After a few weeks of letting the cheese dreams settle down I’m finally ready to ponder over this year’s Monki Gras. A fire-hose of information, loosely based around the theme of “Sharing craft”, and a great opportunity to meet other developers and tech nerds. So, here are some of the highlights from this year’s celebration of all things craft:

Rafe Colburn – What Bugs Taught Us About People

Currently sitting in my bay, I am writing this illuminated by the warm glow of the “3” (elevated to “2” mid-post) on my team’s DEFCON (Defect Condition) indicator, Rafe’s talk was particularly pertinent.


His story started with 1,000 open bugs and an annoyed service team (I wonder what that feels like). Bug rotations were introduced, where developers were asked to spend one day a month going through the backlog and fixing what they can. The benefits of this system seem obvious: the opportunity to see areas of the code you haven’t worked on before, the chance to work with people outside of your usual team, and of course a happier service team (which usually correlates to a happier customer).  But that damned human nature thing kicked in, and Etsy found that when you tell people they have to do something, suddenly all developers have a barely repressed inner fourteen year old that doesn’t want to do anything you tell them to do. More teenage traits developed: laziness meant that all the bugs that could be categorised as “low hanging fruit” were closed first; developers didn’t mix with new people, instead staying in set groups; and the paradox of choice meant even if developers did attend their bug rotation they struggled to choose a bug to work on. Bug rotation 1.0 failed and it was time for a re-think.

Bug rotation 2.0 went to university and moved back in with its parents, but despite their disappointment it was far more mature for the whole process. Firstly – bug rotation day was now optional, and surprisingly developers actually turned up! Service prioritised the bugs so that those super keen developers could make an informed decision on what to spend their time on, as well as a shake up in the management of the entire process. Bug Rotation 2.0 was a success!

Sean Owen – Factory vs Lab in Data Science: Perspectives From the Field 

A great view into the world of data science. Sean’s view is that data science is 80% engineering and 20% maths, and his talk was all about the engineering of data science, attempting to skip over what a data scientist actually is (“a statistician that lives in San Francisco”). The craft is something of a cottage industry and need to be made more operational. Consider moving your data models from an offline model to getting them deployed online.

It was a topic quite close to my heart, especially with the debate on whether a mathematician can become a good programmer, and whether a programmer can become a mathematician starting up during the questions. As a mathematician turned programmer it is a question I ask myself quite regularly!

This talk also allowed one Monki Gras attendee (who will remain unnamed) to go viral for the first time, and allowing him to refer to himself as the new resident social expert. Exciting to be a part of such a transformation.

Steven Citron-Pousty – Biological Metaphors for Developer Craft: How to Identify an Evangelist In The Wild

I just liked this talk – also forwarded it onto a colleague who is entering the world of developer evangelist (although refuses to give himself the title) as it was so well presented.

The Gentle Author

This section was totally unexpected and absolutely wonderful for it. The Gentle Author is a very appropriate title for the author of the Spitafields Life blog, who graced us with a reading of one of his most popular short stories about Maurice Franklin. Once of my biggest gripes  about conferences is the insistence of the attendees to constantly tweet soundbites and take photos of slides (similar sentiments towards music concerts), as I don’t believe anyone is actually paying attention to the content of a presentation. There was nothing to tweet or to photograph during the reading of this story, which meant I finally saw the majority of the audience with their heads up, listening intently to the story, giving the speaker the deserved level of attention. Laura Cowen was luckily enough to receive a free copy of one of The Gentle Author’s books which I had a flick through the other day, and after about 15 minutes had to stop myself as I was about to dedicate the rest of the day to reading it from cover to cover.  Really, I could write an entire post just on his talk.