Five more things on effective contribution days

Some time ago I wrote a post on our first EdWeb code sprint. Obviously things have moved on since 2016 – for one thing we have run quite a few contributions events since that pilot! Last December we hosted a Drupal 8 contribution day, as code sprints are now known, inviting some developers from the University of Dundee to take part. Over the years between my original post and our latest contribution day we have learned a lot about making the most out of this type of event. Now seems an excellent time to reflect on my original recommendations for staging a successful code sprint for any application or service and add a few extra things to the list.

Continue reading “Five more things on effective contribution days”

Adrian Mouat on ‘Understanding Docker and Containerisation’

Sometimes, what can seem just a useful innovation in IT infrastructure can have a significant effect higher up. Containerisation is one of those things, and one of its experts outlined the how and why in a Software Development Community of Practice industry talk.

One of the advantages of being in Edinburgh is that we have quite the tech scene on our door step. Sometimes literally, as when one of the pioneers of the now ubiquitous Docker container technology turns out to work out of the Codebase side of Argyle House. And that’s not the only connection Adrian has with us; he used to work at the EPCC part of the university. Which made the idea of inviting him over for a general talk on Docker and containerisation both compelling and do-able.

Being in IS, but somewhat removed from actually running server software, I was about as aware of the significance of containers as I was hazy on the details. Fortunately, I was the sort of audience Adrian’s talk was aimed at.

Specifically, he answered the main questions:

What is a container?

A portable, isolated computing environment that’s like a virtual machine, but one that shares its operating system kernel with its host. The point being that it is a lot more efficient in image size, start-up times etc. than a virtual machine.  Docker is a technology for making such containers.

What problem does it solve?

Containers solve the “it works for me” problem where a developer gets some software to work perfectly on her own machine, only to see it fail elsewhere because any of a myriad differences in the computing environment.

Why is it important?

Because it enables two significant trends in software development and architecture. One is the shift to microservices, which encapsulate functionality in small services that do just one thing, but do it well. Those microservices ideally live in their own environment, with no dependencies on anything else outside of their service interface. Container environments such as Docker are ideal for that purpose.

The other trend is devops- blurring the distinction between software development and operations, or at least bringing them much closer together. By making the software environment portable and ‘copy-able’, it becomes much easier and quicker to develop, test and deploy new versions of running software.

What’s the catch?

No technology is magic, so it was good to hear Adrian point to the limitations of Docker as well.  One is the danger of merely shifting the complexity of modern software applications from the inside of a monolithic application to a lot of microservices on the network. This can be addressed by good design and making use of container orchestration technology such as Kubernetes.

The other drawback is that containers are necessarily not great at sharing complex states. Because each small piece of software lives in splendid isolation in its own container with its own lifecycle, making sure that everyone of them is on the same page when they work together in a process is a challenge.

Overall, though, Docker’s ability to make software manageable is very attractive indeed, and, along with the shift to the cloud, could well mean that our Enterprise Architecture will look very different in a few years’ time.

(repost from the Information Services Applications Directorate Blog)

Seren Davies: Accessibility is more than just supporting screenreaders


Photo: Callum Kerr

Accessibility is a topic that many of us struggle with. Even with the best of intentions, it’s a hard problem to solve. Still, like any hard problem, it’s worth tackling and doing right.

Seren Davies, a developer at Elsevier and a co-organiser of JSOxford, came to speak to us about what we can do to support accessibility beyond just looking at screenreaders. The talk looked at a number of different scenarios where users may be struggling – everything from dealing with dyslexia, to just being a bit tipsy on a night out.

Seren showed how users can be affected in many ways that may prevent them from using what we build, and that there are many more users dealing with these kinds of problems than we might think.

Keep in touch

If you’re not connected to the Software Development Community already, there are lots of ways that you can find out about future events. If you’re a member of staff at the University then you can join the mailing list or the Slack channel, and anyone can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Irina Preda: CodeYourFuture, a coding community for refugees and asylum seekers

Photo: Tim Gray

As developers, how do we know that we are making a positive difference? Irina Preda, a former graduate of the University, came to speak to the Software Development Community about an organisation called Code Your Future which is doing just that.

Code Your Future is a non-profit group that works with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK to help them find work as developers. The organisation trains students in the necessary skills they will need to find jobs, including more abstract skills such as networking and preparing a CV.

Code Your Future is locally based in Glasgow, and they are actively looking for interested folk to act as volunteers and mentors. You can apply on their website. Technical skills are not required, as there are many ways to get involved.

If you’re not connected to the Software Development Community already, there are lots of ways that you can find out about future events. If you’re a member of staff at the University then you can join the mailing list or the Slack channel, and anyone can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

All Day Hey! 2018 Reflections

Yesterday I took a trip to Leeds to All Day Hey!, a one-day one-track conference on topics across the front-end ecosystem. Now in its second year, All Day Hey! has managed to attract some top speakers, and curated an interesting day of diverse topics.

Every talk had something of value, but I don’t have space to write them up and couldn’t do them justice in this format. Instead, I’m going to pick out some of my top take-aways from the day that I think you’d most like to know.

