Simplicity and collaboration

This is the text of my closing keynote from Gophercon India. It has been slightly altered for readability from my original speaking notes.

I am indebted to the organisers of Gophercon India for inviting me to speak, and to Canonical for giving me the time off to attend the conference.

If you want to see me stumble through the real thing, the video is now available.

Simplicity and collaboration

Closing Keynote, Gophercon India
21 Feb 2015


I want to open my presentation with a proposition.

Being passionate about Go means being passionate about language advocacy, and a natural hazard of dwelling too long on the nature of programming results in statements like these.

But underlying the pithy form enforced by a tweet, I believe there is a gem of truth—I cannot think of a language introduced in my life time that didn’t purport to be simple. Each new language offers as a justification, and an enticement, their inherent simplicity.

On the other hand, I cannot point to a language introduced in the same time frame with the rallying call of complexity; more complexity than its contemporaries—but many instead claim to be powerful.

The idea of proposing a language which offered higher levels of inherent complexity is clearly laughable, yet this is exactly what so many contemporary languages have become; complicated, baroque, messes. A parody of the languages they sought to replace.

Clumsy syntax and non orthogonality is justified by the difficulty of capturing nuanced corner cases of the language, many of them self inflicted by years of careless feature creep.

So, every language starts out with simplicity as a goal, yet many of them fail to achieve this goal. Eventually falling back on notions of expressiveness or power of the language as justification for a failure to remain simple.

Any why is this ? Why do so many language, launched with sincere, idealistic goals, fall afoul of their own self inflicted complexity ?

One reason, one major reason, I believe, is that to be thought successful, a language should somehow include all the popular features of its predecessors.

historyIf you would listen to language critics, they demand that any new language should push forward the boundaries of language theory.

In reality this appears to be a veiled request that your new language include all the bits they felt were important in their favourite old language, while still holding true to the promise of whatever it was that drew them to investigate your language I the first place.

I believe that this is a fundamentally incorrect view.

Why would a new language be proposed if not to address limitations of its predecessors ?

Why should a new language not aim to represent a refinement of the cornucopia of features presented in existing languages, learning from its predecessors, rather than repeating their folly.

Language design is about trade-offs; you cannot have your cake and eat it too. So I challenge the notion that every mainstream language must be a super-set of those it seeks to replace.


This brings me back to my tweet.

Go is a language that chooses to be simple, and it does so by choosing to not include many features that other programming languages have accustomed their users to believing are essential.

So the subtext of this thesis would be; what makes Go successful is what has been left out of the language, just as much as what has been included.

Or as Rob Pike puts it “less is exponentially more”.

Simplicity cannot be added laterIMG_0095

When raising a new building, engineers first sink long pillars, down to the bedrock to provide a stable foundation for the structure of the building.

To not do this, to just tamp the area flat, lay a concrete slab and start construction, would leave the building vulnerable to small disturbances from changes in the local area, at risk from rising damp or subsidence due to changes in environmental conditions.

As programmers, we can recognise this as the parable of leaky abstraction. Just as tall buildings can only be successfully constructed by placing them on a firm foundation, large programs can not be successful if they are placed upon a loose covering of dirt that masks decades of accumulated debris.

You cannot add simplicity after the fact. Simplicity is only gained by taking things away.

Simplicity is not easy

IMG_0245Simplicity does not mean easy, but it may mean straight forward or uncomplicated.

Something which is simple may take a little longer, it may be a little more verbose, but it will be more comprehensible.

Putting this into the context of programming languages, a simple programming language may choose to limit the number of semantic conveniences it offers to experienced programmers to avoid alienating newcomers.

Simplicity is not a synonym for easy, nor is achieving a design which is simple an easy task.

Don’t mistake simple for crude

10_ck_chef_hand_10Just because something may be simple, don’t mistake it for crude.

While lasers are fabulous technology used in manufacturing and medicine, a chef prefers a knife to prepare food.

Compared to the laser, a simple chefs knife may appear unsophisticated, but in truth it represents generations of knowledge in metallurgy, manufacturing and usability.

When considering a programming language, don’t mistake a lack of the latest features for a lack of sophistication.

Simplicity is a goal, not a by-product

“nothing went in [to the language], until all three of us [Ken, Robert and myself], agreed that it was a good idea.” — Rob Pike, Gophercon 2014

You should design your programs with simplicity as a goal, not aim to be pleasantly surprised when your solution happens to be simple.

