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Code Mash 2020, what I took away from the event

Last updated on January 13, 2020

This past week was a busy one trip wise. Also mentally being split between client-facing work in Cleveland during the first half of the week, home for the very middle and then in Sandusky Ohio for my very first Code Mash conference which my company sent some of us to again this year. All told, it was a week heavy on the brainpower side of things.

On the first day of the conference, I attended a couple of sessions that were in line with some old and newer experiences on the coding front for me. There was Jonathan “J.” Tower doing a talk titled “A .NET Data Access Layer You’re Proud of (Without Entity Framework)” that did a pretty good, albeit high-level overview of using Entity Framework, as his example of a full-blown ORM framework, as opposed to three smaller ones he called “micro ORM’s,” namely Dapper. From there I went to “API Design – The Right Way” by a gentleman named Jit Krishnamurthy which broke down the topic into terms found in Domain-Driven Design and how to logically group aspects of an API by domains and sub-domains. For the organizationally minded person, you know – the person who likes to mind map everything, this was a perfect talk. Humor aside though, it was a great talk on how to avoid a single build with lots of coupling in favor of more flexible, quasi microservice style, API’s by fit for purpose within an organization. This idea streamed very nicely with the next talk titled “API Gateways and Microservices: 2 peas in a pod,” by Santosh Hari. The last technical talk of note from my perspective was “Vertical Slice Architecture,” by Jimmy Bogard. He drove the point home about the painful side of inheritance and the trap of re-usability that welds things together through coupling rather than creating more flexible architectures. You can read more by him in “Vertical Slice Architecture” or watch a presentation he did on the topic in 2018 with the same title.

A full house of professional problem solvers

I wanted to split my time between technical sessions and what people more commonly refer to as “soft skills.” Specifically leadership and diversity issues in the tech industry. Partly for my role as an older tech and as a little bit of research for a talk I am concocting toward delving into the diversity issue from my perspective. More on that later though. So I attended a session by Alejandro Vélez-Calderón titled “Inclusion at the Workplace: You are more than an Awesome Coder.” I must say, the guy is well-read and did some decent research. I had some personal reactions to the message, however. Alejandro works the angle of empowering people to walk without fear and to choose to be vulnerable rather than remaining silent. That’s great but, and this is just where I am at in my head with this right now, I think that it’s perfect if you can afford to be that brave and feel supported enough to speak out and, if you encounter negative consequences, then simply move on to a new job. Not everyone has that luxury, however. But again, he did a great job and it was a worthwhile presentation.

From there I went to “Coaching & Communicating with Diverse Teams,” by Kiera Prioleau who was also on point from the angle of a hiring and management perspective. She mainly focused on fostering diverse teams for the documented financial benefits of them, probably due to the monoculture tendency to be self-blinding by repeated bias and decision vapor locks. Interestingly enough, she touches on not creating “too much” diversity. Tabling that for topics I’d like to explore sometime in the future as I am not sure what that looks like since I have never truly seen it. I did, however, appreciate her take on generational perspectives and personas in the workplace. As a Gen-X’er, I didn’t realize that Millenials, whom I admire, prefer to be called Gen-Y’s.

Generational Diversity

One of my favorite talks, however, was “Technical Leadership 101,” by John Rouda. His humor and candor were totally what I needed at the moment. He’s someone I’d like to go hiking with someday. He has a great way of relating to the audience in a self-effacing and humble yet confident manner. He offered some guiding principals to would-be leaders in the technical field (which should apply to any field really). Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Act like an owner
  • Have each other’s backs
  • Choose people over process
  • Question your assumptions
  • Think big start small
  • Be intentional about work
  • Make life easier for those around you
  • Fix yourself first (that one resonates loudly for me)
  • While money is a motivator, the true motivators for people are; Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

The last diversity talk I attended was “Will the real ‘Women in Tech’ Please Stand up?,” by the talented and deeply empathetic Taranjeet Kaur. She speaks to topics that were not on my radar in clear focus like “pinkification” of females as they grow up. Meaning that point where our culture subtly hints at women must be liked, subtext, “likable.” She spoke about watching the critical thinker in her daughter die from a mysterious ailment that she picked up through her socialization. I loved how she phrased the difference between how men are viewed as being asked to work on “interpersonal skills” as opposed to women who she stated are asked to be “less girl.” I could not help but think of how we do that to boys as well or force binary constructs on children when, in fact, they may not be at all. Her points and some other topics, which I snapped shots of below, are what made me happy I stepped into her session. Taranjeet gave me a lot of food for thought on this topic for sure.

Women in Tech (In the USA)

By chance, and I do this at every conference I go-to, I spin the wheel and just land somewhere random. So it was that I found myself in Arthur Doler’s talk titled “Owning Your Experience: Talking about Mental Health In the Workplace.” He talks about dealing with mental illness from boyhood to his current day to day professional life. Normally, I see people on their phones only partially paying attention. Hell, I see that in places like Metro Parks where people are playing at hiking and looking at their iPhone screen the whole time. When I looked around the room the only thing I saw was a full house with 100% attention on the speaker. And for good reason. I think he is probably the bravest presenter I have ever heard talk in public. You could almost feel the raised skin of his emotional scars from the battles he faced along the way of realizing that he was not alone and that life didn’t have to be a prison. That he could open up to people and both accept and ask for support when he needed it. It reminds me of one of my favorite quote’s:

“Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”

Brené Brown

Arthur’s’ talk makes me think about all the times I chose not to speak up about depression and anxiety post, and probably pre, heart attack. But more than that, all of the missed opportunities on my part to lend more of a helping hand to others around me in the past. I walked away from this talk with a renewed feeling of contentedness to everyone around me. I think that’s a pretty damn good measure of success for a talk right there.

To wrap up, for my first Code Mash, this was a pleasant surprise and one I hope to repeat in the coming years. It’s well worth the trip to the summer resort town of Sandusky Ohio in January deep in the armpit of winter here in Ohio. The conference was well organized and the strange venue of a water park seemed to work perfectly. All in all, a worthwhile experience that makes me proud and grateful to be a member of the tech community in general.

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One Comment

  1. Shane Shane

    Great write-up Jeff! I especially enjoyed the parts around ‘soft skills’ in the workplace and ‘debunking’ mental illness and the paradox around asking for help/being vulnerable and how truly empowering that can be. I talk to my kids about how opening yourself up to others is a risk, but that if you don’t, you’ll never have any real relationships. That’s the paradox- looking like you have it all together keeps the people that can really help you get it together away.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing!

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