So you want to talk at this conference?

August 21, 2014

I regularly review talk submissions for tech conferences, and here’s a list of what I’m mostly looking for when deciding to accept or reject a talk.

Other reviewers might be looking for different things – this is just my own criteria.

My first question is always are you going to get people interested in your stuff. Are you a dynamic speaker who keeps people on their toes, or the kind of person that delivers their talk seated at a desk. I’ve seen the latter happen, and it’s not pretty! For me, a brilliant speaker gets a slot almost every time, also because they usually know which topics will raise people’s interest.

Unless you’re famous already, the best way to convince me that you’re a good speaker is to point to a video of one of your talks. And I also need to know why you think you’re qualified to deliver this talk.

Then, I’m looking for a topic that will add value to the conference. Promoting your product or company might not add much value, whereas a talk that will open people’s minds and maybe save them hours of work in their practice is a guaranteed winner. Signs of a value-adding topic are pointers to concrete achievements using the techniques presented in the talk.

The quality of the submission comes next, especially if I don’t know the speaker. Someone who’s unable to present their ideas clearly in a talk submission is unlikely to present them clearly at the conference. Or maybe they’re a misunderstood genius, you should also look for those but they are rare. A concise submission that packs lots of useful information about what’s going to be delivered at the talk is a good promise of success.

Last but not least, original and inspiring ideas get lots of bonus points from me. Being able to predict the abstract’s contents from the title is usually a bad sign, except if it’s a talk for beginners. We don’t need conferences to exchange information today, that’s supposed to happen on the Web. Talks should be inspiring, maybe teasers to convince people to look at your value-adding stuff, but not rehash information that’s found elsewhere.

Update: I forgot to mention the movie trailer thing: a talk abstract is a lot like a movie trailer, if you feel you’ve seen all the good parts of the movie after watching the trailer, it’s not a good sign. Similarly, a good talk abstract leaves me with the impression that there’s much more to discover in the talk, compared to what’s mentioned in the abstract.


It’s just a Web server – a plea for simplicity

June 16, 2014

I’m currently working on my keynote for next week’s Connect – Web Experience 2014 conference in Basel and very much looking forward to it! Last year’s conference was excellent, and this year’s schedule looks very exciting.

My keynote is about the value of simplicity in software – including a few tales from the trenches.

We like to think of what we build with AEM as large enterprise systems, with complex requirements. Intricate workflows. Rocket science.

However, when you think about it, our systems are “just” HTTP request processors, that manipulate atomic pieces of content in a content repository.

What if you wanted to manage the Whole World Wide Web with a single system? The architecture of that 4WCMS might be quite similar to what Apache Sling provides for AEM: mostly independent dynamic HTTP request processors, selected by path and resource type, that render and/or process resources from a huge tree of content.

If our architecture works for that 4WCMS, the systems that we are actually working on are just peanuts compared to that. Managing a single site, or just a small federation of a hundred thousand sites? Easy. Yes I’m being provocative – it’s a keynote!

The inherently scalable architecture of the Web, combined with the natural decoupling that HTTP and REST (and OSGi) provide, should allow us to keep our systems simple, transparent, robust and adaptable. Yet, much too often, we fall into the “entrprisey” trap and start designing complex machinery where something simple would do – if only someone had the guts to challenge the status quo.

I have a few examples in mind, from past projects, where simplicity provided huge wins, even though it required convincing customers that had different, usually more complex ideas. My goal is to demonstrate how valuable simplicity is, and how expensive it can be to create initially. Like the story of those 28 lines of code that took three months to create, in 1999, and still live happily in production with Zero Bugs.

We shouldn’t give up – creating simple things is a lot of work, but the rewards are huge.

To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, if your system is complicated it usually means you didn’t work hard enough to make it simpler. Or maybe you have a really complex problem, but that’s not very common. And maybe that complex problem is the wrong one to solve anyway.

I hope to see you next week in Basel and until then – keep things simple!


Quick notes from Mark O’Neill’s Transfer Summit 2011 talk

September 8, 2011

Here’s my quick on-the-spot notes of Mark O’Neill’s (@marxculture) excellent presentation, on how a government’s IT can innovate.

Citing Andrew Savory, never thought I’d see govt. spokesperson be entertaining and informative. Reminds me of my excellent experiences working for the Swiss Parliament services in the late nineties.

Here’s my unedited notes – slides should be available soon. URLs and emphasis added by myself.

UK gov spends 20 billion pounds a year on IT, with 20 top suppliers.

Mark’s got a 20MB mailbox to manage this.

Different velocities: technology, business society.

His role: track and align to those velocities.

Velocity of change in his government IT world is “very different” from what it is on the outside. The gap is increasing.

The more you diverge from the velocity of the market, the higher your costs are.

The options are: do the same, do nothing or ask a different question.

The challenge: no money – although they’re spending 20 billion pounds a year…

The government is currently driven by the policy cycle: problem -> draw up a policy -> interpret and implement policy -> monitor and evaluate. The customer is not part of this picture. Need an innovation model.

He shows a picture of a washing machine for dogs: there is an e-petition about this, the e-petition site (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/) got 16k such petitions in 4 weeks, 3.8 million visitors, 20 million page views, 1.5 million signatures. The e-petition site was built in 6 weeks with 6 people, cost 80 thousand pounds including security costs. The system will be released as open source shortly.

The future: small projects are developed by his office, up to 3 months with contracted companies, if more than 3 months need to ask different questions.
20 billion pounds a year should be one of the most dynamic, diverse and entrepreneurial market in the world. What needs to be done to achieve that?

Leaner procurement mechanisms. Use open standards and open source. Look at the processes, check how much paperwork and overhead is actually necessary.
Challenge to new projects includes two questions: what is it that you want to do, and why do you want to do it that way.