If you want to know more about any of the topics covered, or any of the talks I haven’t written up then let me know! I’d be happy to chew your ear off about them some time, or arrange a way to pass on anything learned.

So here’s a list of the talks, speakers and topics. After the jump, my top lessons.

  • Unlocking the Power of CSS Grid LayoutRachel Andrew (CSS Grid, CSS standards)
  • Building Resilient Frontend SystemsIan Feather (Infrastructure, disaster recovery)
  • What is the Web without the Browser?Peter Gasston (Extended reality, future web)
  • Idea to Execution, and BeyondAshley Baxter (Product development)
  • Lightning Talks
  • CSS — Past, Present and FutureUna Kravets (Modern CSS, Houdini)
  • In the LoopJake Archibald (Event loop, JavaScript programming)

Continue reading “All Day Hey! 2018 Reflections”

Duncan McDonald and Katie Stockton Roberts: Strangling Monoliths the Bitesize Way

Duncan McDonald and Katie Stockton Roberts on stage

Last week we were very fortunate to welcome Duncan McDonald and Katie Stockton Roberts from the development team for BBC Bitesize. They spoke to us about how the technical architecture of Bitesize has changed over the years, from a hulking PHP monolith to a selection of independent microservices that combine to build the web and mobile applications.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to record the presentation but I’ve attached a copy of the slides below and, after the jump, provide an overview of what was talked about and how it might fit in to the University of Edinburgh.

Download slides (requires University login)
NB: This presentation includes videos and is over 400MB. Don’t download on mobile data.

This talk was organised by the Software Development Community and, if you’re not connected to us already, there are a myriad of ways to get in touch to find out about future events. If you’re a member of staff at the University then you can join the mailing list, or the Slack channel, and anyone can find us on Twitter and Facebook.

We’re particularly interested in hearing ideas for new events, talks and workshops. If there’s something you’d like to know more about, then we’d be keen to help you organise that. And if you have a contact that you think would provide an interesting talk to the community then we’d be keen to hear about them. We also have some budget to help with expenses like transport and catering. To get in touch, please email the organising committee.

Continue reading “Duncan McDonald and Katie Stockton Roberts: Strangling Monoliths the Bitesize Way”

Tobias Ahlin: Making Better Design Predictions with Design Bets

Photo: Callum Kerr

One of the main challenges in designing and developing a product is figuring out how to improve it. How do you get from your ideas to your end goal? And how do you know if you’re on the right track to achieving what you want? Design Bets is a product management framework that aims to help you with this, pulling together research on the best ways to make informed, unbiased decisions.

Last year, I saw Tobias Ahlin, the Experience Design Director for Minecraft, give a talk on Design Bets at DiBi 2017. I was so inspired that I ended up using it on a project we are currently running. This year, we invited Tobias to come back to Edinburgh to speak to us at the University.

A recording of the talk is available publicly on the University’s Media Hopper service:

Continue reading “Tobias Ahlin: Making Better Design Predictions with Design Bets”

Using Design Bets to plan change in MyEd

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the Design It; Build It conference, where I saw Tobias Ahlin give a talk on an idea he called “Design Bets”. (He will also be coming back to the University of Edinburgh to give the same talk in a couple of weeks – check out the info at the end of the post to book.)

Put simply, Design Bets is a framework which allows you to plan changes, and then evaluate the impact of those changes using evidence, not personal belief or bias. It is designed for software products, but could easily be used for any type of change management – e.g. for a business or other organisation. It’s also a great tool which allows you to quickly plan and see possible changes across many areas at once.

I was immediately interested in this concept, because we are currently running a project to improve student experience in MyEd. There are a lot of ways that we could do this, and lots of ideas were being tossed around. It was difficult for the team to keep track of what ideas had been discussed, and to easily understand what those ideas were.

Continue reading “Using Design Bets to plan change in MyEd”

Mark Simpson & Steven Wang: Bitcoin, Crypto Assets and Blockchain

While I understand the concepts behind Bitcoin and blockchain, I’ve never really understood how they actually worked. So, I was pleased when Mark Simpson and Steven Wang from RBS offered to come do a talk for us on the subject. This was our second industry talk of the 2017/8 academic year, the last one being Katie Fenn: Chrome DevTools, Inside Out.

Slides: PowerPoint file (University logins only)

I first met Mark when I saw him speak at Design It; Build It (read more in DiBi 2017 Reflections). I was very interested to learn about some of the innovative work that his team has been doing at RBS. Since then, we’ve been looking for an opportunity to work together, so I’m glad that it finally worked out!

Continue reading “Mark Simpson & Steven Wang: Bitcoin, Crypto Assets and Blockchain”

Katie Fenn: Chrome DevTools, Inside Out

At the end of November, we were lucky enough to have Katie Fenn ( come to the University of Edinburgh to give a talk on “Chrome DevTools, Inside Out”. This kicked off the community’s industry talks for the 2017/8 academic year. Although this talk was some time ago, I’ve only gotten a chance to write it up now…!

Katie has given this talk numerous times, so I’ve included some links to slides and recordings below:

Continue reading “Katie Fenn: Chrome DevTools, Inside Out”