As Rob Pike noted at Gophercon last year, Go was not designed by committee. The language represent a distillation of the experiences of Robert Griesemer, Ken Thompson, and himself, and only once all three were all convinced of a feature’s utility to the language was it included.

Choose simplicity over completeness

There is an exponential cost in completeness.

The 90% solution, a language that remains orthogonal while recognizing some things are not possible, verses a language attempting to offer 100% of its capabilities to every possible permutation will inherently be less complex, because as we engineers know,

The last 10% costs another 90% of the effort.



A lack of simplicity is, of course complexity.

Complexity is friction, a force which acts against getting things done.

Complexity is debt, it robs you of capital to invest in the future.

Good programmers write simple programs

Good programmers write simple programs.

They bring their experience, their knowledge and their failures to new designs, to learn from and avoid mistakes in the future.

Simplicity, conclusion

To steal a quote from Rich Hickey

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” — Leonardo da Vinci

Go is a language designed to be simple. It is a feature, not a by-product, or an accident.

This was the message that spoke to me when I first learned about the language in 2009, and is the message that has stayed with me to this day.

The desire for simplicity is woven through every aspect of the language.

My question for you, the audience: Do you want to write simple programs, or will you settle for writing powerful programs ?


I hope by now I have convinced you that a need for simplicity in programming languages, is self evident, so I want to move to my second topic; collaboration.

Is programming an art or a science ? Are we artists or engineers ? This one question is a debate in itself, but I hope you will humour me that as professionals, programming is a little of both; we are both software artists, and software engineers—and as engineers we work as a team.

There is more to the success of Go than just being simple, and this is the realization that for a programming language to be successful, it must coexist inside a larger environment.

A language for collaboration

Large programs are written by large teams. I don’t believe this is a controversial statement.

The inverse is also true. Large teams of programmers, by their nature, produce large code bases.

Projects with large goals will necessitate large teams, and thus their output will be commensurate.

This is the nature of our work.

Big Problems

nasa-mainframe-980x663Go is a small language, but deliberately designed as a language for large teams of programmers.

Small annoyances such as a lack of warnings, a refusal to allow unused imports, or unused local variables, are all facets of choices designed to help Go work well for large teams.

This does not mean that Go is not suitable for the single developer working alone, or a small program written for a specific need, but speaks to the fact that a number of the choices within the language are aimed at the needs of growing software teams.

And if your project is successful, your team will grow, so you need to plan for it.

Programming languages as part of an environment

It may appear heretical to suggest this, as many of the metrics that we as professional software developers are judged by; lines of code written; the number of revisions committed to source control, and so on, are all accounted for character by character. Line by line. File by file.

But, writing a program, or more accurately solving a problem; delivering a solution, has little to do with the final act of entering the program into the computer.

Programs are designed, written, debugged and distributed in an environment significantly larger than one programmer’s editor.

Go recognizes this, it is a language designed to work in this larger environment, not in spite of it.

Because ultimately Go is a language for the problems that exist in today’s commercial programming, not just language theory.

Code is written to be decoded

cover-bigThe author Peter Seibel suggests that programs are not read, but instead decoded. In hindsight this should have been obvious, after all we call it source code, not source literature.

The source code of a program is an intermediary form, somewhere between our concept and the computer’s executable notation.

As with many transformations, this encoding of the source program is not lossless; some loss of fidelity, some ambiguity, some imprecision is present. This is why when reading source code, you must in fact decode it, to divine the original intention of the programmer.

Many of the choices relating to the way Go code is represented as source, speak to this impedance mismatch. The simplicity and regularity of the grammar, while providing few opportunities for individuality, in turn makes it easier for a new reader to decode a Go program and determine its function.

Because source code is written to be read.

How to build a Go communitygofmt

Go is a language designed from the beginning to be transposed, transformed and processed at the source level. This has opened up new fields of analysis and code generation to the wider Go community. We’ve seen several examples of this demonstrated at this conference.

While these tools are impressive, I believe the regular syntax of a Go source file belies its greatest champion; go fmt.

But what is it that is so important about go fmt, and why is it important to go fmt your source code ?

Part of the reason is, of course, to avoid needless debate. Large teams will, by their nature have a wide spectrum of views on many aspects of programming, and source code formatting is the most pernicious.

Go is a language for collaboration. So, in a large team, just as in a wider community, personal choices are moderated for a harmonious society.

