Recently I was lucky enough to go to LeadDev London. You can read about my general thoughts, and the first
day of talks, here. This
post covers the second day.
The following is a summary of my notes from each talk. Any mistakes, errors or things that don’t
make sense are entirely my fault. Hopefully, this will provide a flavour of each talk and inspire
you to watch the ones that interest you the most to get the full story.
The typical way of making architectural decisions is that a team requests a decision. The architects
go and have a think, then the decision is received by the team, and they try to implement it. The
problem is that this doesn’t scale and can significantly delay the team.
In this talk, Andrew Harmel-Law proposes a decentralised way of making decisions - The Advice Process.
Anyone can make a decision, but before doing so they must seek advice. There are two parts to this
process - a lightweight ADR (architectural decision record) and the Architecture Advice Forum.
The ADR is a document that describes a decision that was made (or is in the process of being made).
It should contain:
Context - you should put real effort in so people can understand why you’re making this decision.
Consequences of the decision
Advice - who gave what and when.
The Architecture Advice Forum is a weekly meeting to discuss in-progress ADRs and for people to give
and receive advice.
How To Fail
“Bad” decisions - how do people deal with decisions they disagree with? Give advice, but let the team do what they want.
Old guard is the new guard - if you don’t get new people writing ADRs
The last of these is quite serious as people are not following the process. You should ask them to
write an ADR and find out why they didn’t in the first place. Did they not realise it was a decision?
Sorry… you go ahead. The art of making space and claiming space in meetings
Move in tiny steps, and don’t refactor code that isn’t testable.
Why do people not refactor?
This leads to guilt… shame… and despair.
This makes you feel like you’re not as good as the book you read, or the speaker you saw.
It makes you want to hide bad code.
It makes you try a big bang refactor, which doesn’t work.
We’re in a knowledge industry and yet we find it hard to ask permission to spend time
to think and analyse.
People in leadership feel like they need to give the impression of everything they do
being great. This makes junior engineers feel bad.
We need to allow time because we are fallible.
Sculptors start a raw material and remove bits. Writers and coders need to create the raw
material so we can start editing - the first draft.
Something that is slightly improved is better than something that has been destroyed to try
and make it perfect.
Learn how to make the tiniest improvement that keeps the tests green.
Seek the joy of coding and of doing a good job. People who enjoy their work are much more effective.
Skiller Whale Coding Competition
During the conference Skiller Whale were running a coding competition
where the top three entries would win an Oculus Quest 2. The challenge was twofold. Firstly you
needed to write an SQL query processing some customer data. The second part was to automate the
submission so you could submit it quickly enough.
The first part was pretty fiddly to get right. There was a customer table and an orders table. The
problem was to calculate the average rank of customers over a period, where customers are ranked
daily based on the amount spent, including on days when they didn’t spend anything. Ranking customers
is easy enough using the rank function.
The challenge comes from including customers on days they didn’t order anything. This requires a full
outer join between a table of dates and the customers and then left joining onto the orders table.
Each time you submitted an entry you were given a different date range and target rank to return. The
second part of the challenge is to automate the submission so you can submit in less than one second.
Luckily for me, only two people completed this part, leaving the third spot open to the person with the
most efficient query. I managed to sneak into third place by replacing the date table, which initially
I was doing this by running a distinct over the dates in the order table (requiring a full scan of the table),
with the generate_series function which
is much more efficent.
I’ll write a review of the Quest 2 when I’ve played with it a bit, thanks Skiller Whale!
I’ve included the SQL I submitted below, just in case anyone is interested.
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at the LeadDev London
2022 conference. This is a series of conferences aimed at senior engineers and engineering
managers, although for obvious reasons it’s been a few years since it was last held.
The conference itself was held in the
Barbican Hall, which in general is a
lovely venue. The seats in the hall were comfortable, and spending two days sitting there was not
as unpleasant as I had feared. The Barbican itself was built in the early 1980s, and a few areas,
in particular, looked like they needed some refurbishment - particularly the downstairs men’s
The food was very nice, particularly the Banoffee pie
from lunch on day two. The size of portions was generally good, although you did need to stock up
from the salad bars at lunch to get a decent plate full. Queues were also not too much of a problem,
other than the first ten minutes or so of lunch.
Enough about the practicalities though, what about the content? No one goes to a conference for the
food, but instead for what you can learn and take back to your job. LeadDev is a single-track
conference, so you have no choice over what to see, but fortunately, most of the content was general
enough to be useful to everyone. Both days were hosted by
Meri Williams who did a great job keeping things moving swiftly,
and setting the scene for each talk.
The one talk I did skip was about scaling a mobile app deployment process because I don’t work in
mobile. There was another talk with a brilliant title about driving and defining software quality,
which turned out to just be a story of someone’s time in game development QA, and I struggled to
find any useful takeaways. These scheduling missteps were rare though, so now let’s talk about the
talks I enjoyed the most.
As I write this you can buy on-demand access to all the talks from the
LeadDev site. I don’t know if they
plan to make the talks available for free at some point, but
previous conferences are available, so that
suggests they will be.
The following is a summary of my notes from each talk on the first day. Any mistakes, errors or
things that don’t make sense are entirely my fault. Hopefully, this will provide a flavour of
each talk and inspire you to watch the ones that interest you the most to get the full story.
