Monday 17 August 2009

Steven Feuerstein Perth Review - Session 1 - Code Therapy for Software Developers

Based on conversations I've had with various people since Friday's session, it seems his day seminar was a success. There was a touch over 100 people in the auditorium with a fairly wide distribution of positions, skills & industry. Many thanks for AUSOUG and the members responsible for bringing Steven to our remote city (after the Sydney/Melbourne legs) - some of them only had minimal to see Steven present; and thank you Branka for that wonderful food! (I can be easy to please) It's just a shame it was a rainy weekend in Perth.

I'd like to take the opportunity to do a small review on each of the four sessions, although most of my comments will probably tie together scatterings of comments throughout the day.

I think his four topics were well selected. While obviously separate presentations in their own right, they were cohesive enough that you could see strong relationships between them throughout the day.
  1. Coding Therapy for Software Developers
  2. Writing Maintainable Code
  3. High Performance PL/SQL
  4. Automated Testing Options for PL/SQL
Even before Chris Muir introduced him, he took the time to demonstrate two old yet simple games that he believes a good developer should be comfortable with, at the same time obtaining good audience participation.
Mastermind he likened to the debugging mind, where given various states of being, how that suits with the expected solution. It was a very good analogy and reminded me how I used to enjoy that game.
The other was The Set Game, something I stumbled across a few years ago, possibly via a comment on his website. It reflected a consistent tenet of his that development is closely tied with pattern matching.

His first session, entitled Coding Therapy for Software Developers, I personally found to be the most enjoyable session of the day. I think we need to see more of this style of presentation at these events - unfortunately they seem to fit better with the evangalist/guru types with years of experience. Not only was it a sidestep away from the usual technical presentation, it helped remind us why we enjoy our jobs and how we can modify/affirm our behaviours and appreciate our career choice.

He recommended a number of books during the presentation, and I noticed quite a few people note them down. Steven did give a good impression of enthusiasm for these books, and I will certainly be on the lookout for them. For those who missed them:

Christopher Alexander - Pattern Language - Timeless Way of Building - Steven mentioned that day to day problems already have (good) solutions and if we can harness the concepts of pattern matching we can utilise the better, efficient solutions more frequently. One of the development perspectives here being templates and modularisation/encapsulation.

Jeff Hawkins - On Intelligence - For many years engineers have been trying to build intelligent machines, and apparently this book explores the topic well.

Daniel Gilbert - Stumbling on Happiness - An interesting look at how our minds work, and why we delude ourselves in thinking we know what we all want to make us happy.

Steve McConnell - Code Complete - A more technical book mentioned later in the day discussing best practices in the art and science of creating software. I remember thoroughly enjoying the art vs science debate of development at university, I'm sure this will be a good read.

In fact listening to his comments that morning, I have a sneaking suspicion he's a fellow evolutionist - and I would quite happily have recommended a wonderful book I'm reading at the moment.

One of my hand written notes referred to a conversation about why birds don't look sick until they are near death. A pattern of evolution and adaptation - but I can't remember how it related to software development! Oops.

He certainly mentioned to avoid caffeine, eluding to memory - based on my understanding anything learnt while under the influence of caffeine means we have a better chance of remembering it only when we have the same amount of caffeine in our system. Not really a state of being that we should desire 24-7.

Steven is a charismatic speaker, and I'm sure his fairly generic American/Chicago accent has helped his success in the presentation theatre. I recall a conversation with Lynn Munsinger on this concept.

So for me, 5/5 for the first session. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the other three. I'd certainly be happy to see the same session again, and more like it.


  1. Thanks, Scott. This was lots of fun to read, and I appreciate your kind comments on my presentations.

    Yes, I certainly do believe in evolution. And why not? It is a useful explanation for how the world works. Is it "true"? I don't know. It just works. Maybe someday someone will come up with a theory that more accurately and usefully explains the process of changing organisms, supplanting or improving upon evolution.

    In the meantime, let's go with evolution. :-)

    You wrote "One of my hand written notes referred to a conversation about why birds don't look sick until they are near death. A pattern of evolution and adaptation - but I can't remember how it related to software development! Oops."

    That topic dealt with how programmers don't like to admit that we don't know something - we are all such know-it-alls! But hiding ignorance leads to bugs, so we need to get really good at asking for help - the more often and earlier the better!

    I am curious to understand better what you mean by "I'm sure his fairly generic American/Chicago accent has helped his success in the presentation theatre."

    Looking forward to your other write-ups,

    Regards from Singapore,

  2. Your welcome (hopefully subsequent reviews remain kind ;-)

    Sick birds - I had an inkling it was along those lines. I remember it tying in with the concept of asking juniors/newer programmers.

    Accent - I was wondering if this would spark a comment. Lynn mentioned that her Colorado accent was a "positive" when she used to work somewhere that involved being on the phone a lot. In the same way that many people read a certain visual impression (good or bad) from someone depending on how they're dressed/groomed, an accent can have certain stereotypes and cues for particular opinions. I'm certainly not taking anything away from your skills! However I thought I'd broadcast a thought that came to mind.
    An example here I guess is people that have used accents to their advantage - comedians come to mind frequently. Jimeoin, Billy Connolly, Carl Barron...

    I'll see if I can get the second session review done before I head off to see "District 9" tonight, very excited at the potential of this movie. I've heard good things.

    Regards from Perth (still),

  3. As a side thought, I thoroughly recommend the movie "District 9".

    Excellent relatively low budget film set (and filmed) in South Africa highlighting bigotry in a documentary style, while maintaining a decent pace with a bit of action and a few twists.

    Low hype, good return, continues success through word of mouth - as opposed to Bruno - high hype, then not much heard of after opening... my 5 cents.