All Things Open Recap 2022

November 03, 2022

All things open banner in a a large conference room

Photo by me

I had a great time the past two days at All Things Open! Surprisingly, this was the first complete tech conference I’ve ever been to, and it was so much fun.

It was so much fun, in fact, that I decided to do a recap and resource dump of all the things I learned instead of doing a traditional article this week. I couldn’t go to every talk (of course), but these were my favorite talks and takeaways.

Keynotes

Scott Hanselmann

You only have a finite set of keystrokes left

— Scott Hanselmann

Scott Hanselmann gave a really lighthearted and fun discussion on how to tell your story and share your experience. He talked about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, something I’ve been trying to gain more of an understanding of recently. A big thing for me here was bringing others along to things they usually wouldn’t be part of.

I appreciated his push to “share your story anywhere with a URL.” His point is you can reach more people by sharing over a blog, Twitter, or GitHub vs. only over email or one-off conversations. I’m glad I’ve already picked up this habit (i.e., this blog). Still, it is a good reminder of why I have this blog: I’m trying to share my story and experience with others to help them on their journey.

Jason Lengstrof

Jason Lengstrof might be one of the best presenters in the software industry. Yes, I just told you ATO was my first complete tech conference. Still, I’ve seen many other presentations over the years - whether recordings, virtual events, or smaller scoped tech talks - and Jason has a skill here.

In his talk, Wandering vs. Seeking, he encouraged engineers to have the proper balance of hard work towards a goal (seeking) vs. time to relax, play, and dabble (wandering). His own story shows how being willing to find the adjacent possibilities from your current work requires a willingness to explore and focus (at least for a time) on something you enjoy. He also reminded us that sunk cost fallacy is a thing and pivoting is ok - especially since any skill gained is valuable in its own right.

Talks and Breakouts

Releases Galore

I’m a huge fan of release notes and automating them for projects. Many automation discussions these days focus on automating running software or deploying software. However, we can also automate processes for our teams and remove toil. I’ve even built a (small) GitHub Action to help here!

Michelle Manning from GitHub gave a talk sharing the importance of release notes for software projects. She especially highlighted how GitHub has been doing a ton of research and improvements to make creating releases easier and more accessible for OSS maintainers, which is really cool.

A big takeaway for me was what makes good release notes. I’m planning on bringing these to my own teams too. In particular, their research highlighted that good release notes have these elements:

  • a why - tell users why you are releasing a new release
  • a summary - give a summary before breaking down the details
  • conventions - use a versioning strategy like semantic versioning and how you do your release notes like keep-a-changelog
  • easy navigation - inlcude links from the release notes to issues, pull requests, or external materials
  • contributors - recognize those that contributed to the release

Check out the resources from her talk if you want to help your own projects start releasing better!

Rules Engines and ML

Rules engines and expert systems are a form of technology I have yet to be able to build or use, but I see the need for them in some upcoming work I have. I was happy to see a talk from Capital One discussing how they have built a rules engine and combined it with machine learning to make decisions.

While the talk was a 10,000-foot view, presenters Andrew Bonham and Thiaga Manian did an excellent job of discussing a lot of the tools they use @ Capone, including Drools, kogito, and H20. I appreciated that they discussed some of the more difficult parts of a rules engine system, like monitoring, rule verification, rule conflicts, etc. Building a rules engine isn’t the hard part. Managing it is.

I’m excited to reference my notes as I bring the idea of rules engines to my teams. Sorry for just my notes! They didn’t share any slides.

Content Creation

News flash: content creation is exploding. This isn’t a surprise to anyone on the Internet, though.

But while many people are focusing on TikTok dance videos or cash giveaways on YouTube, there is a thriving community of developer teachers helping engineers and those trying to break into tech learn new skills. James Q Quick is one of those creators (who just became a full-time content creator this year! - congrats!).

In his talk, James shared his story of building content and how it took years to see a real payoff. But he kept pushing and creating. After following accounts that sometimes make content creation seem simple and easy, it was great hearing him transparently show his numbers and progress over time.

My big takeaway from his talk was that words on a resume are just words on a resume, but building a brand through content shows who you are and what you can do. I even saw this happen last year when the hiring manager for my current role referenced my blog! Like Scott mentioned in his talk, creating content and sharing your story is powerful, even if you have yet to become a full-time content creator.

Hiring is Broken

Everyone in tech laments the interview process. But no one seems to have a better idea or provide steps to improve our current strategy.

NC State (go Wolfpack!) professor and Microsoft researcher Chris Parnin talked about the scientific reasons why tech hiring is broken and some insights into what we can do to fix it.

In particular, Chris walked us through how tech interviews look eerily similar to the Trier Social Stress Test, which is “used to reliably induce stress in human […] participants.” In effect, we’ve actually turned our interview process into examining how well someone can mitigate or cope with a stressful situation rather than if they can problem solve or code.

Some of the steps he suggested taking include

  • giving interviewers a chance to solve problems alone or at least have some time to think privately (i.e., not being probed with questions from interviewers)
  • framing the interviewer as a colleague or collaborator rather than a judge
  • ask real problems that would be seen on the job rather than toy problems

I’m excited to bring these back to my team and our hiring process!


So much great stuff! I can’t write about every talk I went to in-depth or every resource I found, but I’ll drop a link for a few additional things worth mentioning.

Hope to see you at ATO next year!

Happy coding!

  • All In Program - a program to promote and build better inclusion for everyone in OSS
  • A GitHub Action for Helping PRs get merged and conform to OSS or repo standards

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Dan Goslen is a software engineer and sustainable development advocate. He has spent 10 years writing software systems that range from monoliths to micro-services and everywhere in between. He currently works as a software engineer at @Policygenius in Raleigh, NC where he lives with his wife.