CodeRetreat Michigan to be held at SRT Solutions on Saturday

Saturday, December 3, 2011 marks the Global Day of CodeRetreat. CodeRetreats were conceived as a way for programmers to hone their craft, practicing solving a well-known problem in many different ways over and over again.

If you would like to participate and you are in the Ann Arbor area, register and then head over to SRT Solutions at 206 S. Fifth Avenue, Suite 200, Ann Arbor, MI. The event will be held from 9 am – 5 pm.

Enjoy!

Dear world, we’ve got something going on out here (CodeMash)

CodeMash 2012 has sold out. In 24 minutes. Last year, we sold 900 seats in 3.5 days. The year before, we sold 700 seats in 32 days. But this year …. 1200 seats in 24 minutes.

CodeMash is a volunteer, developer-organized conference held in Sandusky, Ohio, in January. Yes, I said January. We bring folks from all over to the snow belt in January to learn new programming languages, new software development techniques, and have a really good time. This year, we’ll have 108 unique technical sessions, as well as a day filled with tutorials. And because it’s not enough to fill the days with geekery, we have evening events, like a game room. And out of the ordinary talks at CodeMash After Dark. We even have things for geek children (KidzMash) and for spouses who come to manage the geek children (CodeMash Families). We have a water park party and a band and a jam session. If you don’t like the sessions (that the organizers chose from over 700 submissions), we have Open Spaces, where you can convene your own session on a topic of your choice, or join in on one that someone else created.

Did I mention it’s in Ohio? In January? And that we wear shorts and flip flops in the Kalahari Resort/Indoor Water Park where it’s balmy inside and we can watch the snow pile up outside?

Did I mention the amazing speakers? Internationally known speakers and authors like Andrew Glover and Scott Hanselman and Bruce Eckel. And Jon Skeet, coming over the pond from London. Carl Quinn (of the Java Posse and Netflix). Bill Pugh (father of FindBugs). Cool emerging topics like Clojure and ClojureScript. Node.js and Backbone.js. And so much more.

Continental breakfast? Pshaw. If you’re coming to Ohio in the middle of winter, we thought we should feed you. There are eggs. And fruit. And bacon. Yes, bacon. This year, we even have a bacon sponsor. Yes, really.

So if you wondered why eventbrite and twitter were abuzz this morning between 10:24* and 10:48, it was because 1200 software developers were registering for a conference in January. In Ohio. And we’ll be contemplating how the heck to handle registration in 2013.

*Why 10:24, you ask? Well, today IS October 24, of course. And if you want to know why we chose 10:24, you can read the President of CodeMash, Jim Holmes’ blog, where you will learn that “in 1901 Anna Edson Taylor was the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel”. And we did want to commemorate her accomplishment. Didn’t I mention the geek part?

Ada Lovelace Day: Looking back, looking forward

Today, October 7, is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace is credited with being the first computer programmer. Her work in 1842 describing Charles Babbage’s analytical engine was not code in the same way that we see it today, but her insight was amazing.

During World War II, the ENIAC served as the first digital computer and was programmed by a group of 6 women at the University of Pennsylvania, replacing some 80 women who had been hand-calculating ballistics trajectories via some complex differential equations. Their programming task was quite complex, without the benefit of programming manuals, computer languages, or Google.

Many other women have excelled in software since then. So why has this become a man’s game? When I graduated with a degree in Computer Science in 1986, 36% of degrees in CS were earned by women. The 2009-2010 Taulbee survey showed 13.4% women, an increase over the previous 2 years, but still surprisingly low.

As a women in Computer Science, I’m often asked why there is little interest in Computer Science for women. I have no idea. I enjoy the profession I have chosen, and so I have no insight into why other women have assessed things differently. So, instead of guessing, I’ll use Ada Lovelace Day to say what I love about the software industry.

