conferences

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Is the customer always right?

Today I’m in London for the first day of SPA 2015. I was early to the venue and I went to the registration desk to sign in.

“What’s your name?” asked the receptionist.

“Seb Rose” I replied.

“No. You’re not registered” she said.

After a few minutes of spelling out my name, and searching around on the database she did find me. She looked up at me and said: “You are Rose, Sebastian”.

It’s true she was not a native english speaker, and that I have a slight accent, but even so I think you’ve got to assume that I know my own name. The reason I bring this up is that it’s something that happens a lot in all walks of life – people assume that the system is right, its data canonical. There’s no reason to believe this – it’s a form of institutional hubris.

Start from a more humble position. Accept the possibility of ignorance, the likelihood that the problem is rooted in the system not the customer. And even when it turns out that the customer is the cause of the error remember that it’s probably a failing of the system that allowed them to screw up anyway.

The customer is often right, and when they’re not it’s not good business to rub their nose in it.

By |June 28th, 2015|Musings|0 Comments

Entanglement (or there’s nothing new under the sun)

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.”

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 […]

By |February 19th, 2015|Musings, Practices, Systems, Unit testing|0 Comments