Friday, 24 November 2017

Goodbye Spotlight… Hello Skills Matter!

I have some exciting news. I'll be leaving Spotlight at the end of January, to take up a new role as CTO at Skills Matter. After fourteen years at Spotlight, this is a massive change for me, it's a massive change for Spotlight, and (I hope!) it's going to be a massive change for Skills Matter as well - but it's also a very natural next step for me, and a move that I think is going to unlock all sorts of exciting possibilities over the coming years.

I first started working with Spotlight way back in 2000 - in Internet time, that's about a hundred million years ago. My first job after I graduated was working for a company who built data-driven websites in ASP; spotlight.com was the first big commercial site I ever built, and I've been working with them ever since - initially as a supplier, then as webmaster (remember those?), then head of IT, then systems architect. I've come with them on a journey from Netscape Navigator and dial-up modems to smartphones and REST APIs and progressive web apps, and it's been a blast - we've shipped some really excellent projects, we've learned a lot together, and I've had the pleasure of working with awesome people and a lot of very cool technology.

Around ten years ago, up to my eyeballs in ASP.NET WebForms and wondering if everybody found them as unpleasant as I did, I started going along to some of the tech industry events that were happening here in London to get a bit of external perspective. I was at the first Future Of Web Apps conference back in 2007, the first Alt .NET UK 'unconference', the DDD events held at Microsoft a few times a year... and it wasn't long after that that I met Wendy Devolder and Nick Macris, who at the time were still running Skills Matter out of a basement in Sekforde Street, and hiring the crypt underneath St James Church on Clerkenwell Green for bigger events. That's where I did my first-ever technical talk - a fifteen-minute introduction to jQuery which I presented at the Open Source .NET Exchange. And, as the saying goes, I've never really looked back. This year, I've spoken at 20+ tech events in nine countries, from huge international conferences to local user groups around the UK. I'm on the programme committee for NDC London, FullStack and Progressive.NET, I'm helping to run the London .NET User Group, I've started giving training courses and workshops on building hypermedia APIs and scalable systems. And, because I'm one of those kinds of nerds, every time I take part in a tech event I come away from it buzzing with ideas about how to make it better - for attendees, organisers, volunteers, speakers... everybody. The only problem was finding the time to implement those ideas, and so when Wendy got in touch a few months ago to ask if I'd be interested in joining the team at Skills Matter and putting some of those ideas into practice, the timing was just right.

Now, this isn't intended to be a puff-piece. I've known the team here at Skills Matter for many, many years, we’ve done some really excellent things together, and I'm really excited to be joining them. I’ve also spoken to literally hundreds of people whose experience at their conferences and events has been nothing but positive, and that’s played a big part in my decision to come on board here. However, I also know that a few of you have had some frustrating experiences with them in the past - about how they organise their community events, about logistics and speaker invitations for their bigger conferences... even things like having the ‘wrong kind of cider’ in the Space Bar. :) Well, I want to hear all the details. I know we can't please all of the people all of the time, but the fact the team here has hired me means they're up for a bit of spirited discussion and an influx of new ideas, so if you wanna drop me an email or bend my ear over a beer sometime, I'd love to hear from you and see what we can do about it.

For the team at Spotlight, this marks the dawn of a new era. I’ve come dangerously close to becoming a dungeon master, and to me that’s a clear sign that it’s time to hand over the lines and rectangles to somebody new. To quote from Alberto Brandolini’s “The Rise and Fall of the Dungeon Master”:

“I am not suggesting to hire a hitman, but to acknowledge that the project would be better off without the Dungeon Master around. If you’re looking for a paradigm shift, you’ll need a team with a different attitude and emotional bonding with the legacy.”

I'm sad not to be coming with them on the next phase of their journey, but it's clear that Spotlight's future lies along a different path from mine. They've got an absolutely first-class team there, I'm sure they're going to go on to even bigger and better things, and I'm looking forward to catching up with them all over a beer every once in a while and seeing how it's all going.