  • Customers — I love learning about what other people do for a living. Writing software to solve someone else’s problem gives me insight into what they do for a living and this keeps things interesting
  • New languages — New computer languages (like Scala) take on an increasing amount of the boilerplate work. This helps me to focus on solving the customers’ problems elegantly rather than spending a lot of time doing stuff I’ve done a million times before.
  • Other programmers — the software community is one of the most generous communities I know. Some developers like to talk about what they do and like to share that knowledge with others at conferences and user group meetings. Some developers like to donate their time to building projects for charities at events such as the Ann Arbor Give Camp. Other developers like to build software that others can collaborate on and learn from, as well as use in the form of Open Source.
  • Conferences — the software community seems to have the best conferences. Conferences are often low cost (like CodeMash and Strange Loop) and offer great training on applicable technologies. We hold them in fun places like in ski areas and indoor water parks and cruise ships. Socializing while learning is the geek form of networking, and we do it well.
  • Flexibility. We can work anywhere, and often do. With a cell phone and a laptop with an internet connection, it’s easy to set up an office.
  • Low capital expense, The cost of starting a business is low and this leads to innovation, particularly by young people.
  • Fast-paced. The industry has moved significantly in the 25 years since I started working as a professional software developer. Continual learning keeps my interest.
  • Ubiquitous. Software is a large part of all of our lives. I’m thrilled to play a part in that.

I have an 8 year old daughter. I don’t know what profession she will choose. I just hope she’s as happy with her choice as I continue to be.

Scala koans in Ann Arbor on October 5 (full day workshop)

SRT Solutions will be presenting the Scala Koans in a full-day workshop on Wednesday, October 5, from 9 am – 4:30 pm. The Scala Koans provide an interactive and fun way to learn the language.

Koans, as referenced in wikipedia, “may consist of a perplexing element or a concise but critical word or phrase (話頭 huàtóu) extracted from the story”. This is the case with the Scala koans as well. Students of the koans use a simple test-driven process to insert missing information from an exercise to make a test pass, before moving onto the next exercise. The cumulative knowledge from working on each koan builds to provide an in-depth understanding of a particular language feature that can later be applied in the context of solving a software problem.

The Scala Koans were conceived at CodeMash 2010 and have been growing ever since. The Scala Koans have previously been presented as half-day workshops at CodeMash, the Java Posse Roundup, and Strange Loop. Koans are available in many other languages, such as Ruby, Javascript, and Clojure.

Cost for the full day Scala Koans workshop is $100 (early bird, until 9/30) or $125 (10/1-10/4). Lunch and snacks will be provided.

The workshop will be held at SPARK Central, 330 E. Liberty, Lower Level, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. For more information or to register, go to http://srtscalakoans.eventbrite.com/. Please call Lisa Zuber at SRT Solutions (734-929-3211) if you have any problems or questions with respect to registration.

Greetings from the Strange Loop Conference in St. Louis

Strange Loop is a conference held in St. Louis, MO, started by Alex Miller. Much like CodeMash, Strange Loop is a developer-organized conference, and is offered at a price (around $250 for 2 days) that attracts those who self-pay and those who work for small companies. I’ve found that the self-motivated individuals are engaged attendees! I decided last winter that I wanted to branch out to attend other regional conferences beyond CodeMash and Strange Loop was top on my list. I was thrilled when Alex asked me to present the Scala Koans at Strange Loop as a 3-hour workshop on Sunday.

The koans approach to learning computer languages offers small exercises, in a test-driven manner, so that people can learn a language by through small steps and self-discovery. Offering a koans workshop is an effective way to encourage people to work on the exercises, since they can ask questions and stay engaged. Particularly while the koans are being developed, any gaps in our “lessons” can be addressed by the instructors, on site. Strange Loop targets 30-40 attendees for workshops, so I asked Joel Neely and Daniel Hinojosa, both who have experience with the koans, to co-present at Strange Loop. This offered a 10:1 student to instructor ratio, which ensured that people were able to make good progress in the 3 hours. (Having 3 presenters also allowed one of us to slip out and order some pizzas for our hungry students, since our session ran 11:30-2:30 and hungry brains don’t focus well! And no, we didn’t plan to order pizza ahead of time!). Our session was well-attended and we got some great feedback. Hallway rumblings and tweets seem to indicate it was well-received. For those who are interested in learning more about the koans, I’m in the process of bringing up a website to provide resources, code, and other hints at ScalaKoans.org. It’s not live yet, so I’ll let you know when it’s up (expecting in the next week or so, depending on how much time I can find to get the content there). In the meantime, you can access the student exercises at our bitbucket site.

Back to Strange Loop. The workshop day was an optional day. The first full day of the conference was on Monday. I attended some interesting sessions, including:

I also attended a purely fun session, “Learn to play Go” by Rich Hickey, creator of Clojure. Finally, I may be able to figure out what to do with the Go board that’s been sitting in my basement for a very long time! I was able to play a game with another newbie and we were very evenly matched!

The Scala talks were interesting. I tend to focus on the simplicity of Scala, as a better language than Java for the JVM. These talks were focused on getting the most out of the functional aspects of Scala. As the industry sees momentum toward using functional for what it does best, this will be very relevant. Strange Loop, in general, has a fairly functional bent to it, and that’s quite fun!

