A good start to CodeMash. I started with a session on the Ruby Koans, a very nice way of teaching; it tempts me to join the crew building a corresponding set of Python Koans. In fact, it would be really interesting to host Python Koans on Google App Engine... Hmm...
Next I went to Mary Poppendieck's session on leadership in software; alas, for me, it was as much frustrating as inspiring. She described techniques proven to produce good software consistently, and I see very few of them in use in the Air Force. Worse, the Air Force is driving hard to make the problem worse: centralizing, centralizing, centralizing - building up the separation between decisionmakers and IT professionals and IT users with thicker and thicker walls made of miles, layers of management, internal organziational boundaries, and government:contractor barriers. *sigh*
She did, however, make me realize that my employer - a small contractor that sends IT professionals in ones and twos to work on projects as our customers need - can do a lot more to improve skills among our employees. We could get together occasionally from our various customer sites to work together on our skills, or at least have a mailing list for technical chat among our employees.
But here's a question - from a purely selfish point of view, is this the right way to spend my energy? After all, there are already plenty of groups of professionals dedicated to mutual skill improvement. They're called user groups, and the time I spent on internal skill development could just as well be spent deepening my involvement in local user groups; the payoff may be bigger, because I'd be involved with a self-selecting group, with people who already believe it's worth going out of their way to hone their own skills and others'. User group members have an attitude, a hunger and thirst and personal committment to excellence, and trying to create that attitude among my company coworkers may be a lot less fruitful than taking advantage of people who alreay have it.
Anyway, today begins CodeMash in earnest, and I'm loving it. Most of all, I like meeting up with old friends and meeting new ones. Geeks - particularly geeks who are active in the user community - are just fun, interesting people to be around!