On Friday, I attended The Lead Developer conference, the first outing of a new conference for technical leads. I first heard about the conference back in May, and the tag line piqued my interest immediately:

“When you’re busy leading a team, coding and maintaining standards, how do you find the time to stay ahead of new technologies and develop yourself as a technical lead? The Lead Developer is a new conference featuring practical advice from experts on leading and motivating your team and high-level sessions on new and disruptive technologies.”

It was like the organisers were reading my mind! I’ve often struggled with getting the balance right between the technical and non-technical aspects of my role, and often felt “the fear” of losing touch with my technical skills as I become more involved with leadership responsibilities.

The conference

It’s always a good sign when you know the venue for a new conference is a good one, and The Lead Developer was held at the QEII Centre in Westminster, a venue I knew from Symfony Live London. Once again it was an excellent space, with good options for food, drink and healthy snacks. As for the not-so-healthy - cream tea for the mid-afternoon break was an inspired choice!

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Camille Fournier, CTO of Rent the Runway, telling us all that as cloning ourselves isn’t an option we need to demonstrate “laziness, impatience and hubris” to become productivity multipliers. This was a really excellent talk and got the conference off to a great start, immediately tuning into the questions I’ve been asking myself. The advice on how to measure your success through evaluating your impact and influence was well delivered and valuable.

Rather appropriately, the conference continually sought a balance between technical and non-technical talks - one of the paradoxes (Staying Technical vs Enabling People) discussed in Thoughtworks’ @patkua’s talk on Riding the Paradox as a Lead Developer. The six paradoxes…

  • Staying technical vs Enabling People
  • Going faster vs Learning
  • Delivering vs Innovating
  • Consistency vs Improvement
  • Being transparent vs Protecting the Team
  • Business needs vs Technical needs

…all struck a chord, following on nicely from the first talk and teeing up the rest of the day.

Turned up to 11

The late morning sessions consisted of a whistle-stop tour of AngularJS and Go in two lightning talks, going “Beyond Developer” from Dan North, and 12 tips for better interviewing (tl;dr; - understand your biases and be empathetic) from Cate Huston.

The morning then concluded with Russ Miles using an electric guitar, AC/DC and a marriage proposal to keep us on the right direction on the Highway to (Microservices) Hell. Russ gave a thoroughly entertaining talk, leading the audience through his views on achieving success with a microservices architecture (and some hints on avoiding failure) by focusing not on what you have built, but what you can do with it. As always, the war stories and warnings were as valuable as the tips for success.

The after lunch slot, normally a bit of a graveyard as everyone digests, was filled by Sam Barnes presenting one of the highlights of the day in his talk “People are Weird, I’m Weird”. Highlighting that every person we meet is different, and that we only consider weird from our own perspectives, Sam used a very personal story combined with some highly amusing animated gifs to dive into the heart of the issue and remind us how close team leadership and psychology are:

[Psychology/Team management] is a profession where it’s important to study people; how they think, how they act, react and interact. It’s concerned with all aspects of behaviour and the thoughts, feelings and motivation underlying them.

Next, Becky Stafford and Preet Sandhu talked about Adaptive Testing and their journey at Just Eat. As someone who definitely recognised the “Software Testing Ice-Cream Cone”, and the Legendary Automation Team, it was good to hear their journey to Acceptance.

Either side of that cream tea I mentioned were lightning talks on NativeScript (looks very interesting), Rust (great to hear about, and definitely something I want to try sometime), Practical Web Security (always useful to be reminded) and Docker (regular readers will know we love Docker here!).

The big finale

As the end of the day approached, it was clear that the day would be ending with a bang rather than a whimper.

Una Kravets gave a Primer on Performance, giving a really good walkthrough on front-end performance considerations and techniques, along with good ammunition for anyone who needs to build business cases of why we should care about performance ($40m a year for 0.4 seconds anyone?). CMAT (Concatenate, Minify, Async, Test) was a really good mantra for people to follow. Although a lot of the material in this talk was familiar to me, the delivery was excellent, and the slides stand on their own as a reference so I’d recommend checking them out.

The talk that chimed most with me from the day was “Staying Ahead of the Curve” by Trisha Gee, developer advocate at JetBrains. This talk focused on to (safely) keep up with the latest technology for both your team and yourself, and approaches to combining this with your daily work without blowing up production. Carving out time for this kind of thing has always been something I’ve wrestled with unsuccessfully, and it was reassuring to hear that others find the same problem, and some ideas to get around it. Looking forward to the slides and video on this one to rewatch and digest further as my note taking was horrendous!

Finally, the day came to a close with Oren Ellenbogen talking about Building Happier Engineering Teams. I’ve been subscribed to Oren’s weekly newsletter - Software Lead Weekly - for a while now, so it was exciting to finally see on stage someone whose name pops up in my inbox once a week. Oren talked about how to grow teams whilst keeping everyone happy, and gave some insightful techniques for both keeping and attracting the right people. I had to smile at one of these, one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place:

Build Stuff

Home time

Overall, the inaugural Lead Developer conference was a pleasing combination of technical and people talks, a balance struck perfectly in my view. It is rare that the first run of a new conference goes completely smoothly, but I can’t find fault in anything - for which the organisers must take a lot of credit. I’m delighted to hear it will be returning next year, and it will certainly be going on the list of conferences I look to attend, and recommend others do too. Thank you to the organisers, speakers and those I talked to at the event.