Velocity 2014 – Towards Improvement

Hester Gras

As part of imgZine’s commitment to providing professional training, I am currently attending the seventh edition of O’Reilly’s Velocity Conference in Santa Clara, California. In a nutshell, Velocity is a three-day conference with the express goal of helping attendees build a better and stronger web. This goal is achieved by creating an environment where learning comes easy.

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As conferences go (this is my third Velocity already!), this is the one I enjoy the most: the attendees range from small shops to large providers such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, with all of them open to sharing their knowledge. There is a subtle competitive component at Velocity, but it is not about competing with each other but rather about competing with the technology we use and trying to push it to new limits. This very setting makes it easy to meet performance luminaries and engaging them in a face-to-face conversation, rather than just, passively, listening to their thoughts during a presentation. Naturally, getting our technical questions answered during so-called expert sessions and picking up a bit of new reading material for our team was par for the course.

Right now, as I look back on three days of learning, a number of interesting workshops, sessions and keynotes, the one motto that has been reaffirmed is this adage: you cannot improve what you did not monitor. To that end, a number of sessions focus on how you can monitor, literally, everything. Luckily all this monitoring does not have to have any effect on the end-user, it just provides us as app-makers with more insights and allows us to further improve upon our offering by fixing and expanding the features we offer.

Credits to: O'Reilly Conferences - Velocity 2014, Santa Clara
Credits to: O’Reilly Conferences – Velocity 2014, Santa Clara

Falling down when it makes senseĀ 

One of the most inspiring speakers this year was Rodney Mullen, the professional skateboarder. Coming from a sports-background, many attendees did not immediately see a link to their work in operations and performance. Only after a few minutes did it become clear that the work Rodney does, is really very much linked to what we do: professional skateboarding is about assessing risk and trying to squeeze out as much performance as possible without incurring downtime (through broken bones). For us and our imgZine platform, it is not very different: we want to provide the highest possible performance for every single user, without incurring downtime.

Attention and Diversity

Apart from listening to professional athletes, Velocity has also provided me with a great preview on some techniques that can help us improve our operations work: Etsy, the hand-made marketplace for example is a yearly guest at Velocity, sharing their latest work in terms of operations and how to better use the most scarce resource of all: human input and attention.

Following up on the cultural side, I enjoyed a talk about getting more women into IT. Presented by seven year-old Jane Ireton, the young lady shared her incredible story on how she learned concepts such as arrays and even built a very basic GPS tracker to see the movements of her cat. As a company, imgZine is lucky to have a few women programmers, more than any company I have worked at before, but still: getting more women in IT should be at the forefront for all of us. Diversity, after all, will always make everything better. [1]

Upwards and Outwards

Providing a stable platform to our customers – no matter if they are publishers or app-users – is at the top of our mind, all the time. When an application stops receiving content or one of the social integrations break down for example, we are there to take care of the problem. We have done so for the NSS app and we are doing so for our other apps.

Towards that end, we are making changes behind-the-scenes that allow us to grow to the demand at hand and provide the right capacity at the right moment. Velocity provides learnings in this regard that will help us better gauge and automate this process. Mind you: most of this stuff is not ground-breaking or even interesting to our users and that is how it should be: You – whoever you are – should not have to worry if the mobile application you are using is working for that would be our job. As software engineers and operations folk, we take pride in taking this thought away from you.

Towards Improvement

All in all, Velocity feels a lot like going back to college; three days of information but without the overload. The conference chairs excel year-over-year in providing enough content and insights to keep me going for another year, but not too much that I will be too swamped to follow-up with all the awesome techniques and tools that have been demoed. As I head back to Amsterdam, I do so with a head filled with fresh ideas and lots of knowledge and thoughts about improving some of the things we work on at imgZine.

1 Shameless pitch: On the note of female programmers: if you are a developer and want to work with some of the most awesome companies in the Netherlands and help shape their mobile strategy, reach out to us. No matter if you are female or male, we are always open to good people!

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