth software, then it will make sense to compare 1MM for the license + hardware costs with 100K for commodity hardware + free software. this is a subject for a whole different post though.

by the end of the conference i have acquired a nervous twitch each time i heard another attempt at cloud computing definition. i did like stu charlton’s talk though – he had a good business perspective, and although i do not believe in his product, i would be keeping an eye on it, since they are trying to solve a real problem.

finally, i was disappointed by my own reception of “architectures you’ve always wondered about” track. facebook, linkedin, amazon – i think i’ve already knew enough about them, so signal to noise ratio in these talks was too low for me, and i could not justify staying there for long.

qcon2009sf: individual talks

Posted by anton
on Monday, February 01, 2010

as promised, these are a few talks that i have attended and found worth mentioning. i know i missed a lot due to scheduling conflicts, but that’s the nature of the game.

clojure talk by stu halloway

a great talk that had to be witnessed; it was a fast-paced flight through the language, illuminating its features and defining its place. there was a story, there was excitement, and there was a pragmatic take on it all. since languages track was aimed at actual usage in the field, half of the talk was spent on war stories – things that worked and things that did not. it was a tight, erudite talk, with just the right amount of details.

i am still ambivalent about the language – i do not have enough experience with it to see it used in production on the systems i am working on right now; it still exhibits growing pains, and feels a little rough around the edges. perhaps it is my lack of functional language exposure that shows. at the same time i am absolutely fascinated and excited about the things that it gets right – the immutable data structures and the whole concurrency story. the language feels nimble, finely honed, and it is great to witness its evolution, as it happens in front of my eyes. i love the way it makes my brain feel, the way it challenges my perspective on language design and features.

if tech is your competitive advantage, and you have small sharp teams, then by all means, give it a try. even if the language does not survive in its current state, the ideas and their implementation will live on – i think they are that important.

groovy on the trading desk by jonathan felch

there is always a bit of a stigma associated in my mind with conference “thought leaders” – unless they have proven their credibility by repeatedly building and shipping, i always take their words with a grain of salt. after all, those that have the time to float from conference to conference, from client to client, might (d)evolve into pundits. there is a definite value in that, and i certainly would still attend their talks and buy their books, but i would always remind myself of their perspective.

i really liked jonathan’s talk because it was ruthlessly pragmatic, coming from someone driven to ship, working with traders to solve real problems quick. in a sense, this environment is somewhat of an aberration, since outside of the trading desk the software development world is quite different.

his team was bending technology, doing very creative things right on the bleeding edge; by any means necessary they had to deliver software for the business under the tightest deadlines. in some respects, this is the technologist’s ultimate dream – when politics and money and all the other pressures of architecture and enterprise world are pushed aside and all that matters is whether you can deliver. this freedom is scary and exciting at the same time.

the talk was about a distributed computational in-memory engine they have built to support a trading desk, standardizing on groovy and building on top of terracota in 2006. this allowed them to deliver new features in a matter of hours for their traders.

essentially it was a graph where cascading properties were recomputed in response to events; logic could be injected via closures at runtime, state and behavior of individual nodes could be extended at runtime; all of it written in functional style, avoiding shared state.

he talked about the areas where groovy shined, and walked through some of the problems they have run into. predictably, the strength was writing DSLs, terseness, convenience, speed of writing code, dynamic nature, integration with other systems; pains were performance, math, and language gotchas.

jonathan also managed to give a perspective on quantitative finance in general – what is the business about, who are the people involved, what tech is used, and what problems they have to deal with. this is what really made the talk “sink in.”

i dismissed groovy early on, when the race to add new language features trumped the need for quality and thoroughness. the whole affair seemed to be too sloppy and haphazard, so i only watched its evolution from the distance. i suspect that the situation has changed, even before spring source acquisition, so i should give groovy another try.

architecture for the cloud by michael nygard

i am yet to read "release it", but i have come to appreciate his perspective based on the articles, blog entries, and book excerpts. i think michael has a great gift for organizing and presenting the patterns of operations architecture, a field that for the longest time has been the dirty secret of running systems; the proverbial “last mile” of software development, the achilles’ heel.

it takes someone straddling the fence between operations and developers to recognize the issues. having been in this role myself (and having ranted about it on this very blog), i am really grateful to him for illuminating and organizing the patterns in a manner that (hopefully) should help us as a community to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

why do patterns matter? it is a shared language that allows those responsible for operations and development to communicate with each other and recognize the problems and their solutions.

why does operations matter even more now? the proverbial admin/developer fence is disappearing, cloud means fast provisioning of many machines done by developers/users; the developers become more and more aware of infrastructure, which, in turn, becomes more of a commodity, while the job of the sysadmin is changing. i really liked his practical insights into the way cloud computing will be changing the roles within the enterprise.

overall, i mostly nodded along with the slides, but it helped me organize my own thoughts on the subject (which, in the end, might be far more important).

doug crockford on javascript

an immensely entertaining and sprawling talk that went into the history of the language, its evolution, and its future. it was exactly the kind of the talk i dismissed earlier, but at the end of the long day, and from someone as entertaining as doug turned out to be, i was ready to kick back and enjoy the ride. there were plenty of anecdotes and killer one-liners, so if you get a chance, watch him speak.

erik meijer on rx

as opposed to the doug’s talk mentioned above, this was a great example of a conversation, or riffing, where ola bini, don box, dan north, amanda laucher, sadek drobi, and a few others completely derailed the whole rx presentation into a joyous bantering about languages.

erik meijer is a joy to listen to as it is, but if you add a small responsive audience and a few beers, the whole experience is unforgettable. he loves to be paradoxical, and he revels in controversy. he was dropping tweetable gems at an astonishing rate – the sparks were flying, and my brain could hardly handle it.

at last we were pretty much forced out of the room by the staff – it was a perfect closing for the conference.