QCon 2012 – Perfect as Everything in London Should Be

Update 13 Jul. 2012: The video recording of my talk was published on infoq.com

It was JFrog‘s second QCon London, and it just gets better. Imagine: even the London weather was perfect, not to mention the sessions, booth traffic, show organization and food (what, you say, good English food? Well, great IndoPak food, at least). Due to high demand by sponsors, the exhibition took place on two floors (as opposed to one floor last year). Our JFrog booth was located in the same place as in 2011. We’re getting used to the place and are looking forward to returning next March!

The speaker panel was extremely impressive, featuring gurus like Martin Fowler, Adrian Cockcroft (the man behind Netflix’ cloud), Dwight Merriman (co-creator of MongoDB), Damien Katz (creator of CouchDB) and Rich Hickey (creator of Clojure).

The conference started with two training days – six full-day tutorials each. From my perspective, the most interesting two tutorials were “Cloud Architecture” by Adrian Cockcroft, where he shared the architecture, best practices and decisions behind Netflix’ cloud (which Artifactory is proud to be a part of) and “Continuous Delivery” by ThoughtWorks’ Tom Sulston (that’s as close to the roots of the famous “Continuous Delivery” book as you can get). For me, the most fascinating thing in the Continuous Delivery process as ThoughtWorks sees it, is that its virtues are exactly the same as we based our Artifactory upon back in 2006: DevOps automation and rapid release cycle. We appreciated the validation of our concept.

The remaining three days of the week were all-day sessions. It’s impossible to review such a significant number of talks in one blog post, so I’ll concentrate only on the excellent keynote addresses (with one exception).

Martin’s conference-opening keynote speech was about data. The main feature of modern data is that it is bigger than you think. Polyglot storage in general and various kinds of NoSQL look like the right solution.

My favorite keynotes are usually the evening ones. A beer in your hand makes any amusing talk even more enjoyable. One named “Developers Have a Mental Disorder” I couldn’t miss! Greg Young gave a great show, funny and entertaining, about serious dilemmas in software development that we, the developers, prefer to ignore. The brightest example, of course is the downside of DRY (did you ever think about one?). By removing duplication, we increase coupling, which can be much worse.

Thursday morning’s keynote address was delivered by Rich Hickey. He spoke about the differences between “Simple” and “Easy”. Sounds pretty similar, but in fact they are very far from being the same. Antonyms to the rescue: simple vs. complex, while easy vs. hard. Now it’s clear – we need to strive to prevent and remove complexity (go simple) without being afraid of the hard. Choosing easiness may end up creating complexity. Things which are easy, but complex, include OOP, mutable state, imperative loops and frameworks (especially ORM). Things which are simple, but not necessarily easy (at least not until you get them), are LISP-ish languages, like Clojure.

My session also took place on Thursday, in relatively small room, about 70 people. I was more than happy to see that it was almost packed. I spoke about building trust in your build process by selecting the right tools for the job (of course, we consider Artifactory as one). I also spoke about the problems of DevOps in the word of Continuous Delivery in the cloud and the rapid release cycle of SaaS applications. I stressed the huge timeshare of binaries in ALM process and the importance of using a tool that really understands binaries to deal with them. That’s exactly the reason why we developed Artifactory.

Half of my session was dedicated to live demos, which went smoothly, incredible as it may sound. According to the feedback received, my talk was well accepted, and hopefully will be useful to some of the attendants for building easier and more reliable release processes. The Q&A session continued at our booth, where we repeatedly did live demonstrations and received excellent feedback each time. If you want to get a feeling of my talk, here’s the slide-deck.

Friday was the last day of the conference. It started hard with a highly technical keynote address by John Allspaw with a scary name: “Resilient Response In Complex Systems”. For someone like me, who doesn’t deal on a daily basis with Disaster Recovery, the session was astonishing. Looking behind the curtain of that kitchen reveals a totally different way of thinking and planning. It may be how individuals and teams have to perform during a disaster (e.g. personal heroism is bad even if successful; it sends the wrong message to the team), or simulating disasters on live production systems (I never could even dare to think about that). The most obvious, but still eye-opening advice that John gave is to learn from successes, not only from failures. It can give us a lot of information and happens much more frequently, no? The only organization with which I am familiar that embraces that technique is the Israeli Air Force.

To sum up, the conference was great by every measure: technical sessions, attendance, networking, Artifactory exposure, and after-show quality time. Thank you, InfoQ, for this wonderful event in London. QCon was a great starting shot for JFrog’s “Busy March”. You still can catch Fredric and Yoav giving talks on various events in US and Europe.