Building a Development Community In Your Workplace

So for DevSpace in October, I was happy to present my first soft skills talk: Building a Development Community in your Workplace.

I got a lot of good feedback on it, and some people were asking for some more background information on it.  It’s tough to condense a 1 hour talk into a blog post and not bore the heck out of you, so I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll distill it into my core talking points, and if you’re interested in a specific part of it, let me know and I’ll write a more in-depth blog post.


It all started back at PyTennessee 2015.  This was my first conference, and I was floored at what this sort of environment offered.  I got to talk with great people, learn awesome stuff, and just generally have a good time.  But as soon as Monday rolled around the next week, I didn’t feel that great.  I chalked it up to being tired from a conference, and having to go back to work after a great weekend.

A few months later, I had the privilege to go to StrangeLoop in St. Louis.  This was a much bigger affair, and we had talks from senior engineers from Twitter, Microsoft, and Mastercard there.  I loved being there, but another strange thing happened.  Even before the conference ended, I was feeling that same “down” feeling that reminded me of PyTennessee.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  It stuck with me longer too.

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Music City Code 2017

I just got back from Music City Code 2017 and it was a blast.  It was my first time going there, and I had no idea to expect.  The talks were much better than I thought they would be, the venue was nice (Vanderbilt has a wonderful campus), and I got to meet some great people.

Let’s break down the days.


Day 1

Keynote: Change Your World with this One Simple Trick by Jeremy Clark (@jeremybytes)

This keynote was great.  The slides were all hand drawn, reminiscent of David Neal’s talks.  It was all about how meeting someone new can make you a better developer, and that’s what the conference was all about.

Among some of the good tips:

How to start a conversation

  1. Hi I’m <so and so>?
  2. What do you do?
  3. What technologies do you use?

And he explained how developers love to talk, but hate to start conversations.  You could tell everyone was trying this out throughout the conference, and I got to meet some interesting people.


F# Type Providers by Chris Gardner (@freestylecoder)


I had met Chris since he does the DevSpace conference here in town, and I was going to this conference to learn some new things, so I thought F# was a decent one to go learn about.  My experience with it was one day during Advent of Code, so I wanted to see some of the cool things that it had to offer.

F# Type providers was a awesome way to check the types of a data source at compile time.  The more errors you can push earlier, the better.  Why wait until runtime, when building the code can tell you if your datasource has missing or wrong types.  I’ll probably never use this, but it’s a cool concept

Data Visualization with NVD3.js and D3.js by Dustin Ewers (@dustinewers)

Dustin was a fun presenter.  He started off with a great example of what makes data visualization (the ability to interact and tell a story).  He had a great sense of humor, and presented in an interesting way.  We didn’t get as deep into D3.js as I wanted (we use it someplace at work, and I’d like to understand how it works under the hood), but he introduced me to nvd3.js to create really quick line graphs.

I was talking to some of the attendees of how to set up a Python webserver to host some of this sort of data.  I told them I’d get them something over lunch.  During lunch, I wrote up a quick script (you can find it here).  It was just using bottle to spin up a webserver and then figuring out how to load that up into a line graph in nvd3.  It was a lot simpler than I expected, and the other guys appreciated it a lot.

Lunchtime Functional Programming Panel

This was just a 4 person panel talking about how to get into functional programming and the benefits of it.  A lot of it was stuff I had already drank the Kool-Aid for, so nothing was too new.


A Lap Around Xamarin by Douglas Starnes (@poweredbyaltnet)

I don’t do a lot of .NET or mobile development, and this was probably the wrong talk for me.  I didn’t get a lot out of this talk, since the text was too small for me to read to understand what was going on.  It was alright, and there was nothing against the presenter or material, just ended up not being for me.


IoT with the ESP8266 and NodeMCU Firmware by Jason Follas (@jasonfollas)

This was an interesting talk about the options you have when building cheap IoT devices.  My co-works talk about the ESP8266 a lot, and I now know a lot more about it.  Most of this talk was explaining Lua, which I had already known, but seeing the workflow for the ESP8266 was pretty cool.


Day 2

ElasticSearch in an Hour by John Berryman @(jnbrymn)

I really liked this talk.  I knew nothing about ElasticSearch even though we use it at work on some other projects.  I thought this was a great introduction into how search engines work and in particular, ElasticSearch.  We talked about tokenization, stemming, relevance and indexing.  There were also some great examples contrasting a relational database and ElasticSearch.