I’ll fill in about day 2 of Strange Loop later. But there are more talks to attend!

Lotsa mobile this week in Ann Arbor

The Ann Arbor Computer Society holds its September meeting on Wednesday, September 7. Ann Marie Manzitti will be presenting, “2D Gaming on Android – An introduction to libgdx”. The meeting will be held at SRT Solutions, 206 S. Fifth Avenue, Suite 200 in downtown Ann Arbor (at the corner of Fifth Ave and Washington). It starts at 6 pm, and is free and open to the public.

If iPad development is more your thing, go to the Thursday September 8 meeting of the Ann Arbor CocoaHeads, where Chris Adamson will speak on CoreMIDI. CoreMIDI implements the MIDI signaling protocol for virtual and physical musical instruments, and integrates with Core Audio. See what happens when we connect a Rock Band 3 keyboard, a MIDI cable, and an iPad with the Camera Connection Kit. The meeting will be held at SRT Solutions (see address above). Free pizza (compliments of Arbor Moon Software) at 6:30, with the main meeting starting at 7.

SRT’s Mike Woelmer finishes his 3000 mile journey from Portland to DC

One of the things I like the most about my job is that I work with the most amazing people. Mike Woelmer is one of those folks. As a Senior Developer at SRT, Mike has done a lot of interesting work. His versatility is evident in his work. In the time that he’s worked for us he’s worked on calculations in back-end software, representations of data in WPF, an engaging touch screen interface for our survey engine, a mobile application, and used a Python-based web framework for a local customer.

Early this year, Mike came to Bill and I and asked if we thought it would be a problem for him to take a month off to ride across America in his velomobile. You may have seen this interesting bike parked outside our office. It is a bike — entirely human powered. It’s how Mike gets to work most days, riding about 20 miles. But this was a much different trip. This was a trip from Portland, OR to Washington, DC over a period of 4 weeks. That’s 3000 miles, over first the Rockies, then the Appalachians. And a whole lot of country in between. Mike asked if this would be a problem because he would be taking his vacation in one big chunk of 4 weeks. We told him to go ahead. I don’t think either of us really thought hard about what he was doing. No, it wasn’t a problem for the business, but wow … 3000 miles. On a bike. Through the mountains.

A week ago, Mike and the other riders spent the night in Fort Wayne, IN on their way across the country. I threw my kids in the car and headed down there to cheer him on and to recognize his accomplishment in person. When the children complained that our 140 mile car ride was long, I reminded them that Mike had ridden his bike that far, that day (he rode 128 miles last Thursday). When we got to Fort Wayne, we got to see, in person, what Mike had been doing for the previous 3 weeks. Typically on his bike by 6:30 am until about 4:30-5:30 pm, he rolled into camp and set up his backpacking tent (damp from being taken down at 5:30 am). Mike was limited to one bag on the trip, plus what he could carry on the bike, so he has minimal clothes and has to do laundry every few days. He also had to get out to a restaurant and/or grocery store each night, which meant more riding after his ride for the day had technically ended. When we saw him, he was pretty tired, but determined. Oh, and raccoons had gotten into the tour’s snack bag of Clif bars the night before.

And early in the evening on Wednesday, August 24, Mike and the other riders rolled into Washington, DC, the final destination in their journey across America. We’re all amazed at Mike’s accomplishment. There’s one question that remains: will Mike ride into work on Monday … or drive?

SRT Solutions named to Inc 5000 List of Fastest Growing Companies

SRT Solutions, is thrilled to be named to the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies in 2011. To top it off, we were the top ranked software company in Michigan (at position 1901 of the 5000). Bill Wagner and I started this company in 1999, and I feel fortunate to have such a great business partner and a thriving company.

Bill and I didn’t grow this company without help. The patience of our staff, as we transitioned from independent consultants to employers, has been critical, and part of the growth experience. But through steady growth, we’ve been careful to preserve the company culture, believing that if we have a company that we want to work for, then employees and customers will agree. That’s served us well. Much of our business is word of mouth and repeat business, and so our growth is due in large part to our customer as well. We’re glad that they enjoy working with us. Exposure to a variety of industries as we work closely with customers, is one of the joys of custom software development, and also brings fresh perspective to applications across disciplines.

