CodePaLOUsa 2014: Good software design fundamentals and work/life balance tips

Tony Patton recaps the recent CodePaLOUsa software development conference, which featured sessions about women in IT, Sass, Ember.js, Meteor.js, and much more.



In spite of the frigid weather and icy streets, techies gathered in downtown Louisville, KY for the annual CodePaLOUsa software development conference (February 24-26, 2014). The conference provided a nice mix of technical sessions along with its usual soft skill offerings.

Work/life balance, leadership tips, women in IT

One theme I heard repeatedly across sessions was the need for developers to have a proper balance between work and personal life. Chris Michel compared the work office (or cubicle) to a prison cell and suggested ways to escape, including saying "no" more often, setting your priorities, tracking time worked on tasks, and taking breaks (this includes vacations). I believe effective multitasking is a myth, and he agreed, saying we should do one thing at a time.

Colleen Slaughter called for more authenticity and leadership when dealing with change. I think it was the first conference I attended that featured a session during lunch. I would have preferred a quiet lunch, but a lot of attendees seemed to enjoy it.

The Tuesday night social event featured a panel discussion on women in IT called Debunking the Steve Rule. The title originates from the claim that you can find more men named Steve than women at an IT conference. The panel raised excellent points on a poignant topic, as women still seem to shy away from a career in IT. It was a good discussion, but there did not seem to be a consensus on how to increase interest in IT for women. (Related reading: Reshma Saujani: Movement-starter to rebalance women in technology)

Code analysis, Sass, Meteor.js, and more

I listened to several talks focused on testing as well as user interface (UI) design. Danielle Cooley provided great information on common UI mistakes. My hat is off to Sean Cribbs, who taught us about composer Heinrich Schenker while discussing how to determine if software is poorly written. He compared the complexity of code to that of music, with an eye on bringing something like Schenkerian analysis for music to code analysis. Cribbs is knee-deep in software development while working on Riak. His presentation slides are available online.

A session I attended focused on using Sass to design interfaces in the browser. The presenter, Chris Michel, covered using Sass and Compass tools for web design, as opposed to using tools like Photoshop. This allows you to develop where the application will be used--the browser--and we all know Photoshop is a big investment of time and money. 

There was no shortage of JavaScript sessions, as it continues to seemingly dominate web development these days with Node.js on the server and a wealth of client frameworks. One such framework is Ember.js, which was covered on day one by Jesse Cravens. It seems like a great tool, but I wonder if I really need to take on another framework. Then I heard about Meteor.js, which offers a better way to build applications. Both its client and server pieces were built with JavaScript. 

A common theme throughout many sessions was agile methodology. Some sessions focused on it (project management, requirements, application analytics), while others just assumed it was being used. 

Worth attending

The key measurement for an IT conference is how valuable it is to your daily work or overall career. Based on this measurement, I consider CodePaLOUsa worthwhile, as it provided many opportunities to learn while rubbing elbows with local peers from Louisville and other tech pros from around the globe.

Chad Green and team continue to do a great job with the conference.