Decompose the project in smaller units of work – also gives more chance for SMEs to jump in.

Three layers: infrastructure, app, support. Procurement is currently often based on a complete silo – moving to smaller units can help reuse and sharing.

Rethink the approach to make it possible to buy an excellent application form an SME that does not provide infrastructure or services.

Working on G-Cloud, private onshore cloud for UK government services. (http://www.cloudbook.net/directories/gov-clouds/uk-government-cio-council).

Talking of “agile” “cloud” is a bit like talking about “magic” these days ;-)

Conversation always trumps process.

Two key differences between agile and waterfall.

First difference: with waterfall you talk to developers, they go away for six months, come back with something that you don’t want. Agile: you talk all the time.

Second difference: with waterfall, you might not be around anymore when problems arise. With agile, you could be fired after three months…

Tools are hard. Discuss, share, build, learn. Cannot deliver success without using efficient tools, take example from open development teams in the outside world.

Need to build mechanisms to learn, share and discuss what the team is doing.

Success factors:

1) Be the most dynamic, diverse and entrepreneurial market in the world.

2) IT should just work.

3) Reuse, dialogue, agility, ownership should be part of the day-to-day business.


Open Innovation in Software means Open Source

December 7, 2009

I’m giving a talk today at the Open Source, Open Development, Open Innovation workshop in Oxford:

Open source software is more than just a licence, it is also a software development methodology that allows companies to share resources and collaborate on non-core parts of their software/service offering. When managed well, open development enables a reduction in cost, and an increase in innovation as a result of the convergence of the best minds in the problem space. In this presentation Bertrand Delacretaz will describe how Day Software has embraced open development by positioning itself as the leaders in both open standards and open source software. We will examine how Day’s active engagement with 25 open source projects and numerous standards groups has enabled the company to become a world leader in their market and in the open source projects they participate in.

The funny thing is that the above abstract was written by Ross Gardler while waiting for my own version of it – and it says exactly what I was trying to say, only better ;-)

The event is covered by a live blog, and you can ask questions there.

To put it simply, my conclusion is that quick feedback from users and customers is key to open innovation – and open source. if done right, provides lots of feedback, fast.


Life in Open Source Communities, live at ApacheCon!

October 30, 2009

notmuch.jpgI have just finished my slides for next week at ApacheCon. Though the topic of how to “survive” in our open source communities has been on my mind for a while, this is a totally new presentation, which is both great (in the blank slate sense) and a lot of work.

cocoon-step.jpgHaving recently read Presentation Zen (very recommended if you do presentations and/or like beautiful books), I started adding full-screen pictures to the first few slides, and couldn’t stop! The presentation will then consist of me ad-libbing (or more precisely trying to tell stories) on a series of nice pictures grabbed from morguefile.com (don’t worry about that name).

allabout.jpgI’ll post the slides here later, for now they are super secret, so you’ll just get the teasers…images courtesy of morguefile.com (update: slides added now).

Hope to see you next week! In any case I have collected a number of useful links in my delicious bookmarks, I’ll point people to them in the presentation.


Back from a great IKS project meeting

May 29, 2009

I’m on my way back from Salzburg where the Salzburg Research team organized a great meeting for the IKS project. Flawless organization as usual, thanks and congrats!

Today’s requirements workshop featured an impressive collection of very powerful brains (and nice people to hold them ;-) including, besides the usual IKS suspects, representatives from more than twenty CMS communities and companies.

I was a bit worried at first that IKS, being mostly in a requirements definition phase, didn’t have much to show to those people, but today’s brainstorming went very well, and the results exceed my expectations.

The most important result for me is agreeing to setup a prototype semantically enhanced search engine, that will use metadata and RDFa embedded in web pages to index content. This will provide the IKS community with a testbed for semantically enhanced websites, and allow us to demonstrate the usefulness of embedded semantic information by making full use of that for searching instead of just enhancing the display of search results. The extracted data might also be very useful for our academic partners to run experiments on real-life data that we’re familiar with. We might not have to write lots of code to setup such a search engine, but it’s important to have our own thing that people can also run behind firewalls, if needed to run experiments on private data.

The second result that I’m excited about is agreeing to work together on a prototype of a semantic rich text content editor, where you’ll get functions like insert person or insert company besides the usual insert link and insert image functions. This will allow us to start making our customers more aware of the importance of semantic markup, in a way that’s not too different from what they’re doing now.

Last but not least in my list of results-that-got-me-excited-about-all-this is agreeing on the creation of a list of simple user stories that demonstrate what IKS is about, in a very simple and understandable way, while allowing us to define use cases and features that might be challenging to implement today.

More complete information about the meeting should be available from the IKS project blog in the next few days, make sure to subscribe to that. For now Bergie (who suggested the semantic editor project) has been taking notes on Quaiku if you’re eager to learn more.

To take part in (or just follow) these projects, subscribe to the IKS mailing list which is going to be our communicatios hub.

Hope to see you there – in a week from now, as next week is my cycling-in-France/offline holiday. Looking forward to getting more familiar with the 29er before the next, more off-road trip in a few weeks.


Open Source Collaboration Tools are Good for You – relooked and live tomorrow!

April 1, 2009

I have relooked and slightly expanded this presentation for tomorrow at OpenExpo in Bern – the main addition is a discussion of the fear of making mistakes in public.

Talking to attendees last week at ApacheCon shows that people often struggle to introduce these tools and the open way of working in their companies. It seems like that fear can be an important blocking factor, and people are rarely explicitely aware of it.

(See how serious I am? This is April 1st and I’m not even making lame jokes!)

Update: the video is available on YouTube as part of the OpenExpo channel.


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