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Full Throttle 2014 – Canterbury Software Summit

Earlier this month the Canterbury Software Cluster hosted its annual Software Summit, Full Throttle. The event had some very inspiring international and local presenters, including multimedia pioneer Alex St John, nanotechnologist Michelle Dickinson, Canterbury University Computer Scientist Tim Bell, security expert Andy Prow and many more.

Throughout the day there were master classes held by various industry experts on specific areas of interest; one of particular relevance to working at Intergen was about working effectively in distributed teams, hosted by Nick Pallow from Atlassian. The day was a great opportunity for Canterbury software professionals to get together, learn about what others are doing, network and revel in the exciting industry that is ICT.

The scene

There were more than 200 people at the summit which took place in Christchurch’s historic Wigram Air museum with fighter pilots and other displays littered around the huge hanger. Around the conference there were stands from all the sponsors ranging from big international companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Pay Global to local super stars such as Jade, Orion Health and SLI Systems. Everybody was extremely friendly and the buzz of excitement about the future of our sector was palpable.

Entrepreneurial Engineering

The day’s presentations launched with a big bang with what I found to be the most exciting and inspiring speaker of the day, Alex St John. He told his story of risk, hard work and passion that took him from a young child tinkering with a university mainframe in Alaska to being one of the most pivotal Microsoft developers of the early 90s, creating the multimedia API DirectX for Windows 95.

His main mantra was around the idea that most companies talk a lot about being innovative but most don’t actually want what comes with true innovation: disruption, change, risk and often failure.

This was most vividly described through his recollection of the conversation he had with his boss after the business case he’d meticulously put together for DirectX was rejected by Microsoft executives. He told his boss that they really needed to build this software and he asked, “Is it worth losing your job over?”

Alex later realised that it was probably a rhetorical question with no being the implied answer, but he took it literally, going home and coming to the conclusion that the answer was yes. After racking up 1.2 million dollars in expense claims on his credit card he launched the product without any help from the Microsoft PR team at a massive event in a theme park in front of a large group of sceptical DOS game developers.

The product was a great success and helped propel Windows not only into the forefront of home entertainment, but also converting many developers who were extremely unhappy with Windows as a gaming platform into Windows developers.

Canterbury Software Summit: Alex St. John
Figure 2: Alex St John: Photo copyright Neil Macbeth

The challenges of working in a distributed team

The master class taken by Nick Pellow from Atlassian showed how teams can work well together despite geographic challenges. His example was working on a team that was evenly distributed between Australia and Poland with an 11-hour time difference.

Canterbury Software Summit Atlassian Workshop. Photo copyright Neil Macbeth
Atlassian Workshop: Photo copyright Neil Macbeth

The team used a combination of online tools for collaboration, communication and project planning along with an agile scrum approach to help mitigate these issues.

The major pieces of advice I took away from the class were around the idea of having strong leadership in both locations that are free to challenge each other, avoiding silos and an us and them mentality, as well as strong communication that included getting together by planning travel into product releases and other important dates into the project cost.

Cyber security; Myth or reality?

Of all of the talks, the most interesting from a technical and professional standpoint had to be Andy Prow from Aura Information Security about cyber security in a modern connected world.

He highlighted how even if all new development stopped today, research shows that it would take about 10 years for all of the current security issues existing in the wild to be addressed. He also spoke of his experience working with Microsoft on volume licensing software, where they highlighted many security holes in their flagship products, such as SQL Server and ASP.NET.

All this led him to get involved in the security business after realising this was a major issue and in many areas of the industry was either poorly done or largely ignored. He made me think about how important these issues really are to our clients at Intergen and how keeping people’s sensitive data safe from breaches has to be even more of a focus as we move further into the era of hacked information being a marketable commodity in the international marketplace. It also highlighted New Zealand’s opportunity as a country with a reputation for low levels of corruption and general trustworthiness to be a world leader in this area.

The future of hardware

As the day went on there was a very inspiring talk by hardware nanotechnologist, Michelle Dickinson, from Auckland University. She spoke of all of all of the exciting new technologies in the pipeline, including bendables, brain controlled devices and graphite nano-tube powered chips. She implored us as a group of developers not to think of our modern devices as the future but more to look at them as we now see the original cell phones: old and antiquated, soon to be replaced by something new and more exciting. With that in mind, she asked us to think, “What’s next and how will we develop for it?”

The future of ICT professionals

The final presentation I’d like to mention was about something I am very passionate about: getting young people interested in ICT. We heard from Professor Tim Bell from Canterbury University and Michael Trengrove from Code Club. They spoke about the new ICT curriculum available to schools in New Zealand as well as an initiative called Code Club that has an aim to give every Kiwi child the opportunity to get a chance to learn to code.

The changes in the way that the government and the school system are approaching the issue of ICT skills shortages are very exciting and encouraging. What is even more exciting is Code Camp, a volunteer organisation involving developers from the industry giving up their time in the evening to get children together working as teams on software problems.

As clichéd as it may sound, the children are not only our future but – in a world of increasing technological and economic challenges – they may just be our saviours in the years to come. New Zealand has a great opportunity to become a world leader in the technology sector, and ensuring we show our young people just how fulfilling and interesting a career in ICT can be is essential to achieving this. I grabbed a Code Club card and can’t wait to get to my first meeting.

Summing it up

Overall the conference was an enlightening and inspiring combination of real world stories of success and entrepreneurship with helpful advice and knowledge about the present and future of the technology industry in New Zealand, and specifically in Canterbury. The event was very well put together and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people in our exciting industry. By all accounts the ICT sector in New Zealand really is going Full Throttle and I look forward with great anticipation to where it’s going to take us.

Posted by: Seth Reid, Developer, Modern Applications | 20 October 2014

Tags: Career, Community, Enterprise Social, Canterbury Software Summit

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