Our employees continue to amaze me. They truly participate in the growth of the company, not only by developing great software but also through fresh ideas and valuable insight into managing the company. Their contribution of applications for the CodeMash conference (PaintWars, MobiMash) and the Hands on Museum Tech Twilight (Android Music Player) provide a fun way to showcase software. Their open source projects (Elevate, ActionLinq, and Jasmine-Flex) have provided value to the greater software community, as well as to our customers. Their articles, appearing in national publications such as MSDN Magazine and Visual Studio Magazine, benefit software developers around the world. Their participation in charity development weekends, such as GiveCamp (Ann Arbor, Lansing) have provided working applications to deserving charities. They have grown their own knowledge, participated, and presented at many local, regional, and national software developer groups. I am grateful for their generosity and benefit directly from their knowledge. The Inc. 5000 ranking is a reflection of their hard work.

The Inc. 5000 list of 2011 represents companies who have grown through the recession. As a Michigan company, we are even more sensitive to that, given the hardships that our state has experienced. We’ve written and spoken about the vibrant software ecosystem in Michigan, and the Inc. 5000 list supports this. The other Michigan software companies on the list include WorkForce Software (2426), Plex Systems (2573), Atomic Object (3043), TechSmith (3486), Campfire Interactive (3660), DaySmart Software (4945), DSS Corporation (4949(, and Paramount Technologies (4964). Of course, the list isn’t only made up of software companies; 125 Michigan companies are represented across a variety of industries. Huge congrats to all! Michigan is a great place to be, and we’re glad that the Inc. 5000 list represents so many of our friends and neighbors!

Scala Koans Workshop at Strange Loop Conference in St. Louis in September

Wow, that’s a lot of S’s.

Join Daniel Hinojosa, Joel Neely, and I for Scala Koans at the Strange Loop conference in St. Louis on September 18. The Scala Koans, inspired by the Ruby Koans, were previously presented at CodeMash 2011 and the Java Posse Roundup 2011. We solicited feedback at both of these events, and we’re adding to them, incorporating some of your suggestions as well.

I’m excited to be attending Strange Loop.  Alex Miller has done a great job, starting it in 2009 and growing it every year since. My friend and co-presenter for the Scala Koans, Joel Neely, attended last year and had high praise for the conference. I’ve already signed for another workshop in the afternoon of September 18, and I’m looking forward to seeing the full schedule!

Programming Summer Camp in Colorado, July 25-29

I went to summer camp orientation over the weekend for my elementary school aged children. I muttered to my husband afterward that I thought that the camp should organize a week for the parents. Sailing, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, archery … what’s not to like?

And then, I was reminded that I am going to camp this year too. Programming Summer Camp. A camp for grown-ups! It’s in Crested Butte, CO (which is in the mountains of Colorado and gorgeous!). Like my kids’ camp, it’s a day camp. Without family commitments, most of the folks will have some time in the evenings to hang out as well. In conferences that I have attended previously in Crested Butte, the attendees tend to hang out from early morning til late night, going back to their hotels or B&B’s or shared houses only to sleep.

The camp is set up to support “campsites” proposed by participants. I’m going to be involved with one of the 3 tents at the Scala campsite. Attendees are free to propose campsites of their own or join one that has already formed. (Note that we’re not talking about real “tents” here; this is not a rustic summer camp … it’s held indoors). The price ($200) was set super low, to cover costs only, with profit going to charitable organizations. Your travel to Crested Butte and lodging will be the majority of your expense.

While we’ll be working on programming topics during the days and into the evening, what is summer camp without some time for the great outdoors.  Mountain biking and hiking are amazing in the mountains during the summer, and groups will surely form. In fact, there’s time built into the conference for such activities. I’m looking forward to biking the legendary 401 trail, often described as the best trail in CO:  “At the top there are spectacular views, to the east you can see the Maroon Bells. From here, the scenery can’t be beat… start the narrow singletrack downhill through fields of wildflowers and aspen groves. There are about two more steady climbs after the long downhill back to your car, take your time and enjoy the views!”

I biked part of it once before, and I’m looking forward to tackling it once more. Without the thunderstorm this time!

Sometimes folks worry that events like this might be low on the learning, high on the play factor. I’ll counter that. I’ve been to many conferences and I have never learned more than at these interactive events. Yes, people head off to go hiking and mountain biking, but when they’re in the learning part, they’re truly engaged (and energized). It’s a great experience.

And so yes, the “parents” get to go to camp too. To register, sign the release form and it will take you to the registration. Yes, every self-respecting camp should have a release form!

See you in Colorado!