The outcome is that nearly all go code is go formatted by convention. Adherence to this convention is an indicator of alignment with the values of Go.

This is important because it is a social convention leading to positive reinforcement, which is far more powerful than negative reinforcement of a chafing edict from the compiler writer.

In fact, code that is not well formatted can be a first order indicator of the suitability of the package. Now, I’m not trying to say that poorly formatted code is buggy, but poorly formatted code may be an indication that the authors have not understood the design principles that underscore Go.

So while buggy code can be fixed, design issues or impedance mismatches can be much harder to address, especially after that code is integrated into your program.

Batteries included

As Go programmers we can pick up a piece of Go code written by anyone in the world and start to read it. This goes deeper than just formatting.

Go lacks heavy libraries like Boost. There are no QT base classes, no gobject. There is no pre-processor to obfuscate. Domain specific language rarely appear in Go code.

The inclusion of maps and slices in the language side steps the most basic interoperability issues integrating packages from vendors, or other parts of your company. All Go code uses these same basic building blocks; maps, slices and channels, so all Go code is accessible to a reader who is versed in the language, not some quaint organization specific dialect.

Interfaces, the UNIX waypipe

In 1964 Doug McIlroy postulated about the power of pipes for composing programs. This was five years before the first Unix was written mind you.

McIlroy’s observations became the foundation of the UNIX philosophy; small, sharp tools which can be combined to solve larger tasks, tasks which may not have even been envisioned by the original authors.

In the last few decades, I feel that programmers have lost the ability to compose programs, lost behind waves of run time dependencies, stifling frameworks, and brittle type hierarchies that degrade the ability to move quickly and experiment cheaply.

Go programs embody the spirit of the UNIX philosophy. Go packages interact with one another via interfaces. Programs are composed, just like the UNIX shell, by combining packages together.

I can use fmt.Fprintf to write formatted output to a network connection, or a zip file, or a writer which discards its input. Conversely I can create a gzip reader that consumes data from a http connection, or a string constant, or a multireader composed of several sources.

All of these permutations are possible, in McIlroy’s vision, without any of the components having the slightest bit of knowledge about the other parts of this processing chain.

Small interfaces

Interfaces in Go are therefore a unifying force; they are the means of describing behaviour. Interfaces let programmers describe what their package provides, not how it does it.

Well designed interfaces are more likely to be small interfaces; the prevailing idiom here is that interfaces contain only a single method.

Compare this to other languages like Java or C++. In those languages interfaces are generally larger, in terms of the method count required to satisfy them, and more complex because of their entanglement with the inheritance based nature of those languages.

Interfaces in Go share none of those restrictions and so are simpler, yet at the same time, are more powerful, and more composable, and critical to the narrative of collaboration, interfaces in Go are satisfied implicitly.

Any Go type, written at any time, in any package, by any programmer, can implement an interface by simply providing the methods necessary to satisfy the interface’s contract.

It follows logically that small interfaces lead to simple implementations, because it is hard to do otherwise. Leading to packages comprised of simple implementations connected by common interfaces.

Errors and interfaces

errorI’ve written a lot about the subject of Go’s error handling, so I’ll restrict my comments here to errors as they relate to collaboration.

The error interface is the key to Go’s composable error handling story.

If you’ve worked on some large Go projects you may have come across packages like Canonical’s errgo, which provide facilities to apply a stack trace to an error value. Perhaps the project has rolled their own implementation. Maybe you have developed something similar in house.

I want to be clear that I am remaining neutral on the relative goodness or badness of the idea of gift wrapping errors.

What I do want to highlight is even though one piece of code you integrate uses fmt.Errorf, and another a third party package, and in your package you have developed your own error handling type. From the point of view of you the programmer consuming your work, the error handling strategy always looks the same. If the error is nil, the call worked.

Compare this to the variety of error handling strategies that must be managed in other languages as programs grow through accretion of dependencies.

This is the key to a Go programmer’s ability to write an application at any size without sacrificing reliability. In the context of collaboration, it must be said that Go’s error handling strategy is the only form that makes sense.

Simple build systems

Go’s lack of Makefiles is more than a convenience.

With other programming languages, when you integrate a piece of third party code, maybe it’s something complex, like v8, or something more mundane, like a database driver from your vendor, you’re integrating that code into your program, this part is obvious, but you are also integrating their build system.

