The YOW! 2016 Conference is now sold out in Melbourne, but you can still get tickets for Sydney and Brisbane. We’re also hosting YOW! Nights in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney  from Nov 15-17…

I spent the first three days of the week in Melbourne, visiting several tech companies and talking with CTOs and senior engineers. On Monday night I attended the MPUGMelbourne Python Users Group. This meetup is held at the University of Melbourne and is run by the fine folks at Python Charmers. The first speaker for the night was Brad Nguyen, a data scientist at Redbubble. Brad gave a lightning talk on how Redbubble used data to test, iterate, and improve on a particular new product feature. My favourite takeaway from Brad’s talk was that “Data science doesn’t have value by itself. It requires cross-functional collaboration.”

The next speaker was Ben Finney, whose entire talk was essentially a review of Mike Pirnat’s book How to Make Mistakes in Python. It was the first talk I’ve ever seen where the “slides” were actually just the text of the e-book! Ben told us about the parts he thought were particularly relevant, especially to the many Python newbies in the audience. I was interested to learn what “Hungarian notation” was and why it’s a bad idea.

The third talk of the night was by Robert Layton, a data scientist at Red Marker. Robert’s talk made heavy use of live coding in Jupyter Notebook as he showed us everything that had changed in the latest version of Pandas, an open source Python library used for data analysis. Robert was a fantastic speaker and used examples that were easy for everyone to understand, no matter their level of experience. I was also interested to learn afterwards that he’s working on establishing a startup accelerator in Ballarat. Very cool!

The final speaker of the night was.. ME! The organisers had let me know a few days earlier that they had room for a short lightning preso, so I gave my talk from TEDxMelbourne on ways you can embed data in knitting. (Thanks Jason Thomas for the photo and tweet!)

On Tuesday evening I attended CTO School Melbourne, which was hosted by Envato. It was a small but highly engaged group with representatives from some of the most prominent tech companies in Melbourne. The speaker was Nigel Fernandes, Architecture Practice Manager at Seek. Nigel talked about McKinsey’s concept of the Three Horizons of Growth, and how those horizons might be applied to people and teams as well as architecture and tech strategy. Nigel was a highly entertaining speaker and I really appreciated some of the practical activities he suggested for teams focusing on the different horizons.

On Thursday I attended the first day of Web Directions Direction 16 conference as a volunteer. I really appreciated how John Allsopp worked to create a positive tone for the day in his introduction.

I spent most of the day with Mike Sharp assisting at the Panedia VR booth. Founder Aaron Spence showed us how to work the Samsung Gear VR headsets, which played a short demo with full 360-degree live video that took you under the sea, beside the Opera House, and paragliding above the coast. We had a lot of fun during the breaks putting people into the headsets and watching them twirl around in amazement!

I did manage to listen to a few of the Direction 16 talks as well. Jonathan Shariat gave a great talk about tragic design – how bad design fails people and what designers can do about it. He got a laugh during his section on Impolite Software, when Clippy “helpfully” popped up to assist him with his presentation. Impolite software pushes itself forward, patronises, and assumes that its needs are more important than the user’s.

Jonathan also made some great points about accessibility:

I also enjoyed the opportunity to geek out on fonts during Wayne Thompson‘s talk “Everything you always wanted to know about fonts (but were too afraid to ask)”. Wayne talked to us about the nut and bolts of creating fonts, and why most free downloadable fonts on the web are pretty crap.

In addition to showing us what makes for a good font, Wayne also gave us a list of fonts NOT to use. As he put it, “If you have Arial as your corporate font, I urge you to resign.” 😂

The next talk was by my friend Lucinda Burtt, Head of Product Design at Fairfax. Lucinda’s topic was the importance of using data to inform design: qualitative, quantitative, attitudinal, and behavioural. She also gave us tips on A/B testing as well as some data-driven pitfalls.

The last talk I saw – and probably my favourite – was from Aubrey Blanche, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Atlassian. Without slides, Aubrey simply talked of the practical strategies she and her team had employed to increase the percentage of women hires. She talked about overcoming subconscious bias, and how Atlassian proved that coding submissions from men were more likely to go forward to interview. (They controlled for code quality by literally submitting the same code again with a woman’s name on it!)

I particularly liked the process Aubrey described for rewriting Atlassian’s job ads to be more inclusive. They cut down on the number of requirements and ensured they were all skills-based rather than experience-based. They also eliminated language like “ninjas” and “rockstars” which tend to appeal more to men.

The last event I attended for the week was the Sydney Bots Meetup at Bilue. This is a new group and this was only the second meetup ever. The first speakers were both from Domain: Mark Cohen, CTO, and Gary Lo, Android Developer. Mark started off by telling us some of the internal uses Domain has found for chatbots, such as finding meeting rooms in their newly renovated offices and submitting coffee orders to the company barista!

Next, Gary told us about the customer-facing bot they had built atop Facebook’s Messenger platform. Gary said that Domain got some excellent free PR for it, and they were excited to see people really making use of it. The early analytics and logs really helped the team to refine and improve the responses they provided to users.

The final speaker for the night was Alex Boudreau, Tech Lead at Boomworks. Alex traced the evolution of chatbots from their earliest incarnations, including IVR and a familiar annoying paperclip…

Alex also told us about the current state-of-the-art with chatbots, including Amazon’s offer to award $1M to anyone who can build a bot that can converse coherently for twenty minutes. He also talked about natural language processing and how neural networks are being used to build bots that are context-aware. Rather than simply recognising a keyword and spitting out a response, the bots of the future will be able to learn how to respond to any command.

Only a few more weeks of meetups left before the holidays! Next week for me will be dominated by our YOW! Night talks with Lindsay Holmwood from the government’s Digital Transformation Agency. Tickets are still available for Melbourne (Nov 15), Brisbane (Nov 16), and Sydney (Nov 17). Hope to see you there…