Thursday, December 14, 2017

Brisbane Yow 2017 Review

Last week I attended Yow for my first time. It provided some great talks in my broader interests of data and analytics. That is the space I currently consult in. Thanks to my employer Readify for the tickets and the opportunity to attend. We have twenty professional development days a year and that was two taken.

Day 1

Day one started with a great keynote from Dr Denis Bauer of the CSIRO talking about the challenges of working with big data in the form of the human genome. Denis was joined by Lynn Langit and they worked through explaining the project and who it was fitted together. If you didn't know the genome sequence in data form require a database table with 3 billion columns, yes that is 3 with a B. Currently there is no relational database wi th the capability to create a table that wide (Pity the poor designer or DBA required to model that one). Of course, this is a big data problem of an order of magnitude significantly large. Denis spoke about how she and the team had set up workloads in AWS to process genomic datasets to deliver real opportunities to identify relationships between peoples genomes to find markers for genetic conditions. Thereare many challenges and great opportunities. I was lucky enough to get some time to have a chat to Denis later in the day and whilst it is exciting there are some real issues to deal with such as misuse and abuse from a variety of parts of society. I enjoyed the talk and then the conversation later. Fascinating women with a fantastic mind.
Image result for human genome creative commons

I then attended a talk about problems with Agile delivered by Jeff Paton. As Readify where I currently work has a very agile approach to the way we work, I was interested to hear about the supposed problem and remediation. Jeff makes very effective use of a style akin to the old writing on slides using an overhead projector. It was engaging, I learned a few things about the place of the product owner and how we as participants in the Agile community by its use can help our product owners be better.

Next in my day was AWS Security by Aaron Bedra. Aaron made many good points about securing the cloud and its services and the fact which I wholeheartedly agree with is that cloud done right is more than likely much more secure than many data centres. I learned a few things and was reminded to check some work for a current client I am working with.
 Getting up a system in the cloud can be very fast compared to a traditional data centre, however, with that comes a number of risks. Aaron spoke about the checklist and things you can do to make sure your approach to security is sound.

Next on my day was Jim Webber, as a DBA I am always interested in database technology. As neo4j jas a strong market presence and now SQL Server includes a graph database this was an opportunity to learn more. I had a few items of basic knowledge reinforced and then Jim went on to talk about consistency in large-scale databases and what they had changed to handle this. The use of Causal consistency and a causal clustering architecture. deliver better throughput, large-scale clustering and a method to maintain the integrity of data in the database. Totally enjoyed expanding my knowledge of graph databases.

The day was progressing and next up was Chanuki Illushka Seresinhe. Chanuki spoke about what about beauty makes us happy and was it possible to quantify with deep learning. This was interesting to learn more about some of the concepts of deep learning. Chanulki also spoke about the fact there are limited large datasets in some domains to do testing in other regions and also other domains. Even with the large dataset, she had access to from Scenic or Not there were large gaps in information which made the dataset less than ideal. This potentially causes all sorts of biases one of the very real problems with computer AI

Next, my afternoon continued with more computer learning and two great talks on Machine Learning
First up was Julie Pitt. Julie spoke about the issue with training AI, biases and problems with algorithms. The key piece of her talk was about framing the AI problem right and discussing why it is way past where we thought we would have robots in our homes and yet the problems which stop them happening are still present. Julie is reframing the problem to have self-learning robots who adapt to ever-changing environmental situations. Her work is looking at simple problems like making sure that the robot won't assume shortest path is correct ie jumping from the second floor to the patio is the quickest way. As a kid, I grew up reading sci-fi books and Asimov. The facts that some of these problems have been well understood since then means we have work to do. Julie went on the show how having the concept of a zone where the robot survives and part of its job is to learn and maintain it's survival was a really interesting concept to unpack. She spoke about biases and wrongful outcomes. I was lucky enough to speak to Julie after at the networking drinks about some of her presentation and she is a wonderfully engaging person to speak with about her discipline. Oh and apparently I might have to learn Scala

My other presentation I attended on the day on machine learning was Jennifer Marsmen. Jennifer took us through a journey of capturing data in a novel way with the EPOC EEG Headset and analysing the data from it to deduce if we could use brainwave patterns to identify lies. Jennifer was engaging and spoke with great humour to convey her message. One of the key problems which I frequently encounter across data work in all disciplines is data quality. The headset needed to be set up correctly on the volunteer to obtain consistent quality readings to be able to verify the data. Once again I was able to have some time speaking to Jennifer about her data research and the ML capabilities. She spoke about the use of Azure ML and give a few very quick insights into understanding the ML algorithms available and methods of training in Azure ML or any ML system.