This is a far less visible, and sometimes far more intractable problem. You’ve not just introduced a dependency on that piece of code, but also a dependency on its build system, be it cmake, scons, gnu autotools, what have you.

Go simply doesn’t have this problem.

Putting aside the contentious issues of package versioning, once you have the source in your $GOPATH, integrating any piece of third party Go code into your program is just an import statement.

Go programs are built from just their source, which has everything you need to know to compile a Go program. I think this is a hugely important and equally under-appreciated part of Go’s collaboration story.

This is also the key to Go’s efficient compilation. The source indicates only those things that it depends on, and nothing else. Compiling your program will touch only the lines of source necessary.

Sans runtime

Does your heart sink when you want to try the hottest new project from Hacker News or Reddit only find it requires node.js, or some assortment of Ruby dependencies that aren’t available on your operating system ? Or you have to look up what is the correct way to install a python package this week. Is it pip, is it easy_install, does that need an egg, or are they wheels ?

I can tell you mine does.

For Go programmers dependency management remains an open wound, this is a fact, and one that I am not proud of. But for users of programs written in Go their life just got a whole lot easier; compile the program, scp it to the server, job done.

Go’s ability to produce stand alone applications; and even cross compile them directly from your workstation means that programmers are rediscovering the lost art of shipping a program, a real compiled program, the exact same one they tested, to customers.

This one fact alone has allowed Go to establish a commanding position in the container orchestration market, a market which arguably would not exist in its current form if not for Go’s deployment story.

This story also illustrates how Go’s design decisions move beyond just thinking about how the programmer and the language will interact during the development phase, and extend right through the software life-cycle to the deployment phase.

Go’s choice of a single static binary is directly influenced by Google’s experiences deploying their own large complex applications, and I believe their advice should not be dismissed lightly.


C# isn’t portable, it is joined at the hip to a Windows host.

Swift and Objective-C are in the same boat, they live in the land of Apple only programming languages. Popular ? yes, but portable ? no.

Java, Scala, Groovy, and all the rest of the languages built atop the JVM may benefit from the architecture independence of the JVM bytecode format, until you realize that Oracle is only interested in supporting the JVM on its own hardware.

Java is tone deaf to the requirements of the machine it is executing on. The JVM is too sandboxed, too divorced from the reality of the environment it is working inside.

Ruby and Python are better citizens in this regard, but are hamstrung by their clumsy deployment strategies.

In the new world of metered cloud deployments in which we find ourselves, where you pay by the hour, the difference between a slow interpreted language, and a nimble compiled Go program is stark.

Go’s fresh take on portability, without the requirement to abstract yourself away from the machine your program runs on, is like no other language available today.

A command line renaissance

For the last few decades, since the rise of interpreted languages, or virtual machine run-times, programming has been less about writing small targeted tools, and more about managing the complexity of the environment those tools are deployed into.

Slow languages, or bloated deployments encourage programmers to pile additional functionality into one application to amortize the cost of installation and set up.

I believe that we are in the early stage of a command line renaissance, a renaissance driven by the rediscovery of languages which produce compiled, self contained, programs. Go is leading this charge.

A command line renaissance which enables developers to deliver simple programs that fit together, cross platform, in a way that suites the needs of the nascent cloud automation community, and reintroduces a generation of programmers to the art of writing tools which fit together, as Doug McIlroy described, “like segments in a garden hose”.

A key part of the renaissance is Go’s deployment story. I spoke earlier and many of my fellow speakers have praised Go for its pragmatic deployment story, focusing on server side deployments, but I believe there is more to this.

Over the last year we’ve seen a number of companies shift their client side tools from interpreted languages like Ruby and Python to Go. Cloud Foundry’s tools, Github’s hub, and MongoDB’s tool suite are the ones that spring to mind.

In every case their motivations were similar; while the existing tools worked well, the support load from customers who were not able to get the tool installed correctly on their machine was huge.

Go lets you write command line applications, that in turn enables developers to leverage the UNIX philosophy; small, sharp tools that work well together.

This is a command line renaissance that has been missing for a generation.


Go is a simple language, this was not an accident.

This was a deliberate decision, executed brilliantly by experienced designers who struck a chord with pragmatic developers.

Go is a language for programmers who want to get things done

Put simply, Go is a language for programmers who want to get things done.

