Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On SXSW - Biggest Take Aways from Sessions

I've been thinking on the general and specific takeaways from this year's SXSW Interactive.  What were the things that spoke the loudest to me?  It's been difficult to narrow down, actually.  There are a number of general things about the event, but specifically?  This will require some thought.

"Tipping Point"
I heard this phrase numerous times, mostly seriously, and a few times jokingly.  It seems that there a few industries looking for that point where they become entirely digital.  This always seemed to use the smartphone as an example:  eventually a tipping point was reached where everyone started to acquire smart phones easily and affordably.

More importantly, are you driving the tipping point or are you fighting against it?

Jokingly, this guy, Dean, that I pal'd around with Monday evening kept using it in the context of when the party was about to get wild.  He had a nose for it.

I attended a talk by Gene Kim about a development philosophy called "DevOps".  It is, at its most basic level, about injecting your operational requirements into your agile sprint processes.  DevOps marries the two normally separate groups into one so that they can more effectively support one another.

This will help you increase your operational/release tempo as well as create more hardened systems with the initial releases.

"Distinction Without Difference"
Ray Kurzweil used this phrase in his keynote conversation with Lev Grossman.  Specifically, he was referring to the idea that we might integrate digital devices into our bodies.  He says we already do, in the form of smart phones.  That they are not inside us is a distinction with out difference.  We already carry them everywhere and interface with them while performing any number of tasks.

Deeper on this topic was the idea that we would, through these devices, interact with a digital cloud that would expand our mind's capabilities.  We are already on the cusp of emulating the human brain's thought processes and so it's foreseeable that we'll use cloud-based data centers to expand our cognitive abilities.

Being a budding sci-fi novelist, that was right up my alley to hear, if not slightly disturbing.

"We couldn't create a problem hard enough"
This quote came from a game developer who Katie Salen worked with.  Her talk was "Don't shoot the player", referencing a game in which a segment was too difficult because the player was just learning and the level designers were shooting the player.

This specific quote was about how in Portal 2, a game with co-op 1st person puzzle solving, they could not create a problem that was too difficult for two players to solve.  They found that one person would take the majority of the cognitive load and when they got tired the other person took over, creating a situation in which there was always deep thought being applied to a problem.

This nugget can translate well (and does through Extreme Programming) to software development.

"Reward Failure"
Katie's talk was mostly about education and building a system in which we don't just reward success, but failure, too.  We shouldn't "shoot the player" while they're learning a new skill.  We should also recognize that failure is a legitimate part of success and speed us towards ultimate goals.  However, we're taught that only success is rewarded through our current schooling systems.

This, too, can translate well to software development.  So much of what we do is creative in nature and involves a whole lot of failure before finding the sweet spot of success.

"Does your product have a plot?"
As a new "product guy" with more than a decade of web development behind me, I was very curious about this talk.  Since I'm also a writer, this definitely spoke to me.  I wasn't let down.  David Womack gave a soft-spoken presentation about plot in products and how we can translate the introduction, complication, climax, and resolution formula of writing to product construction.

While his examples were very broad in scope, this can scale down to a web page.  I often refer to the "climax" as "the therefore" for any particular product.  But this concept of applying setting, seeing the user through the process and engaging them is an elegant metaphor.

A side note from this is emotional complication and engagement, with an example being Amazon's reviews.  The reviews provide emotional investment, characterize a product, and help lead to the climax - which is the decision to purchase or not purchase - the product.


"Austin is awesome"
Technically, this wasn't part of any specific session, but I have to say I've really enjoyed Austin.  Even with the weather really making it difficult to get engaged the first couple days, I met some very interesting, engaging folks.  Several of them work with Green Mountain Energy here in Austin.  Others were just relaxed locals who I met through the Google+ HIRL community.

I was able to listen to music of a type I'd never heard before - Noise Revival Orchestra.  Think rock/punk meets orchestra.

The food has been great, if fattening, and once the sun started shining, the weather was fantastic.  I travel back to Virginia tomorrow, but I think I may try to come back when Austin is "normal", although from what I understand, it's all about "Keeping Austin Weird".

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting, Ryan. It is good to get out with smart people and have official permission to think broadly for a few days. I wish more of our business leaders would do that too.