January, 2009

Jan 09

CodeMash 2009

Last week I attended my first CodeMash conference in Sandusky, OH. I must say, I was very impressed. Besides that fact that it’s a regional conferences with a limit of 500 participants, it had great tracks and a very cozy atmosphere that made one feel relevant. Bigger conferences usually attract many more participants to a track, which makes it hard to grab the attention of the speaker if one has a question. Not so at CodeMash, where tracks had an average of 20-30 participants.

My first track was on Thursday and I decided to attend Scala presentation by Venkat Subramaniam. Content aside, Venkat is an awesome speaker. Actually, awesome is an understatement. He communicates very well, has a great sense of humor, and is very thorough (he really knows his stuff). Throughout the sessions and conference in general, I took notes in the form of a Mind Map. This was my first shot at it, but I loved it. Instead of formal note taking I’m so used to, this was a refreshing experience. The mind map technique is described in many literatures, but I really learned about it from the Pragmatic Thinking and Learning book. Here is Venkat’s Scala talk as a Mind Map.

Scala Presentation MindMap (click on image to enlarge)


I used XMind to draw it, though at the conference I just drew on paper. I did an exhaustive search for Mind Mapping software a week ago and couldn’t find anything that was worth while, until a friend of mine David McKinnon recommended XMind. This software is awesome.

Jan 09

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

I just finished the book titled Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.  Wow, am I fascinated.  This book is a concise overview of all the latest behavioral psychology and neurological studies as well as pragmatic advice on how to become a better software developer.  Although these techniques apply to just about anyone trying to improve their skills and/or just trying to become more productive, Andy does a good job relating to programmers, being that he's one.  I've read about lots of these topics in my adult lifetime, but this books organizes everything in one place, so you no longer need to go and read about bits and pieces of various topics.

There are two topics that really caught on to me (although all were very fascinating), Mind Maps and Managing Focus especially dealing with Context Switching.  I started to apply those right away.  There are others that I plan on incorporating into my plan in the following weeks and I'll discuss those as I do, but these are here to stay now.
Mind maps are a great way to represent your thoughts and really reinforce what you are learning/thinking.  They are non-formal, although I like the convention presented by the author.  There are many times when I understand a particular topic and have a mental image of how various subtopics are interrelated.  Although maps are hierarchical, you can have cross hierarchy and cyclical dependencies as well, but you might want to rethink the relationships if your map begins to look like a brain that just had to make 20 context switches in the last 10 minutes (more on that below).

Context Switching

I've always been aware of distractions, but somewhere along the lines of being instantly rewarded by satisfying clients/bosses with a constant barrage of IMs and Emails, we loose focus on important things.  By responding and completing these small tasks immediately, you loose focus and the items that are important.  So supposedly a 2 minute fix now turns into about a 20+ minute distraction because of the context switch phenomena described in the book and well backed up by many studies.  Your time might vary 🙂

I'm going to write up a better summary over the weekend, don't want to get distracted from focusing on important tasks at this time, but I would recommend the book to anyone, whether you admit in having issues with focusing and time management or not, and/or want to be more productive and learn and acquire skills faster and more efficiently.