Sunday 27 December 2009

Boston Roundup

First off, just to get this out of the way, Hyatt Regency Boston: nice enough hotel but 50c/min for internet? They do realize that works out to $30/hr right?! I mean... heck, I'm speechless. And I can't decide which is worse, that or the $36/day for parking. Luckily I didn't have a car.
From Boston '09 (Steven Noble)
I was in Boston a few weeks ago to take Product Management training (happy to report I passed the certification!). An old friend of mine came down from Ontario and we took in the town for the weekend. We spent much of Saturday wandering around Cambridge and then walked the Freedom Trail back through the North End, Boston's fabulous Little Italy.
The financial district had a nice sense of scale, not unlike downtown Vancouver (if you ignore the West End) or maybe... Perth? And Boston Commons is a perfect feature in the heart of downtown; it's nowhere near the size of, say, Central Park or Stanley Park but is one of the nicest city parks I've seen.
Overall, I liked the feel of Boston, and the snow and drizzle failed to dampen our spirits. I have to confess that I found Cambridge pretty uninspiring, though. I expected Harvard and MIT to exude a sense of history and achievement—like the colleges in Cambridge, England or even Trinity College in downtown Dublin—but they felt like little more than a collection of oldish buildings. Maybe the preponderance of brick as a building material simply fails to impress.
On Sunday night, I went for dinner with Carl Gundel and Chris Norton, two Boston-area one-time Squeakers. As in Vienna, I presented a convenient excuse for Smalltalkers who hadn't crossed paths in years to get together. We had some interesting discussions and hopefully reignited the Smalltalk spark in Chris.
Kudos to Yelp for the recommendation of Bar Lola and to Zagat for the pointer to delicious Italian food and friendly service at Carmen. Oh, and I loved the Equal Exchange Cafe — wish it was in Vancouver.
As usual, click any of the photos above to see the others I posted. Or check out Steven's photos from the trip.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Training in Boston

So I'm most of the way through this jaunt down the US East Coast and have yet to post even a single update (unless you count the occasional tweet). I know, I know... what can I say? I've been busy. My first attempt was overly rambling so I'm going to focus on one aspect here and follow up with a few more posts over the next couple of weeks.

The main reason for the trip was a Product Management seminar led by Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing—and I definitely recommend the course to anyone who's interested in this stuff. One thing I found interesting: in North America smalltalk usually means asking, "so what do you do?"; well at a seminar made up of 30 people who all do the same thing, that gets replaced with, "so where do you work?". Fun watching the puzzled looks on people's faces as they stared at the blank line below the name on this independent consultant's name tag. :)

The main focus of the course is on guiding product development through market problems and on grounding those problems in real data instead of hunches and "wouldn't it be cool if...?". I'm interested in Product Management from two angles: first, as a possible career direction and, second, in its applicability to open source projects, such as Seaside.

In past jobs, I've found myself naturally trying to fill an institutional void. I've been the one asking, "Are you sure the students want an on-campus version of Facebook? I kind of suspect they just want to use Facebook...". Actual demand for what we were doing, the exact problems we were trying to solve, and even the development costs have all been more-or-less-hand-wavy things. How do you know what to implement if you don't know what problem you're solving and for whom? Or, to look at it another way, if you develop without that knowledge, how do you know anyone will find the result valuable? It was revealing for me when I first learned there are people who make a living doing these things I found rewarding.

The applicability to open source is an interesting issue. On the one hand, it is almost intuitively obvious that most of the same factors apply. A project that meets a market need will succeed while one that does not will fail. A project that knows who its users are can be more effectively marketed; one that does not will succeed only through chance or an inefficient shotgun approach. What I'm not sure of yet is what is different: is it the formulas, the costs of the resources, or maybe their units of measurement? Or do we need to tweak one or more of the definitions? As a random example, Product Management makes a distinction between users and buyers of a product; what's the correct mapping for these concepts in open source? I'm still pondering all this... more to come.

Before I leave off, I should mention that the Hilton DoubleTree in Bedford is one of my best hotel experiences in recent memory. Everything was efficient and painless. The room was roomy, modern, and spotlessly clean. The internet was fast and free. And the (three!) extra pillows I tossed on the floor were left there neatly for my entire stay instead of being put back on the bed. They even insisted on comping a meal I had in the restaurant which was, admittedly, slow in arriving but not to the point I was concerned about it. So, I don't know why you'd be in suburban Boston, but if you are, go stay at the DoubleTree.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

New York presentation confirmed

The details for my talk in New York have been confirmed. We'll be at the Suite LLC offices (directions) on Thursday, December 10; there's an open house at 6:30pm and the presentation is at 7:00 (drinks afterwards).

Here's the planned subject of the talk, though I think I'll play it a bit by ear and see what people are interested in:
Seaside is a rare example of software that runs on all the major Smalltalk platforms: Pharo, Gemstone, GNU Smalltalk, Squeak, VA Smalltalk, and VisualWorks. We’ll take a look at some of the challenges in keeping the framework portable and some of the techniques the team has developed to deal with these. Along the way we may also touch on tools such as Grease, Slime, and Monticello and how they help the process. And then we’ll see where the discussion leads.