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Reflections on TechExeter 2021

Reflections on TechExeter 2021

It’s September time, one of my favourite times of the year. The heat of the summer has gone, but we often still get a some nice weather down here in the south west. My kids are back at school after what feels like an eternity of summer holidays, and most importantly it’s blackberry season! We also have the annual TechExeter conference, which is something I look forward to every year. For me, going to TechExeter has become a milestone for the transition from summer into autumn. Something to look forward to and enjoy now that the fun of summer holidays are a long distant memory.

This year, like last year due to the pandemic, the conference was remote which does bring some drawbacks but the structure of the conference and the platform used really helped mitigate those issues. There was still multiple conference tracks, live Q&As, workshops and a chance to socialise through the one-to-one networking area – which I didn’t get a chance to try but is a really nice addition to add that conference vibe to something that is online. Exciting person that I am, I tend to watch quite a lot of tech conference videos online and while that’s great to pick up on that content, you do lose a lot of the interaction that you get from attending a conference and seeing each talk live. Hats off to the TechExeter and Digital Exeter teams that put all this together, the conference went very smoothly.

First for the day was the conference keynote by Liz Jessop. Liz talked about all the impressive work she had done in promoting gender diversity in tech. She spoke about her journey from her time at Exeter University to KPMG and the her involvement in ‘IT’s Her Future’, an award winning mentoring programme.

After a quick break, we then moved on to the, ahem, highlight of the conference. A talk about DataOps by the motley pair of Ian Russell and a certain Jon Stace from this company that you might have heard of called Software Solved. The talk went well (because we’d pre-recorded it!) and there was a nice bit of Q&A from the audience where we expand on the talk’s contents a bit.

The next talk I attended was ‘How to buy a really big computer’ by Rich Lawrence from the Met Office. I have to say, I completely geeked out on this talk. It was fascinating to see the progression of the Met Office’s use of large computers to perform their forecast calculations, and the approach they take to buying a new computer every 5-10 years as their need for that computing power increased. It was also really interesting to hear about their move to a supercomputer hosted and managed by Microsoft for their latest iteration.

Following that talk, I went to the workshop hosted by Developer Katja Mordaunt, entitled Get Better At Reading Code. The premise for this was: We spend 50% of our time as programmers reading code, but we only ever practice writing code. Katja took us through an interactive session of reviewing some code that we’d not seen before. We looked at some Objective-C code for an open source iOS app, a technology I’m only vaguely familiar with, and the steps we took really helped to make sense of the code. It was a really well thought out process and I really enjoyed this workshop.

After lunch, I watched ‘Improve Access by 700% with the JavaScript Internationalization API’ by Developer and tech writer Craig Buckler. Craig took us on a highly entertaining and informative run through of the JavaScript API that enables presenting information in formats that people from different countries would expect, e.g. dates presented as month, day, year vs day, month, year. All of this runs either in the web browser or the backend if you’re running Node or Deno.

Last (but not least) on my list for the day was Colin Dart, from SETsquared‘s talk: Technology Viability and Innovation – The importance of trying everything. This was a well-structured talk on how innovation can be improved through different ways of thinking. Ideas such as socialising your ideas, seeking contributions and evaluation from a wide audience, follow tangents and incorporating other people’s expertise.

As with most conferences, there were several sessions that I wanted to attend but missed because they clashed with other talks. We were fortunate enough to be provided with a list of the recordings of all the talks and Q&A sessions, which was a major bonus and very much appreciated. One of the benefits of running a remote conference.

As I said at the start of this blog, well done to the TechExeter and Digital Exeter teams for a great day and very well run conference. Here’s to next year!

If you’d like to find out more about DataOps, please take a look at our talk here: DataOps – How access to your data with this approach will release untapped value

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