Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Music Hack Days Paris

The last two days of my trip to Paris were spent at Music Hack Day, representing my company, 7digital. Kindly hosted by Deezer in their lovely trendy offices, there were about 150 hackers from both within and without France who'd come to hang out, drink beer, mess around with technology and generally have a great time.

The event kicked off with a short presentation from each of the sponsors, introducing their company and outlining the APIs on offer. Hackers then headed out into the blazing sunshine to discuss teams and ideas over a hotdog, before bagging a desk and settling down to work. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, folks alternated between bouts of intense concentration, games of table football, and replenishing caffeine levels. The background soundtrack of those Parisian favourites Daft Punk was occasionally punctuated by a friendly squabble over coding practises, or a burst of dischordant music as teams demonstrated their work-in-progress to each other.

As I wandered about the room in the evening I really wanted to interrupt people to ask what they were making, especially if I caught a glimpse of their screen or that private smile you get when you finally make something work, but knowing that thought flow is a precious and ephemeral thing, I reined my curiosity in. About midnight I ran out of steam and headed back to my hotel, but was too hyped to really sleep - or possibly just too full of coffee.

The next morning I was impressed to see that some teams had literally worked all through the night, and others had come in early to get their apps finished before the 1:30pm deadline. The energy levels stayed high, occasionally spiking into frantic, and come the afternoon everyone grabbed a seat to watch the hacks being presented. We were treated to a huge range of exciting ideas, including but not limited to a video visualiser made from clips of The Soul Train, an app to share your favourite six seconds of a track, a multi-iphone lyric display, a beatiful visual display of your music collection, and a way to control music using your brainwaves.

Our 7digital prize was awarded to the team from Queen Mary's university for their app Brutalize Me, which transformed Justin Bieber pop songs into death metal: two types of metal actually, light or deadly.

After the presentations the hackers began to dissipate back to the four corners of Europe, pausing to compliment each others' apps and swap contact details. Massive props to Deezer and Martyn for putting on such a great weekend - and looking forward to catching up with everyone at the next one.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

DevOps Days Paris

I arrived at DevOps Days Paris not quite knowing what to expect. I'd been introduced to DevOps Days at the London event about six weeks ago, where I was blown away by the abundance of ideas and energy, and I was curious to see how this would play out in a different country and culture.

Coffee and croissant in hand, I took my seat for the introductions. First up, a presentation about CustomerOps: using the DevOps obsessions about  visibility, metrics and communication to improve the consumer experience. The more I think about this, the more I think, well why wouldn't you do this? I guess maybe because it's expensive, or scary, or easier to stick to a plan without distractions like feedback from customers. I was going to say that as a sysadmin I don't have a customer-facing role, but that's not true: my customers are my colleagues. And in that respect, yes: sometimes I don't want feedback in case it makes my life more difficult. But what a waste of an opportunity it would be to ignore such things.

Next up, How ops improved my dev: the benefits of the DevOps culture as seen from the development side. My favourite bit of this was describing the inverse relationship between implementation and operational complexity; that is, things that are easier to set up often turn out to be much harder to maintain and troubleshoot. There was a nice example about a pipeline where data needed to be imported, processed, and encoded. The dev approach would tend towards writing one program to do all three tasks, keeping the majority of the information in memory. The ops approach would tend towards having three separate programs each with a single task, then if one part failed not only was it much easier to identify why, but also the other two could continue unaffected.

After a short break, we had a couple more talks, one of which was Transforming devs into devops. Ignoring the abuse of the term DevOps, it was interesting to me coming from the ops world to see what ops skills are perceived as covetable by developers: apparently this includes using linux as a development environment, git versioning and branching, scrum methodology, unit and functional testing. Now at least half of those I would have put as primarily dev skills, but maybe that's because we're all agile at our place. I was also quite pleased to hear the phrase 'pair-devopsing', which is an ugly term for a nice type of inter-team collaboration, and something we've been trying a version of at 7digital for a couple of months now.

Lunchtime (I was thrilled to see this included brie and wine), a sit in the sun, and a some chats with some vendors. One of which has got me thinking so much that I'm going to write a separate post about it when I've digested the whole thing a bit more.

The afternoon was devoted to Open Space sessions, where anyone can propose a topic that they want to talk about - usually something they want to know more about, rather than something they're already good at. I went to an interesting discussion about Vagrant that I came away with two pages of notes about things I want to try out, and sat in on some interesting discussions about the clashes between teams with different priorities.

Our evening event was a dinner cruise down the Seine, followed by drinks at Cafe Six in town. A free bar always makes the conversation flow, and I was thrilled to not only sail past the Eiffel Tower twice, but also to take some snaps without dropping my camera overboard.

Back at the conference the next morning, the hangovers made the mood a little quieter, but the first presentation of the day was the excellent How we release software for GOV.UK, a project that I have been enormously impressed with lately. Their attitude of 'digital services so good that people prefer to use them' has lately earned them Design of the year 2013, and are an exciting example of how successful the DevOps approach can be. API access for everything, urls appendable with .json for consumption, fast release cycles, open source everything, archived versions made publicly available, very blurry lines between developers and operations interests and resp
onsibilities... I'm going to stop there because I'm gushing now. Long story short: these guys are good.

A couple more presentations followed, then a few ignite talks, including one from the CFEngine folks which touched on the need to abstract complex systems in order to be able to view problems from different perspectives,
and then lunch. More open space sessions followed after lunch, and although this was a bit lower key than the day before there were still some interesting discussions going on. A final, impromptu, open space session ended up being in over beers in a pub, before the scattering of the participants to the wind. I left with pages of notes of things to read, install, write about, and experiment with. Now I just need to find the time to do all of these things. If only I didn't need to sleep.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Springtime in Paris

 I love train travel. It feels so much more civilized than flying. As the Eurostar pulled away from St Pancras I gave my teach-yourself-french book one more pass, hoping that I wasn't about to spend five days feeling completely baffled. I reasssured myself that if all else failed I was still the current charades champion in my family.

Although the previous weekend in England had marked the end of the epically long and hard winter, I was somewhat astonished to exit the Gard du Nord and find that Paris had decided to skip spring and go straight to summer. I threw my scarf and coat into my hotel room and set off on a wander.

Having only been to Paris once before when I was sixteen, which mainly consisted of my sister and I giggling our way up the Eiffel Tower, I didn't really know what to expect. But I confess, I wasn't expecting the architecture to be quite so grand, and the city centre quite so pretty. Last week a tourist sat next to me on a bus and told me he thought London was a beautiful city, which I vigorously disagreed with - London may be many things, but it's not beautiful. Paris is.

I hit some of the usual tourist spots, but with only one afternoon at my disposal I didn't really feel like wading through too many crowds. I made an exception to go into Notre Dame, on the grounds that it was astonishingly huge and gothic. How anyone could dare to conceive of such a thing is incredible to me.

I strolled down the Seine with an ice cream, looked at clothes I couldn't afford in Galeries Lafayette, and had dinner near Republique at an outdoor restaurant that offered three of my favourite things: beer on tap, steak tartare, and a table from which I could watch the world go by. Oh, and a waiter who was more amused than offended by my imperfect French.


As tempting as it was to stay out late in town, I was conscious that the next few days were likely to be pretty full-on, so I headed back to my hotel at a fairly reasonable hour to do a bit of prep work in advance of DevOps Days and Music Hack Days. And to practise a bit more of my language skills by watching some trashy French telly. I'm sure that counts.