KalamazooX Recap

The KalamazooX conference was held on Saturday, April 10.  It lived up to the expectations set by all of the positive comments I’ve seen and heard about last year’s event.   This year’s event consisted of eleven sessions that lasted approximately 30 minutes each.  The sessions all focused on soft rather than technical skills.  It really was worth the trip.

Be a Better Developer

Presented By: Mike Wood

A few days before the conference I read through Mike’s blog posts about this subject and was looking forward to hearing him present the abbreviated version.  I highly recommend reading through the full series.

Key Points

  • Don’t be a code monkey
    • Code monkey’s are expendible minions
    • Stand out from the crowd
    • Thinking about programming can’t stop at 5:01 PM

If all your learning happens on the job, all you learn is the job.

  • “Shift” happens
    • Learn to deal with change
    • Keep up with changes in the field
    • “Steal” time to learn
      • Listen to podcasts during a commute
      • Study over lunch
    • Find a mentor
  • Be a salesman
    • Need to sell yourself and ideas
    • Don’t be a sleazy salesman

Additional Resources

Why Testing is Important

Presented By: Phil Japikse
As I mentioned in a previous post, Phil recently spoke about Behavior Driven Development (BDD) at the March IndyNDA meeting.  This session touched a bit on BDD but only briefly.

“If you don’t test, your customers will.”

Key Points

  • Unit Testing
    • Testing individual blocks leads to better certainty that the system as a whole will work
    • Helps close the developer/requirements mismatch by becoming a rapid feedback loop
    • Helps improve team trust through collective ownership
    • Provides a safety net for change
    • Helps with estimation by identifying points of impact
  • Test Driven Development
    • Less code – only develop enough to satisfy requirements
    • Higher code coverage – tests are written up front rather than never due to schedule constraints
    • Cleaner design – code is written in small increments

Women in Technology: Why You Should Care and How You Can Help

Presented By: Jennifer Marsman

Although Jennifer’s talk was focused on attracting women to technology and keeping them there she started off with a general discussion about diversity.  What I really appreciated about this portion of her talk was how she made a point to show that diversity doesn’t need to be restricted to race and that a group of white males from differing backgrounds counts as diversity as well.

Key Points

  • Two Problems
    • Recruiting
      • No interest
    • Retention
      • Reasons women leave the field
        • Lack of role models
        • Lack of mentors and career coaching
        • Sexual Harassment
  • Addressing Recruiting
    • Need to get them interested in the first place
      • Encourage daughters
      • Leverage obsessions
        • Wouldn’t it be cool to build facebook?
  • Addressing Retention
    • Understand that men can be mentors for women
    • Connect women to each other
    • Have women speak at conferences
      • Avoid having a “token” woman for PC reasons
    • Understand that harassement does exist
      • Often not blatantly but as the summation of many little things
      • Realize that men worry about it too

Additional Resources

What Tools Should Be In Your Workshop

Presented By: Tim Wingfield

I sat in on Tim’s Care About Your Craft talk at IndyCodeCamp last year and was happy to see him speaking at KalamazooX.  In this session Tim lists a number of tools that he believes should be in every developer’s toolbox.  He challenged everyone to start using some of these tools.  Lucky for me, my dev team and I already use many of them.

Tools For The Team

  • Whiteboard/Giant 3M Post-it sheets
  • IM/Twitter
  • Wiki
  • Issue/Change Tracking software
  • Source Control
    • Subversion
    • git
  • Build Server
    • Cruise Control
    • Team City
    • Hudson

Tools For The Individual

  • Text Editor
    • Notepad++
    • TextMate
    • vi/vim/emacs
  • Command Shell
  • Scripting Language
    • Python
    • Ruby
    • perl
  • Your Brain
    • Care about your craft
    • Think about what you’re doing
    • Read often
    • Do critical analysis

Additional Resources

Stone Soup, or a Culture of Change

Presented By: James Bender

James focused on being a change agent in your organization.  Large, sweeping changes are scary but by changing things incrementally we can often get to the large change with less disruption.

“Change where you work or change where you work.”

