Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Two of the technical presentations at ACCU - and the A, B, and C of speakers

The ACCU is a technical organization - people join because it has a technical focus. But actually the secret of the ACCU is that it is really about developing people.

We help those technical people develop their technical skills - but on the quiet we help them develop their less technical skills, we challenge them to think about less technical issues. So, while you see Scott Meyers, Herb Sutter, Guido Van Rossum and Michael Feathers headlining the conference you also find people like Helen Sharp challenging them to think about development as a social activity.

One of the ways we help people develop themselves is by giving them opportunities. As I told many people at the ACCU conference last week there are three kinds of people giving presentations.

First we have the established players, the ‘A’ list if you like: people like Scott Meyers and Herb Sutter - they don’t need an introduction, people will come to hear them alone.

Second we have the ‘B’ list: I’ll put myself on this list if you don’t mind, I’ll also add people like Klaus Marquardt. We are people who have been around a bit, published some papers, done some presentations, we’re the conference filler if you like. Some of the ‘B’ list are challenging for the ‘A’ list, so people like Kevlin Henney might still be on the ‘B’ list but likely he has already moved to the ‘A’ list.

And then we have the ‘C’ list. These are the most important speakers. These are the people the conference is really about. These folks may never have spoken before, or they may have done the odd presentation. These are the people the ACCU is developing, the future talent.

Not long ago I was ‘C’ list, I’d never done a presentation, I’d written a little. By doing presentations, by writing more and by thinking I’m now ‘B’ list. Will I ever make ‘A’ list? I don’t know, I’d like to but there are other things in life too.

Actually, I usually prefer the content of the ‘B’ and ‘C’ list presentations. There are more war stories, there is more discussion and more experimentation - both in presentation style and material.

I want to say a couple of words about two speakers who stood out. These guys are making the transition from ‘C’ to ‘B’ list in my book.

Jez Higgins (who is also the new ACCU chair) did a great presentation about XSLT2, XPath2 and XQuery. He was in a difficult slot - first session of the first day but for me he set the quality bar for the rest of the conference.

I thought I knew a lot of this stuff before the presentation but Jez had plenty of surprises for me. A Suduko solver in XSTL2? - the idea really makes me think again. Things have changed with the XML support technologies and Jez did a great job of bringing me up to date. I guess I knew these technologies were capable of a lot more than transforming XML but it was a while since I’d checked them out.

Day 2 brought Thomas Witt and “Shared Libraries in C++”. Watching Thomas I saw a younger version of myself. Five years ago this was my subject, I knew far too much about shared libraries in C++ - .dll’s in Windows, .so’s on Unix, dynamic linking, static linking, memory models, etc. etc. (Check out my pieces on porting if you don’t believe me.)

Well, things haven’t changed that much in the shared library world over the last five years but Thomas has gone further and deeper than I ever went. He is truly an expert on this subject: Windows, Unix(s), Macs, object models, you name it he knows it.

So I’m looking forward to next year. We’ll have our ‘A’ list speakers to pull in the crowds and make the conference economic but the real action will be with the ‘B’ and ‘C’ list speakers, these are experts every bit as much as the ‘A’ names.

Best of all, this is the ACCU developing talent, this is ACCU giving people space and time to stretch themselves and its why I’ll stick by the organization as I move further and further away from programming.