My #citcon London 2010 experience

This was both my first citcon (apparently pronounced "kitcon") and open space conference I've attended, and I'm sure it hasn't been the last for either one!

The venue was the Skillsmatter Exchange, which was simple in appearance (guess it's a former warehouse of sort), but with enough space, flipcharts, tables, projectors, seats needed for this event. There was enough space to chat without disturbing sessions, or to just grab a coffee - which seemed to be sufficient for this conference (and for my needs/expectations).

Friday evening was dedicated for introductions and for session proposals, topic merging, voting, and of course, some beer. It was a nice reminder that my problems are not unique - I've actually stepped out from the proposals line given that a number people already suggested topics that covered my problem. Maybe it was more to do with the fact that I'm still not comfortable speaking in front of big audiences (more than 20-30 people make me nervous. Guess I'll just have to practice, given that there was a time when any public speaking used to scare me.).

Saturday morning the schedule was supposedly finalized by the end of the breakfest provided. Later on it turned out not to be the case, so I've missed a couple of sessions, though all I've attended were great. Having a problem to choose from many good sessions is much better than not having any good ones to chose from. Nonetheless, I'll keep this in mind for future open spaces not to take anything granted unitl you are in the session.

The first session was about database testing, versioning, and deployment. This is a topic close and dear to my heart, and it was interesting to realize the bounderies of the boxes I've been thinking in - e.g.: I've not been working in multiversion deployment scenarios, where you need to go from any version to the current. I've also learned to be more explicit in my communication, e.g.: when I asked about a tool like agitar's for databases to generate characteristic tests for regression, just because a few people nodded that might be useful, I've assumed everyone knows what I'm talking about, which led to a misunderstanding between me and Gojko Adzic about testing with "random data". Though we've clarified this after the session, I'm wondering why it happened that I couldn't explain it during the session.

Before lunch, I've attended the module dependency handling session, where I learned there is no tool yet for handling versioned dependencies (i.e.: I would want to know if the version/feature branches of a given project are compatible with all versions of dependant projects). The discussion was nice, but I've had some trouble following once things got Java specific.

Next up was the Overcoming Organisational Defensiveness session. I thought I knew a lot about this topic, and was pleasantly surprised by all the new aspects that I learned, including, but not limited to:

  • Don't fix your problem, fix their problem
  • while not everyone agrees, in certain contexts, un-branding a practice helps (e.g.: we referenced Dan North's example from another conference of not doing pair programming, but asking two people to look into a problem together)
  • when developers don't have time to improve, bringing in a coach doesn't solve the problem. You first need to dedicate time for them to learn.
  • instead of trying to change people, step back and see if you can create some change that would effect them in ways you would like, but doesn't require their prior approval/cooperation and you can do it yourself
  • don't just do 5 whys, do the 5 "so what?" too

The next session's title was Using KPIs/Getting a data-driven organization, however, the topic shifted to organization culture and psychology. Not suprisingly, we didn't find a silver bullet, but there were a number of good laughs and ideas (transparency, exposure, accountability, responsibility, over and undercontroling, ownership were the main themes). It was a smaller session, but in my experience that made it much more focused and interactive; contrasted with the bigger sessions. Plus I have been surprised, there are people using vim on the mac :)

The final session was Beyond Basic TDD, where the essence boils down to TDD having a marketing message that design will just evolve, despite Kent Beck admitting that might not always be the case (i.e.: if you've got people with good design sense, no methodology will prevent them from writing well designed code). There should be more focus on teaching programmers about design. Gojko took over from there to facilitate the discussion around what can be done to bring those familiar with TDD basics to the next level, I have to admit I've become quite exhausted by this session, something to keep in mind next time when organizing sessions around a whiteboard.

Overall, it was great fun, it was good to bounce ideas off from people, chat with random ones, and to talk with people known only from twitter. The one thing I regret is that I had to skip the after event pubbing (first evening I was just way too tired, while Saturday evening I was catching up with some friends living in London). Next time I'll try to allocate one more day for the trip, because the hallway conversations were great during the event, and I would be surprised if they were any worse in the pub.

What do you think? I would love if you would leave a comment - drop me an email at, tell me on Twitter!

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