Lightning Talks

So they had lightning talks in the same time frame as the other talks.  It’s a shame, because this meant there were 8 other talks going on at the same time.  As a result, only one person had registered to give a lightning talk in the two sessions I went too.  There was only about 12 people in the first one, and 4 in the next one.  So, we just did impromptu lightning talks.  I gave two talks, one recapping what I had done the day before with bottle/NVd3 and another that I gave at ADTRAN about Terrible,Terrible Things you can do in C++.  I got to learn a whole lot of other stuff, such as bayes statistics, F# Type Providers (again), Accessibility, and Interview techniques.


Lunchtime Software Quality Panel

It was refreshing to hear people in the industry talk candidly about how they expect people to be writing tests up front, and how to change culture to address software quality.  There was a lot of great discussion, and I agreed with most of it.


R: It’s Not Just For Pirates Anymore by Dustin Ewers (@dustinewers)

I liked Dustin’s talk the day before, so I decided to listen some about R.  I don’t have any plans to write any R, but it was good to know what the language was capable of.  It reminded me of Pandas in Python.  Dustin had the same good humor and relevant examples.  It was also cool to see how easy it was to write a clustering algorithm or decision tree.  It seems that machine learning is a first class citizen for this language.


Career Growth Questions You’re Afraid To Ask by Cassandra Faris (@cassandra Faris)

I was originally going to go to a JS talk, but I decided to do a soft skills talk instead.  This was an interesting take from a recruiter/HR perspective of how to for a new job.  It was nice to see what they were looking for in candidates, what were red flags, and the advice on how to sell yourself.



I will definitely go back to Music City Code next year, as it was much better than I expected.  Talks were good, food was good, people were friendly, and I couldn’t ask for much more.  Plus it’s an hour and a half away from me, so it makes it much easier to be able to go check it out each year.

PyTennessee 2017 Day 1

Well, I’ve made it to another conference (they are even letting me present at this one).  I was in Nashville for PyTenessee.  I love Python, and this is a great conference and community to be a part of .


Keynote: The Importance of Community and Networking, by Sarah Guido (@sarah_guido)

I watched Sarah the first time I went to PyTennessee two years ago, and she had one of my favorite talks about data science.  This time, she was talking a bit about her personal journey, from classically trained trumpet player in college, to a senior data scientist at Mashable.   She gave some great tips of how to give back to the community (starting meetups, going to meetups, slack channels, open source contributions) and gave some great tips to avoiding burnout.


What’s in your pip toolbox? by Jon Banafato (@jonafato)

So I was trying to figure out a lightning talk, so I didn’t pay too close attention to this one, but what I did get out of it was something I’m going to go use at work.  I knew most of the pip requirements.txt information, but I learned about pip-compile and pipdeptree.  Pip-compile was nice as it helped you with a requirements.txt file based on the libraries you import, not giving you anything extraneous.   pipdeptree was a great tool to show  where your dependencies in pip are coming from.


Lunch Lightning Talks

There were a series of 5 minute lightning talks.  I decided thirty minutes before them that I’d write a unit test talk.  However, I fought with Linux windowing twice and never got it going :(.

Other talks were things like pipenv, xpath, and Rust community.


A brief introduction to concurrence and coroutines by Eric Appelt (@appeltel)

This was probably my favorite talk.  Eric did a good job with easy to understand examples, and walked through iteration, generators, and then to the new async/await syntax in Python 3.5.  I learned a lot through this, but I don’t know if I’ll get to asyncio stuff at ADTRAN.  It is in 3.5 only (we’re using legacy Python only), and it has a bit of a viral effect.


Let’s Build A Hash Table, In C by Jacques Woodcock (@jacqueswoodcock)

This one was alright.  I knew C pretty well, and I’ve written hash tables before, so I didn’t learn a whole lot new.  The slides were pretty good, though.


Big data Analysis In Python with Apache Spark, Pandas, and Matplotlib by Jared M. Smith (@jaredthecoder)

This was another great talk.  I heard Jared on Software Engineering Daily a few weeks ago, and liked that episode.  I saw his picture in the PyTN bios and recognized it and decided to go to his talk.  It was a bonus that it was about data science.  I’ve been to a few meetups where Spark was talked about, but Jared gave a good example of how to actually use it.  The Pandas and Matplotlib part felt a little tacked on, but it was good to mention it (I probably feel this way because I knew what he talked about.)  I wish we could have saw some more examples.


Keynote: Humaning is Hard by Courey Eliot (@dev_branch)

This was a short, but very honest talk about privilege, disabilities, mentoring, community and helping people in need.  She held everyone’s attention, and it was refreshing to see such a candid talk on such a tough subject.