“I just get things done instead of talking about getting them done.” — Henry Rollins

As Andrew Gerrand noted in his fifth birthday announcement

“Go arrived as the industry underwent a tectonic shift toward cloud computing, and we were thrilled to see it quickly become an important part of that movement.” — Andrew Gerrand

Go’s success is directly attributable to the factors that motivated its designers. As Rob Pike noted in his 2012 Splash paper.

“Go is a language designed by Google to help solve Google’s problems; and Google has big problems” — Rob Pike

And it turns out that Go’s design choices are applicable to the problems that an increasing number of professional programmers face today.

Go is growing

growingNovember last year, Go turned 5 years old as a public project.

In these 5 years, less if you consider that the language only reached 1.0 in April of 2012, Go, as a language, and a proposition to programmers and development teams, has been wildly successful.

In 2014 there were five international Go conferences. In 2015 there will be seven.


  • An ever growing engagement in social media; Twitter, Google plus, etc.
  • An established Reddit community.
  • Real time discussion communities like the #go-nuts IRC channel, or the slack gophers group.
  • Go featured in mainstream tech press, established companies are shipping Go APIs for their services.
  • Go training available in both professional and academic contexts.
  • Over 100 Go meetups around the world.
  • Sites like Damian Gryski’s Gophervids helping to disseminate the material produced by those meetups and conferences.
  • Community hackathon events like GopherGala and the Go Challenge.

Lastly, look around this room and see your peers, 350 experienced programmers, who have decided in invest in Go.

In closing

amorThis paper describes the language we have today. A language built with care and moderation. The language is what it is because of deliberate decisions that were made at every step.

Language design is about trade-offs, so learn to appreciate the care in which Go’s features were chosen and the skill in which they were combined.

While the language strives for simplicity, and is easy to learn, it does not immediately follow that the language is trivial to master.

There is a lot to love in our language, don’t be in such a hurry to dismiss it before you have explored it fully.

Learn to love the language. Really learn the language. It’ll take longer than you would think.

Learn to appreciate the choices of the designers.

Because, and I truly mean this, Go will make you a better programmer.

Lost in translation

Over the last year I have had the privilege of travelling to meet Go communities in Japan, Korea and India. In every instance I have met experienced, passionate, pragmatic programmers ready to accept Go for what it can do for them.

At the same time the message from each of these communities was the same; where is the documentation, where are the examples, where are the tutorials ? Travelling to these communities has been an humbling experience and has made me realise my privileged position as a native English speaker.

The documentation, and the tutorials, and the examples will come, slowly; this is open source after all. But what I can offer is the fact that all the content on this blog is licensed under a Creative Commons licence.

In short, I don’t have the skills, but if you do, you are welcome to translate any content on this site, and I’ll help you in any way I can.


Practical public speaking for Nerds

A friend recently asked me for some advice in preparing a talk for an upcoming conference. I ended up writing way more than they asked for.

If you are a Nerd like me, I hope you find some of this advice helpful.

Preparing the talk

Read before you write

Of course you should do your research before talking about something, but also (re)read writing that you enjoyed as inspiration, analyse its style, analyse what qualities you enjoyed unrelated to its topic.

Re-watch presentations that you enjoyed, you are going to be doing a presentation after all, analyse the style of the presentation, the manner of the speaker, the way they presented their argument, the way they present themselves on stage.

In this respect, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

Avoid the Death Sentence

Don’t write in the passive voice, ever. If you don’t know what I mean, read Death Sentence by Don Watson.

The TL;DR of the passive voice is sounding like a CEO or a politician. Always use the first person or second person pronouns, I and You, to assign ownership of an idea or responsibility to someone, don’t leave it hanging out there with phrases like “we should”.

Start at the end

In order of importance you need

  1. a conclusion
  2. an introduction
  3. everything else

The conclusion is your position, your idea, your argument, your call to action, summarised in one slide.

Don’t start writing until you know how your talk ends.

The introduction should set the stage for the conclusion.

The rest of the talking points should flow logically from the proposition established in the introduction. They should be relevant and supportive of the conclusion. If a point does not relate to the introduction, or support the conclusion then either rewrite it, drop it, or in extreme cases reconsider your conclusion.


Every presentation will have a minimum and maximum time limit; if you don’t know it, ask the organiser, don’t guess. All things being equal it is preferable to finish sooner than to run overtime. Here are some of the techniques I use for planning my talk.

The two key elements are word count and the number of slides.

Word count

I prefer to write my talks in full as a paper, you may choose to speak to bullet points, it’s very much personal choice. Either way you have a set number of words to work with for your presentation.