We then wrapped up the talks of the day with Dave Farley talking about Software Engineering and if the term is right to describe what developers do. Dave spoke at length discussing terms of skills in other disciplines of engineering.  Should software engineers experiment, Dave said yes and explained that it is a frequent part of civil engineering, for example using models to wind tunnel test the design of a highrise is a form of experimentation and is done to minimise risk and to manage eventual building costs. Dave went on to talk about where software development is at in terms of levels of where other industries are at. He then talked about defining what engineering is and isn't and how work we do is in fact able to be a discipline of engineering. we just have to get some things right and we are not doing that now.

Networking drinks and hors-d'oeuvres ended the day, I caught up with a few speakers notable Jennifer and Julie as a data person and what they were doing was of great interest. I also spoke to Denis this evening. Spoilt to have some time talking with these women.

Day 2

The second day opened with a bang Linda Liukas opened to tell us about Hello Ruby and teaching young children about computers and computing concepts. The Hello Ruby Books are really an amazing creation and what Linda has done is fantastic. Concepts talked about include learning how a loop feels and Ruby's favourite loop I will let you buy the books to find out. If you have young kids around or if you just want to have a fun learning about computers in a non-threatening way these books are for you. Linda is fascinating to speak to one on one, we talked about adding the Hello Ruby books and activities to local daycare activities. I am certainly adding them to my library. Possibly my favourite speaker and talk of Yow

The second stop of the day the blue room and Sara Chipps, the question do you believe an 8yr old girl can programme in C++? Let's talk about Jewelbots. Sara has designed and developed an Arduino based bracelet for girls. They are a rather simple looking device but as an Arduino, device packs a punch, not so much in what they can do but in what they are delivering. Due to the simple design and compact space, the Jewelbot couldn't house a compiler for higher level languages. Instead, the owner when she want's to program, programs in C++ and then bootstraps the device with her new code. A young woman and yes 8 yrs old did some live coding to configure a device. She was a champion, dealt with technical issues with grace and charm. Her parents should be proud and her school as well.

Third stop and off to hear about Dynamic Reteaming from Heidi Helfand. This was a really interesting talk on handling the problems from building and reconfiguring team, no team stays the same. No matter how long it has been together the whole team will change at some time, someone leaves or is promoted. Hiedi provided a lot of great examples and her experiences of reteaming and some ideas how to make it work, even choose your own team. Some great insights into human dynamics and teams.

After lunch another keynote with Gregor Hohpe. He talked about Enterprise Architecture, discussed a number of problems and some solutions. As an EA he ripped it into those who sit in ivory towers and provide colourful diagrams which are often thought of as meaningless in the world of day to day operations and project teams. He then talked about various patterns in Architecture and I went straight out the next day to review a few things in light of his comments. I have been working in a Solution Architect role amongst other titles on my current project. I enjoyed what he was talking about as it fits with a lot of what I  think about the EA role, probably comes from using PEAF as my preferred Architecture methodology/framework.

 Next up I listened to Katrina Owen talk about her accidental open source project and all the problems when you become a maintainer. Katrina is the maintainer of a coding education site she created out of a need to make it easier to test and challenge students she was teaching in a coding program. Much of what tore her up in trying to fix problems as a maintainer were people issues, dealing with competing priorities, maintaining balance and sorting things out to do just enough to avoid burnout which she didn't for a period. One of Katrina's lessons, "What are you not going to do today?" That is something we all need to learn. Other things include who or what are you doing your thing for, who matters because otherwise, everyone's opinion is right. Another great talk

Unfortunately, that is where my Yow day ended with speakers. I had to attend a conference call which went way too long, however, it served a purpose in my project and was needed to get some things rolling.
I did get to finish up the day with a beer and network with a whole lot of people. It was here where I was able to catch up with Linda amongst others of the speakers and a number of other attendees

Overall I had a great experience, caught up with a few old associates, made some new fledgeling connections and was able to get some time networking with great speakers. Jump over to the Yow site if any of the authors interest you the slides of the talks are up and videos to come. Yow has links back to websites, Linkedin and Twitter for the speakers

Let's see who is coming to Yow next year as to whether I decide to attend, I am sure there will be some great speakers, so its hurry up and wait until they are announced.

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