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Five things - 06/03/2020

1. The Origins of Opera and the Future of Programming

About a year ago I was very keen on this blog post and the accompanying talk and shared it with anyone who would listen. It charts the history of various creative disciplines and how they evolved when groups of people informally met to learn from each other. The article draws on historical examples in music, art and then moves on to software development practices. The latter case is quite interesting - a group of people working at ThoughtWorks produced several ideas and practices which have spread through the industry. For example, Continuous Delivery, BDD testing and DevOps were strongly influenced by this group. The post proceeds to discuss systems thinking and then the interactions between groups of people and software they are developing. It’s a refreshing change from most blog posts about technology, and while it’s long it really resonated with me. The video version of the post is also worth a watch if you like that format.

2. QCon

Every once in a while I’m lucky enough to attend a tech conference. This week I returned to QCon in London, having last attended 5 years ago when I had just joined the BBC. It’s quite a big event, with 6 main tracks plus 2 extra “sponsored tracks”. The topics range from architecture to engineering leadership to more deep technical topics. Some of the talks I particularly enjoyed included learning about LinkedIn’s architecture for streaming “likes” in realtime, a talk on Tesla’s virtual power plant, supercharging teams with delegation and Monzo talking about how they run a bank on 1600 microservices. Hopefully the videos will be made public soon over on InfoQ.

3. Who’s in charge inside No 10: the maverick advisers running Britain

I’m trying to keep up with what’s currently happening in UK politics, and there’s been quite a lot of hysteria around Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign and the main advisor to Boris Johnson. This long article profiles a few of the other people in number 10, and it’s quite good to get the insight into who is working there. This post details many of the advisers who came from Johnson’s time as Mayor, such as Eddie Lister (who seems to be partly behind a lot of the un-affordable housing in London) and Andrew Gilligan (who helped deliver the cycle superhighways in London, which I’m a big fan of). We’re in for an interesting year as the government has a bigger majority than others in recent history, and the Conservatives didn’t produce a particularly detailed manifesto. It’s worth reading this to get an idea of who will be advising and implementing the whims of the Prime Minister.

4. The Decade of Distrust

My favourite listen this week is another BBC pick. This programme covers the first decade of the century, focusing on political trust in the UK. This was the period that gave us the Iraq war, the MP expenses scandal and the financial crisis with the bailing out of banks. It’s a good episode, with recent interviews and a lot of archive material. I was a teenager for most of this decade, and politics wasn’t my main interest at the time, so this was a good opportunity to get a better understanding of what was going on. I do remember most of these events and I think it’s worth re-examining recent history to give a sense of perspective. Were things that much better 10 years ago? I’m not so sure, but it felt like we had the grown-ups in charge.

5. Strangers Coffee

One of Norwich’s successful indie food businesses is Strangers Coffee (I’m sure there should be an apostrophe in the name, but they ommit it so I will too). Named after the Strangers, a group of refugees from the Low Countries who settled in Norwich around 500 years ago, this coffee shop sits in the lanes and has been a fixture of my regular trips home to the city. I was very impressed with the coffee when I first tried it, and the highlight has always been the split shot, where you get both a small espresso and a milky coffee to try the beans in two different styles. They expanded a few years ago to have their own roastery round the corner from the coffee shop, and this past year they have opened a further two cafés in the city. It probably helped that it’s also Derren Brown’s favourite coffee shop. I often buy a bag of their beans to grind at home. The Ethiopian Rocko Mountain is great, as is the Guatemalan coffee. If you’re in Norwich definitely visit, but I’ve also seen their beans as a guest in Manchester’s Idle Hands on occasion.