The average speaking pace for native English speakers is around 120 to 130 words per minute. You can use this to calculate the number of words a presentation will require.

Professional speakers will talk slower, around 100 words per minute. Don’t assume that you will be able to to do this unless you have had a lot of practice at public speaking. Plan for a higher word rate and write accordingly. It will be easier to speed up during your talk if you are short on time, than to make yourself slow down if you are panicking.

A good rule of thumb is 2,000 to 2,500 words for a 20 minute presentation, 4,000 to 5,000 for a 45 minute slot.

Aim to finish ahead of time so people can prove they were listening by asking questions.


I budget on one supporting slide per minute. So 18 to 20 slides for a 20 minute presentation, 35 to 40 for a 45 minute presentation.

I’ve found this to be a pretty reliable rule of thumb regardless of the style of presentation or how I have prepared for it.

You may want to structure your slides with one bullet point per slide rather than one topic, but don’t think “this will take less time”. It might be true, but it risks any small delay in covering a slide multiplying through your deck and blowing your time limit.

If you are running short on time it is easier to summarize slides with multiple points on tham to catch up without looking like you’re rushing.


Read through your talk multiple times to check your material and time yourself – this is why I prefer to write my talks in full, it helps avoid the temptation to skip the rehearsal of parts that I think I know well.

On the day

Plan for the worst

With all respect to conference organisers, the presentation stage is the most hostile environment you will encounter. Every effort is made by the organisers to mitigate this, but the bottom line is, if things go to shit, you still have to do your talk, so plan for things to fail.

If your talk is formatted for wide screen, assume the projector is from the stone age and you’ll have to use someone else’s 4:3 laptop. If there is an opportunity to practice in the space, take it.

Assume the internet won’t work. Yup, it’s 2015 and internet is everywhere, except on stage. This is super important if you use tools like Google present or anything that uses web fonts.

Also assume that multi monitor set ups just won’t work, so all that clever shit that keynote does is useless, have a fall back.

Larger conferences will either request, or demand that you use their laptops, even to the point of asking for presentation material well in advance. The lowest common denominator here is PDF, so whatever tool you use, make sure it can emit a PDF.

Because of these difficulties, if you plan to use speaking notes, you should have a way to access those independent of your presentation software. I’ve found copying the text into a Google doc works well and lets me edit my speech after the presentation materials have been handed over to the organisers.

Beware that Goggle docs is really pedantic about being online, so don’t assume that just because the document was open on your laptop before lunch, it’ll work on stage. If in doubt export your notes to a PDF.

Engaging the audience

Establishing contact with the audience is one of the hardest things for me. There are many aspects of this

  • at larger conferences, you may be on a professional stage, so the stage lights make it hard to see anything except a sea of little apple logos in the audience.
  • different cultures show respect for the speaker in different ways. Some show they are interested in make positive grunts and noises, others sit in respectful silence.
  • humour is hard, unless you are a professional comedian. It’s really hard to pull off, so try not to make it a requirement of your talk, or necessary to support your conclusion.
  • most tech audiences are rude. People will check their email and tweet during your presentation; they’re probably not disinterested, just insensitive; try to ignore them.
  • In other cultures it is appropriate to close your eyes during a presentation, or even snooze, don’t take it personally.

Speak slowly

Duh, who doesn’t say that ? The fact is you will be nervous, or if not nervous, excited, so you will talk faster than you plan to.

The key is to take time for yourself.

Pause between bullet points

If you’re reading from a script, then start a new paragraph between points and remind yourself to take a deep breath.

Pause at the top of each new slide

It gives the audience time to read the material on the slide before you start to speak. This is important because while you know it backwards and forwards, this is probably the first time the audience is getting a chance to see your idea.

If you feel uncomfortable then fill that time by taking a drink of water or walking to a different part of the stage. The latter is my favourite because it gives you excuse to take another pause to walk back.

Dry throat

Your throat will get dry during your talk, this is part of our fight or flight response to stressful situations; it’s the adrenaline. If it happens, don’t let it throw you, focus on pausing between points. Take a drink of water to insert a pause into your presentation, but don’t panic if taking a drink doesn’t fix the problem, that’ll just make it worse.

Don’t beat yourself up

Lastly, don’t beat yourself up afterwards.

Public speaking is a skill that needs practice, it’s not something that any of us are born with. This is why they make us practice public speaking in high school. But it’s probably been a long time since you and I were in high school, and we probably didn’t realise the importance of what we were being taught at the time.

