[Updated: Toned down a few sentences as they were more emotional than necessary.]
I've been holding back from commenting as there's been a lot happening and I probably need a few more days before my mind is set, both on the technicalities we discussed, on the process, and on the ideas. For today I'll focus on the alt.net movement, and on the conference. I'l leave the technical stuff for later.
Communities, user groups and is the existing structure working for alt.net
There's been strong suggestions that user groups are enough to cover the scope of alt.net. The concepts behind alt.net have been up for discussion, but by their nature, they need a small kernel of focused people discussing what is doable, what the state of affairs are and how to convince people to take the alternative route of innovation. We need people to challenge, and for that they need to have a forum in which they can progress and advance ideas.
The wider communities existing today seems to me a perfect place to distill those ideas, but maybe they're not the right place for defining them. Doing that necessitate people knowing about the subject, the technologies and the commercial realities to break the all <insert your favourite software vendor> approach. Only from those reflections can it be distilled to user groups, in the more typical presentation style that is common to those groups.
This conference had good less good sessions. The good sessions were the ones where people sat down and discussed in an open format each subject. Having Roy Osherove in a room discussing why mocks are not always a good idea and can lead to brittle tests, and question the constraints imposed on testing because of the first generation of mocking frameworks was fantastic. But what was fantastic was not having someone taking over the room to present his own agenda or switch the room into demonstration mode, where an individual does most of the talking. The spirit was very much a relaxed opened session where everyone contributed what they had to say.
The REST discussion was interesting, but dragged on longer than necessary. The discussion was very much focused on one presenter doing most of the talks, and I felt that by the time others had the opportunity to discuss their solutions, the room was tired, and people started leaving. To a certain extent I guess I can only blame myself for not having prepared material and moving the discussion more towards the points I was interested in, so I can't blame anyone, but it felt more like a presentation or an ask the expert session than the discussion that happened in other sessions.
Overall, I think the demonstrations that were done didn't add anything to the talk, as I do not believe most of the room saw the light of content type negotiation through yet another wiki demo. That said, I aplaud Alan for pushing this part of the HTTP spec, something that I've also been trying to get through for quite a few years. Other people had stuff to show and by then it was too late. Maybe those demonstrations should overall be discouraged to keep the focus on the discussion.
As for the ugly, in the becoming a better developer, the discussion became quite wide on the challenges we face. I discussed, maybe too much, a recent case where one of my clients revoked my contract for a wide range of reasons. I highlighted the fact, during that session, that having a forum where developers can explain their worst experiences, share them with others, is probably a good idea to relief that feeling you get that you're the only one it happened to. Getting fired or being the scapegoat on a project happened to most contractors. Hence why the suggestion was made that maybe AA-like meetings for us guys to talk about the struggles we face in a safe haven would be good therapy.
The issue there is that maybe some people have over-inflated egos and refuse to talk about it, because it would tarnish their carefully crafted image. I assumed this session was a safe haven into which I could have those kind of discussions, without fearing consequences.
Only a few hours later at the pub, we were discussing my inbox email filtering policy. I may blog about it in more details later on, but I filter email based on recipients, to/cc lists, if its a reply or not, and split those incoming emails in sub folders. The lowest priority I read when I have time at the end of the day, the medium is read when i have time (usually lunch), and only the very few emails getting straight to my inbox get read immediately and treated in a GTD way.
However, one of the person present during that session, I hope fuelled by the copious amount of beer that was consumed by all parties involved, saw fit to reply to me, after a couple of exchanges explaining that my email policy couldn't work, that my views on emails maybe were why I got fired. This is low. Furthermore, it made me wonder if that person had to resort to mentions of my previous failures because they ran out of arguments or because they were making a point. Maybe repeating the same thing three times is not an argument anyway. But more than that, this breaks the safe haven I talked about a few paragraphs earlier. Explaining my struggles with some clients should never come back to bite me back, especially not by an organizer that is supposed to help IT people deal with those issues.
I for one will know to avoid discussing those issues if I don't have the guarantee of a safe haven. I did express my complete dismay at his comments and that it was quite out of order, and got an apology for hurting my feelings. I accepted the apology even though my feelings in this matter are nearly as irrelevant as the comment that was made. Moving on.
Maybe the relevant point in all this is the reflection on why the situation got that bad. I think it may all come down to learning how to let go. Maybe as a contractor sometimes I should not push so hard when I see a project failing, and let it fail the way the manager wants it to fail. Maybe the constant push against decisions I deem bound to failure are not my place to take. Overall, when bad decisions are taken continuously, I should learn to quit and either get on with it, or more likely break my contract and find a client that wants to listen to what I have to say.
The question still pending is, what is the right forum to discuss failures? I find that contractors are especially frisky when talking about their mistakes and their failures, maybe by fear for their public image, or maybe because they've had the situation I just encountered and it hit them back. Who knows. It shouldn't be this complicated when we're all in the same boat. And personality conflicts are not going to help us much.
I'll focus on the technical discussions that happened as I try to remember them this week. There's been very good points raised that each should have their own entries, and the first will probably be about REST and my open implementation of UriTemplate for .net 2. I've learnt from others and their views, and have questioned my own views. I wish the conference would've spanned two days.
I'd like to thank the people that came, the organizers for their hard work (always nice to see Z and Ian, and I'm going to follow up on my promise to come to the london .net user group.) Thank to Conchango and Redgate (special mention to Michelle for always making sure I had a beer, for better or worse, and to Ben for such a lovely evening on Friday, and hope he recovered from that hangover). It's been a great experience.