First and foremost, though, this is a chance for me to get more involved with the global tech community. I absolutely love the part of my life that involves bouncing all over the world talking about tech, sharing ideas and meeting interesting people; and I'll be taking advantage of all those opportunities to chat about what Skills Matter can do to help support the tech community - whether it's open source projects or corporate development teams, tiny meetups or big international conferences. I'll also be working with the software team here to create some really exciting things, and of course I'll be getting even more closely involved in the conferences and meetups that we host here at CodeNode and at various venues around London. For Skills Matter, my experience as a developer, user group organiser and programme committee volunteer - not to mention my connections in the tech industry all over the world - will play a big part in deciding our plans and priorities for the next few years.

And the best part? I even get to work the odd shift behind the bar here at CodeNode once in a while, thus becoming the tech industry’s answer to Neville the Part-Time Barman. So next time you’re round Moorgate of an evening, drop in and say hi.

Exciting times, indeed.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

London .NET User Group Open Mic Night

Last night’s London .NET meetup was an ‘open mic’ session. Rather than inviting speakers to talk for an hour or so as we normally do, we invited members of the group to come along and talk for 10-15 minutes about their own projects, things they’re working on, or just stuff they think is cool. It’s the first open mic session we’ve had in a long while, but based on the success of last night’s event I think we’ll try to make these more of a regular thing in 2018. Quite a few of the speakers who came along were talking about their own .NET open source projects, and showing off some very, very cool things; here’s a quick rundown.

First up was Phil Pursglove, giving us a whistle stop tour of Cosmos DB, a new database platform that Microsoft are now offering on Azure. I’ve seen a couple of talks this year about Cosmos, and it looks really rather nice. It’s got protocol-level compatibility with MongoDB (what Microsoft call ‘bug compatible’), plus support for SQL and a couple of other language bindings. One of the coolest features of Cosmos is native support for multiple consistency models, allowing you to optimise your own application for your particular requirements - with the ability to override the global consistency model on a per-request basis. There’s a time-limited free trial available here - check it out.

Next up, Robin Minto gave us a run-through of OWASP ZAP, a proxy-based web security tool created by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). ZAP is beautifully simple; you install it (or fire up the Docker image), it acts as a web proxy whilst you navigate through some of the primary user journeys on your web application, but in the background it’s probing your server and scanning your HTML for a whole range of common security vulnerabilities - and when you’re done, it’ll generate a security report you can share with the rest of your team.

James Singleton - author of ASP.NET Core 2 High Performance - gave us a very cool live demo of some of the cross-platform capabilities of .NET Core 2.0, including using his Windows laptop to cross-compile a web app for ARM Linux and running it live on a Raspberry Pi. What I found really impressive about this is that it didn’t require any .NET framework or runtime install on the Pi - it’s just vanilla (well, raspberry!) Raspbian Linux with a couple of things like libssl, and everything else is included in the deployment package created by the dot net tooling.

Ed Thomson, the Git program manager for Visual Studio Team System, did a great walkthrough of his open source project libgit2sharp - a set of C# language bindings for working with local and remote git repositories. If you’ve ever had to parse the output from the Windows git command line tools, you’ll know how painful it can be - but with libgit2sharp, you can use C# or Powershell to create automated build tools, manipulate your git repositories and do all sorts of cool stuff.

Jason Dryhurst-Smith gave us a demo of his CorrelatorSharp project - “your one-stop shop for context-aware logging and diagnostics” - a library that allows you to track the context of operations across multiple services and operations, including support for frameworks like NLog and RestSharp and a client-side JavaScript library.

Ben Abelshausen came along to show us Itinero, an open-source route planning library for .NET which you can use within your own applications to calculate routes and analyse map data.

Finally, we had Matt Ellis from Jetbrains giving us ’Ten Jetbrains Rider Debugging Tips in Ten Minutes’ - including some really neat stuff like cross-platform support for DebuggerDisplay attributes and the ability to define interdependent breakpoints in your code.

Huge thanks to all our speakers and to everyone who came along - it’s great to see so much enthusiasm and activity going in with .NET open source, and with .NET Core 2.0 going fully cross-platform and tools like Rider and Visual Studio Code, it’s only going to get more interesting.


See you all at the next one!