SoCraTes 2018 - More than just developers

The SoCraTes is an Open Space conference dedicated to software craft and testing. This year, 215 participants from 17 countries gathered on the last weekend of August in Soltau, Germany. To kick off the (un-)conference, everyone collected ideas, suggestions, and wishes in a World Café. Being an Open Space conference, the sessions were suggested each morning by the attendees and distributed across 15 tracks. There were informal discussions, presentations, workshops, and a lot of hallway chat. The very diverse topics ranged from agile methodologies, to collaboration in general, to software development best practices, to web security, to games, to nail polish.

Two ePagees joined this year’s conference. Jan participated for the first time, and Oliver is already a SoCraTes regular with three attended conferences. We’ve had a little Q&A with them to give you some insights of the conference and share their impressions.

Why did you go to the SoCraTes 2018?

Jan: The SoCraTes was recommended to me as “the best conference” from two people who participate in a lot of conferences. So, I was curious to find out why they are so exited about it. Beside this, I think it is always a good idea to visit one conference per year for the sake of professional growth.

Oliver: Each year I draw a lot of inspiration from the SoCraTes. There are so many different people from all walks of life attending, so I always get to see a new perspective! Before the conference and during the World Café, I explored and proposed a couple of ideas that resonated well, resulting in valuable feedback over the course of the conference!

What was your favorite session?

Jan: My favorite session had the title “Broken World”. It was lead by a QA consultant who argued that life is still great even though things may be broken. The discussion ended with the conclusion that detachment helps in coping with unavoidable system failures. Another interesting insight was the observation that every crisis is also a trigger for innovation.

Oliver: Over lunch we collectively gathered “Evil Arts of Communication”, things you do not normally hear in soft skill trainings for developers. We shared stories where we identified manipulative behavior of colleagues, ranging from using logical fallacies to Neural Linguistic Programming techniques.

Which other sessions did you attend?

Jan: One of the other sessions I attended was about assessing the quality of unknown code bases. It started with a demonstration of how the different dimensions of a code base can be analyzed with CodeCharta. Further, it included tips how to approach structural problems with the Technical Dept Quadrant model and a list of static analysis tools.

The others dealt with soft skills like taking sketch notes, the human factors in software development, and self-care.

Also, I led two sessions myself:

  • a discussion about approaches for learning new technologies
  • a presentation of the architectural prototype of a personal open-source project

Oliver: I attended various “soft” sessions on remote work, software developer self-care, the human side of software, and gaining more quality of life throughout work life. In one session, we followed up on the Personal Kanban introduction from last year and shared our experiences and board setups.

Hearing about stoicism, I concluded that I am on a pretty good path already. Performing dyad meditation was a new experience and I learned that growth/fixed mindsets do not just apply to a person as a whole, but also to individual pursued activities!

On the technical side, I practiced two katas, and attended sessions on cloud testing as well as extreme continuous integration.

What key learnings do you want to apply in the near future?

Jan: Inspired by the “Broken World” session, I will try to use my energy to fix the right things, and accept those beyond my control.

From the conversations beside the session, I derived a lot of ideas, e.g. trying out the Design Sprint concept during a Hackathon, and gained a better understanding of the Hexagonal Architecture model.

Also, I will try out some of the static analysis tools recommended in the “Unknown Code Base Quality” session, i.e. CodeCharta, OWASP Dependency Check, and code-maat.

Oliver: I will definitely boot up the OWASP Juice Shop again, and try to exploit the majority of issues it is illustrating. The (professional) “life hacks” lunch session inspired me to structure and write down my own life hacks. Last but not least, I received really great feedback for my first “How to Teleport” talk, so I will join some loose ends, and later publish an improved article online.

What was your biggest surprise?

Jan: Having gender neutral bathrooms did not feel so weird after all.

Oliver: When we were instructed to draw “with our eyes only”, I was humbled to see how much our brain pre-interprets our perception of reality. A huge “Aha!”-moment struck me, when we used Liskov substitution, covariance, and contravariance to iteratively reduce code base complexity. I will need to practice this more often! Also “Human Tetris” is a tough problem and great fun! 😉

Any advice for SoCraTes newcomers?

Jan: Before you go to the conference, think about what you want to learn.

Oliver: Reach out to as many people as possible, and try to attend plenty of sessions! Sit with people you do not know, yet! If you are unhappy with how a session evolved, use the “Law of Two Feet”!

But most of all: be prepared to be surprised!

About the authors

Jan Mewes is a Software Developer with a passion for all things that involve lean processes.
Oliver Zscheyge is a Software Engineer. He practices katas not just in coding dojos.