I’ve just read The Age of Entanglement : When Quantum Physics was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. It’s a tremendous book, looking at the interplay between great physicists over the whole of the 20th century. If you want to learn about quantum physics itself, this is probably not the book for you, but if a mix of science and history is your thing, then I can’t recommend this book enough. But that’s not why I’m writing this post.

As I read the book, there were two passages that jumped out at me because they were so relevant to experiences I have regularly. One was about testing and the other was about collaboration. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there you have it – I was.

Experimental physicists understand that testing saves time. They sound a lot like developers who:

“want to slap it all together, turn it on, and see what happens.”

Inevitably:

“you can almost guarantee it’s not going to work right.”

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Their conclusion might sound familiar too:

“People always think you don’t have the time to test everything. The truth is you don’t not have the time. It’s actually a time-saving way of doing it.”

EntanglementTDD

“A Little Imagination”, p247,1st edition, hardback

And then I found the description of a conference that sounded like a pre-cursor to the modern, open space ‘unconferences’ that have been springing up. An explicit acknowledgement that:

“the best part of any conference is always the conversation over coffee or beer, the chance meeting in the hall, the argument over dinner.”

This led directly to their decision to:

“organise their conference to be nothing but these events. No prepared talks, no schedule, no proceedings.”

I’ve heard of regular, private get-togethers like this that go on in the software community, where a selected group of invitees hole up somewhere nice for a few days, but even if (like me) you don’t get invited to those sort of events, there are many conferences that are wholly or partially open space.

EntanglementOpenSpace

“Against ‘Measurement'”, p309, 1st edition, hardback

I like it when I can relate the things that I experience in my work to things that happen in other areas. It’s especially nice to see similarities between the work of developing software and the high-brow scientific endeavours of the greatest physicists of last century. How much else could we practitioners learn from academics (from whatever discipline) if we took the time to communicate?

If you relish the idea of mixing practice with academia, maybe you should come along to XP2015 in Helsinki this May 2015. It’s a conference dedicated to bringing the two constituencies together to share ideas and learn.