KalamazooX Xtra

The KalamazooX Conference, for advancing the “soft” skills of programmer-developers, was held Saturday, April 30, 2011, in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. This was the third year for the conference; I attended this year and the first year. Although I am not directly in the target group, I am a developer of developers as a computer science teacher. The conference helps me be current with the happenings in the developer community.

Joe O’Brien from EdgeCase spoke first on the constant change going on in the industry. Education, he says, is set up to push information, but frameworks keep changing. The best technology for one project may not be the best technology for the next one. His company keeps evolving. So, he looks to hire somebody that knows how to learn.

Dave Giard spoke next on Data Visualization. He included examples of excellence in data visualization as well as examples  where the visualization was misleading or false. He suggested improvements to graphics based on the work of David Tufte. I noted that it is not easy to produce the best graphs with current software like Microsoft’s Excel. His slides are on his website, but are imbedded in Flash.

Jeff Blankenburg, developer evangelist for Microsoft, had the unusual title “It’s Only Aweso Without Me.” He provided techniques of making yourself awesome online. Give back to the community. It is job insurance. Make good stuff show up on Google, so you can get to the job interview when you need it.

Jeff McWherter, of Gravity Works Design, on (Web) Design for Developers, talked on the basics of design using CSS and various tools. JavaScript is awesome. Good ideas. If the audience found the information helpful, I could help with my website CSS design skills.

Tim Ford presented experiences as an SQL DBA (Data Base Administrator). He is active in the SQL server community. See links. His best advice: don’t be afraid. Step outside your comfort zone. There can be payoff.

Jim Holmes conveyed the importance of working with great teams and how to make your teams better. He has posted good notes on his FrazzledDad blog.

Leon Gersing is an actor as well as programmer, so his animated presentation was a good fit for after lunch. His message was to know yourself, develop yourself, and really develop interpersonal relationships. I liked his quote from Yoda “Do or do not. There is no try.” Leon works at EdgeCase. Find out more about him by clicking on his hame on their about page. Or, see his nospoonsoftware site.

Executable Requirements is the title of Dan Neumann’s presentation that included the importance of automated testing to save time, lower total costs, and produce better results. Good testing is in layers of unit tests, automated functional tests, manual tests, and user acceptance tests. A lot of information. His website is NeuManagement.

Laura Bergells gave an excellent presentation, How to Rock your Body Language when making presentations in meetings. Practice self awareness and aim for confidence, not perfection. She is an adjunct instructor at the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University.

Jim Holmes got up again. This time to speak on Performance Evals. What to do. What not to do. How to keep them constructive. There should never be any surprises. Understand the review process and timeline. Understand that goals on which you are being measured. Keep the feedback cycle going.

The KalamazooX feature packed conference ended with a panel discussion on interviewing. Their companies are looking for spark and passion. Realize the interview is both directions. Find out if the company is a good fit for you. Remember not to go negative in an interview.

More information is available at the KalamazooX website and at on Dave Francher’s blog. Good conference. I had only one indirect criticism. And that is directed to the parking structure on North Rose near Michigan Avenue. Their rates were not posted and it cost me $13.50 to park on Saturday. That seems very high.


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