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WebDU 2009: How to be a Rockstar Developer

    Kay Smoljak

    webdu1Kay Smoljak is reporting from the recent WebDU conference, which SitePoint sponsored.

    For the second day keynote, the WebDU organisers had something a little different planned: presentations from three companies whose competing offerings impact most web developers on a daily basis: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Rather than a cage match — to the disappointment of many in the audience — representatives from each of these behemoths spoke about their contributions to make web developer’s lives easier.

    First up, Alan Noble from Google told us how there has never been a better time to be a web developer. He cited three of Google’s focus areas to support that statement: open source toolsets, powerful development platforms, and monetisation. Alan then outlined areas of innovation that Google considers important, including Android, digitization of media, and of course, buzzword of the moment: cloud computing.

    Next up, Neil Wilkinson, or “Wilf”, from Yahoo, talked about that company’s open strategy and the developer tools that have evolved from it: Yahoo User Interface components; Github; YSlow; BOSS (Build your Own Search Service); Flickr, the most used photo API on the planet; and YQL or Yahoo Query Language, the glue that binds them all together.

    Rather than current tools for development, Microsoft’s representative chose to talk about their interface enhancements with Silverlight and Surface — the underlying theme being that the speed of the user interface should not equal the speed of the underlying internet connection.

    Although their individual presentations were interesting, none of these companies said anything particularly earth-shattering or ground-breaking. What they did demonstrate was the difference in their approaches — Google having a simple but obviously rehearsed presentation, Yahoo relying almost completely on developer-focused code samples, Microsoft with slick slides and demonstrations. By the end, many of the delegates were getting restless and so it was off to the next sessions.

    lisaA packed room meant standing room only for Lisa Herrod’s Finding Usability in your Workflow. With the growth of user experience as a discipline — enough to warrant an entire stream at WebDU — there were certainly a lot of people interested in Lisa’s topic, one which applies to developers in a whole range of situations.

    Gert Franz’s presentation on Railo, the alternative CFML engine, was also a popular one. Gert ran through the differences between Railo and Adobe ColdFusion — noting that while there are very few programming differences, there are quite a few enhancements in the areas of security and ease of administration — enhancements that make Railo a viable alternative for shared hosting situations.

    Especially refreshing was Gert’s statement of Railo’s goal: to be the number one CFML engine — but not by converting existing community members, but by extending CFML into new markets, especially those looking specifically for an open source solution.

    Easily the best presentation of the day was Toby Tremanyne’s session Stepping It Up — Enterprise Development for the Rest of Us, although it was absolutely not what I was expecting! Toby outlined what he believes to be the qualities and requirements for an enterprise or high level “rock star” developer, then outlined what individuals could do to work their way up from code monkey to team leader, in demand freelancer, business owner or highly-sought-after conference speaker.

    While Toby’s message was valuable and no doubt had many in the room scrambling to take notes, it was the magical touches that set this presentation off: a flash of fire to articulate one point, and an awesome card trick to illustrate that an enterprise developer must always be prepared.

    The final session for WebDU 2009 was the speaker roundtable — now a WebDU tradition. A handful of speakers sat on stage and attempted to answer questions from the audience — Geoff running around with a microphone, Jerry Springer-style. The questions ranged from general — what the represented companies were doing with regard to environmental sustainability — to the marketing of specific products such as Yahoo’s developer offerings and Adobe’s ColdFusion.


    And that was the end of a great conference — highlighted by a good venue with excellent catering; a great speaker lineup incorporating both international and local experts; and fun social activities including the awesome WebDU card trading game. If I had to nitpick, the wi-fi situation was fairly lackluster, and five separate streams does make it very difficult for delegates to see every speaker/topic they are interested in. But on the whole the WebDU 2009 offered an outstanding conference experience with a great social vibe, and I’m looking forward to what the Daemon team have in store for 2010.