Stone Soup

  1. Find low-hanging fruit
    • Unit Testing
    • Refactoring toward SOLID
    • Abstraction
    • Agile practices
  2. Make small but meaningful changes
  3. Support and simmer
    • People need time and help to adjust
    • As results are noticed future changes will be met with less resistence


  • Don’t judge
  • Know your tools
  • Only introduce changes you believe in
  • Add value
  • Know when to stop
  • Evangelize about the changes
  • Build a network of like-minded people
  • Realize it may be difficult to reach everyone
  • When all else fails, try bribery
  • Be patient

Treating the Community Like a Pile of Crap Makes it Stronger

Presented By: Brian H. Prince

As odd as the session title sounds Brian’s talk was one of the most engaging sessions of the day.  In his talk he compared the development community with working with a compost or manure pile.  Over time, the top layers get crusty and the pile needs to be turned to keep it fresh.  The same holds true for communities.

Brian observed that community leaders tend to get burned-out after around 2-3 years.  Once the burn-out sets in many leaders stop participating and there’s often no one to take their place.  Community leaders need to plan for their succession.  They need to discover, engage, and groom the next generation of leaders to get them involved and keep the community alive.

Churn the pile of crap to attract new flies and keep the pile fresh or watch it dry up and disappear.

Agile+UX: The Great Convergence of User Centered Design and Iterative Development

Presented By: John Hwang

I didn’t take many notes from this session.  As interesting as the topic was it moved really quickly and to me it seemed to really be trying to compress way too much information into such a short time-span.  I might be interested in hearing more about this in a more expanded time slot but it didn’t really seem right for KalamazooX.

Toward the end of this session I received the first of several phone calls regarding a family emergency (more on that later) so I was a bit distracted.

How to Work Effectively with a Designer/ How to Work Effectively with a Developer

Presented By: Amelia Marschall & Jeff McWherter

Amelia and Jeff discussed overcoming some of the difficulties that are often encountered when developers and designers need to work together on a project.  I didn’t get many notes from this session either due to the aforementioned family emergency but I still managed a few. 

Key Points

  • Know each other’s abilities
    • All designers and developers are not created equal
      • Some designers know CSS and HTML, some don’t
      • Some developers are decent designers, others aren’t
  • Set boundaries
  • Set a workflow
  • Create code that a designer can read
  • Create designs a developer can implement
  • Do things to make the other person’s life easier
    • Educate each other
    • Ask questions

Additional Resources

Does Your Code Tell a Story?

Presented By: Alan Stevens

This was the last session I was able to attend.  After travelling eight hours one-way from Knoxville, TN (wow!) to present for a whopping 30 minutes Alan understandably requested that attendees to put away all of their electronic devices.  This was the first time I’d heard him speak and I’m truly glad I was able to stay for this one.  It was one of the highlights of the day.

There’s a big difference between having 10 years of experience and having 1 year of experience 10 times.

Key Points

  • Beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity
  • Read alot, write alot
  • Beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity
  • Write shitty first drafts
  • Beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity

Missed Sessions

During the Agile+UX session I received a call from my mother.  When she left a voicemail I knew something was wrong.  My wife had either broken or dislocated her ankle getting out of the car and was in an incredible amount of pain, and being taken by ambulance to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo.  I had to leave the conference early and as a result I missed the final two sessions.

  • Unwritten Rules of Resumes
  • Have You Hugged Your Brand Today?

I was sorry to have to leave early and my apologies to the speakers but family emergencies take priority.  When I got to the hospital the nurses were taking X-Rays of her ankle.  Amazingly her ankle was not broken but she really had dislocated the ankle bones and had to undergo conscious sedation to put them back in place.  The procedure was successful so no surgery was required.  She’ll be wearing a partial plaster splint for a few weeks.

The ER staff at Bronson was great.  Everyone we worked with was very attentive and did everything they could to make sure that my wife was as comfortable as she could be.  Should we ever be in need of medical services while in Kalamazoo I know where I’ll be looking.

Luckily she wasn’t carrying our 5 month old at the time and both my mom and aunt were there to help her.  We both appreciate their help.

For the curious, I snapped a picture of the ankle before the procedure.

Change Log 


After sleeping a few hours and driving to work I remembered two things I had intended to include.  I added a paraphrased quote to the notes for both Mike Woods’ and Alan Stevens’ sessions.  I also promoted a quote from Phil Japikse’s session from being a bullet point.


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