This talk was about how to tell what a high-performing team look likes, but also about how to make the
trade-offs to make high performance sustainable.
What does chaos look like? It can look like managing 20 people and still being on the on-call rota
(depressingly this applies to me!) or doing five or more interviews a week because there aren’t
enough people available to do interviews.
Try to recognise when you’re doing poor work, or are wrong, by being self-aware. Also, ask your manager
what they think it would great looks like in your position, and compare it to your current performance.
Your aim is to be replaceable. If there’s a process you run can you automate it? Can you delegate it?
Be efficient with your time, and take the time to reflect on how you’ve spent your time each week, Try
to do better each week!
It’s tempting to add people to a team but this can have negative consequences. People start to wonder if
they’re being replaced. They worry that the new person might not do their job well, or that they might
do it better than them! Adding people will make things go slower, at least for a while.
As a leader, you should be writing all the time. Writing is thinking, and it helps others to follow your
This was a short talk looking at the question of how we ensure every developer has a fun experience?
Code bases naturally become less fun to work on as they get bigger.
Don’t assume you know the answer - try to understand the developer experience, then form a vision and
iterate on it. Understanding can be as simple as sending a survey with the question “What is preventing
you from having a fun experience?”
Focus on building strong tools. Pick one thing and focus on that, rather than trying to solve too many
things at once.
Empathy in senior leadership is a superpower. It increases creativity and productivity. When you are several
levels up it’s easy to burn out worrying about the problems of all the people who report to you.
A technique that Phil has borrowed from therapy is
Solutions Focused Brief Theraphy. This
works in a similar way to how we work in product and engineering teams, so is familiar to people. To follow it
you ask the question “Imagine the problem you’re facing has gone away. What do you notice?” Work with them
to define the steps to get there, and help them to execute those steps.
As a senior leader, you should ask people to support each other, and cascade this to the people who report
to your reports. You can scale empathy!
As someone who is passionate about dashboards and trying to be data-driven in management, this was my
favourite talk of the conference.
Some metrics can be perceived differently. Laura used the example of peaks and troughs in a tickets
completed metric. Without additional context different people can interpret the data differently.
By overlaying the number of incidents the metrics become more valuable.
People’s self-perception matters more than we think, and we should not discount qualitative metrics.
How do you move from metrics being perceived as surveillance rather than empowerment?
Vanity metrics are metrics without meaning. We can add tension to metrics to make them more
valuable. Balance speed or activity against quality, reliability or satisfaction.
Laura recommended three sources that I have not yet checked out, but I intend to.
She also recommended GetDX.com as a tool to help you measure developer
experience. Unfortunately, it has a truly terrible website, with no information about the tool,
or any hint of pricing, just a “request a demo” button. I really liked the sound of this tool,
but it’s going to be hard for me to justify investing time in it.
How is an asynchronous meeting different from a Slack thread or an email? It’s still scheduled like a meeting,
but instead you just put deadlines into people’s calendars about when they should have responded to
the meeting. It requires all the usual good practices for meetings, but they’re even more important.
You should share timelines for the meeting, expectations about what people should do, logistics of how
to contribute (Google Docs, Miro, etc), and what you expect from people.
Meetings don’t need to be 100% async, but the preparation can be done before a shorter synchronous
catch-up. For a retro, you could fill in the retro board ahead of time, and then have a meeting to
discuss the board.
Meetings can be asynchronous for information pushing or brainstorming, but relationship building should
The benefits are that you get more time for thought, as the context is more accessible (although more
effort is required to set the agenda and in keeping notes). The downsides are that it requires more
coordination, and you don’t get real-time answers or fast-paced discussions.
This was a really interesting idea, and I intend to try it out for the next retrospective I run.
How to build trust as a new manager in a fully remote team
This was a really great talk about the two Boeing 737MAX plane crashes, the failures that lead to the plane
design that allowed them to happen, and precisely why they crashed. The talk was really hard to take notes
from, and isn’t directly relevant to many people, but is well worth a watch if you have time.
A common refrain from developers is “We have too much tech debt! We need to tackle it to
speed up!” It’s hard to argue with the sentiment - badly written code or outdated software does
take considerably more effort to maintain than code that follows current best practices. However,
saying we have too much tech debt is not useful, because it’s not specific enough. You can’t create
a vague “tackle tech debt” project and expect to get sponsorship from the business for the work.
If you’re lucky enough to have a portion of your time available to be used for engineering
directed projects then you’re still unlikely to be successful with a vague tech debt project.
Getting agreement for what tech debt actually is is nigh-on impossible. Everyone
has their own pet peeve that they will want to tackle as part of that project.
My solution to this problem is to avoid using the phrase tech debt. Sometimes tech debt is clear -
it might be a database that is outside of its support lifecycle or a library that is many versions
behind the current release. More common is that when people say “tech debt” they mean things like
code that is not as testable as they would like, or which follows some patterns that they declare
to be an anti-pattern. While there is broad agreement about what constitutes good code, the more
detailed you get the more it becomes about personal opinions.
Ok, are you back? Great. Chris talks in part about feeling like he misses absorbing knowledge through osmosis in an office.
Osmosis, in case you’ve forgotten your biology lessons, is the spontaneous passage of something through a semipermeable
membrane. In this case, we’re talking about knowledge entering your head without you needing to consciously do anything