So, don’t expect to be awesome every time, and don’t put yourself in a position where your talk must be awesome. This isn’t an interview, it’s not a binary thing, even if you were nervous, or talked too fast, or realised that you crapped up one point in your argument, it’s still ok, the audience will still get a lot from it.

That wild ass recruiting idea

A few days ago, after reading yet another article on the critical importance of only hiring the best people — yet being unable to offer any concrete suggestions on how to do this, save slavishly repeating the “best people” homily — I posted the following

I find twitter to be a hopeless medium for communication. I am continually frustrated with its requirement to summarise a thought into its most abridged form, so please read that tweet in the light of a half baked thought forced through an uncooperative medium.


Despite the brevity of that tweet, it did contain several mistakes.

The first mistake, is I should have not said that this should be the only way that companies hire.

What I think many missed in that short message was my suggestion to send your staff to a conference to meet more people, which brings me to my second mistake. If I had more space in the tweet I would have said

If they are tapped out, send them to a conference, or a meetup, or to visit another company, or on training, or encourage them to give a brown bag lunch, or give them the time to contribute to an open source project.

The key in that message is your staff are your most important resource. If you want to lean on them to provide you with the best people, then you should invest in them and their careers.

Discuss this on Hacker News

What did devops mean ?

This post is a rant about a word. A rant about a word that had a clear meaning but has been appropriated for something wholly less meaningful.

The word is of course Devops. Over the last few years, as the practice itself has grown in prominence, its description has become diluted beyond the point of recovery.

It is far to common place to hear Devops used as a synonym for someone who automates technology, or even just to mean automation. Just as disappointing is the wholesale rebranding of Systems Administration as Devops.

Here is a pro tip: if you’re the only person on the team, or in the company, who carries the pager, it’s not Devops.

You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means

So what happened ? Where did things go wrong ?

Devops is was an idea, a movement, a set of practices about using technology to deliver shit that you are supposed to deliver not point fingers. But movements are hard to sell, and harder to buy as the term cannot be used to describe succinctly what the person would do.

A systems administrator administers computer systems. A network administrator administers computer networks. A computer programmer programs computers. What does a Devops do again ?

It’s easy to stick the boot into the facile recruiting industry and lay the blame at their door, but it’s not really their fault. At their heart recruiters are sales people, and their goal is to sell you something (or someone) and semantic arguments won’t keep the lights on.

Why exactly is it you are using recruiters ?

In memoriam

If this post is then a eulogy for Devops, what other words can be used instead to describe it ?

If when you say Devops you actually mean Automation then the words you want to use are Infrastructure as Code. As a term and a brand it appears robust against appropriation, and if that is your bag then I suggest you checkout @infracoders.

Alternatively if you meant Devops the movement, then a suggestion is to look to the roots of that movement, to Agile itself. Look for teams that espouse Agile values and you’ll probably find a welcome home.

The Mythical Man-Month selection bias

There is an apocryphal story1 during World War Two, of a squadron of bombers leaving on a sortie. Time passes and finally a few bombers struggle back to their base, the crew shaken, but alive, their aircraft riddled with bullet holes.

Shocked by their losses, the reaction by Air Force was to order the areas of the air frame wounded by enemy fire be reinforced with additional armor plating to improve the success of future missions.

Fortunately for the Allies, a statistician engaged by the British raised the issue that the aircraft that had returned, although battle scared, were hit in places not crucial for flight. In comparison, their missing comrades had not fared so well. Having succumb to enemy fire, the damage their aircraft suffered could not be accounted for.

Thus, the statistician argued, the portions of the aircraft which should receive additional armor should the places which did not suffer damage. This then is a tale about Selection Bias.

Thirty years later, Frederick P Brooks, Jr wrote his seminal work, The Mythical Man-Month. Brooks’ observation that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later” has become a rallying cry for the software development industry; one which we have had no shortage of opportunities to validate against a steady stream of prominent projects who over promised yet under delivered.

However, for all our well founded chortling, I wonder if we are not succumbing to our own selection bias. For all the attempts to throw people at a floundering project is there a percentage of teams that quietly pull it off, meet their audacious schedule and live to code another day ?

Is Brooks’ law an axiom of the software development industry, or are we simply counting the losers and drawing the wrong conclusion?

  1. If you want the real story, I suggest reading John D Cook’s post.