Making developers happy

Since I joined UKOLN two years ago, I have frequently claimed that we ( JISC, the sector, our community) don't do enough to support and listen to developers. Well, I'm just back from The Developers Happiness Days (dev8D) in London and I can certainly no longer say this. A solid week of developer happiness! A week of ideas generated, geeks networking with users, competitive and yet collaborative development, knowledge being exchanged.... followed by fun and, yes, a bit of drinking.

The brain-child of David Flanders and Ben O'Steen, with support and ideas from several others and funding from the JISC, dev8D has been a fantastic success, and has managed the difficult task of appealing to, and being successful for, a range of people with varying levels of experience and technical chops. The inexperienced developer looking to be exposed to new ideas and to the wisdom of more experienced folk was well served. Julian Cheal of UKOLN fitted this description and he embraced the opportunities dev8D presented to him, engaging at all levels with the event to the extent that he was rewarded with both a prize for his helpfulness and a special mention at the awards dinner for 'best newcomer'. But the older hands were fully engaged nonetheless - presenting on their areas of expertise in 'lightning talks' in the true barcamp style which geeks have embraced as their own way of conducting conference sessions. It was great to see so many familiar faces together at one event, being unashamedly techie, exchanging ideas and help.

Although, like some others, I was forced to miss some of the event due to a deadline for bids to a JISC call falling on the Wednesday, I still managed to sit in on some sessions, and I learned plenty, especially in a talk on agile development about which I'll blog more, separately.

One of the things which stood out at dev8D was the way in which users (or UberUsers) were invited to engage with developers. There's an important, non-obvious distinction here. Users were invited to come into the developers' environment. Brave users, you might say! Normally, developers are invited into the users' environment.... for just long enough to explain to them what the users require. Users would often rather not have to deal with developers all that much. To step into an environment of happy, busy developers must have been an eye-opening experience for those users who were brave enough, and open-minded enough to try it. Although I wasn't on the 'dragons den' panel looking at the prototypes being developed in the _ Developer Decathlon_, it was remarked to me several times that the quality of submissions was better than in previous events - and that this was attributed to the fact that users had been involved in the prototyping process. I'm one of the judges who'll be marking these submissions and I'm really looking forward to seeing what was produced.

With these events, there are little things which can make a difference. The use of Wordle to produce personalised name badges for each delegate was inspired, as was the use of happiness tokens to reward help or ideas. The Twitter back-channel was used to tremendous effect - the '#dev8D' tag made the top ten Twitter 'trends' worldwide. Sam Easterby Smith even built a Twitter-powered developer-happiness meter!

I'd like to go on record thanking David Flanders in particular for driving this event - the guy must be utterly exhausted after working 18 hour days for a week. I think we should also recognise the vision of those in the JISC (and especially Rachel Bruce) who were prepared to back what must have looked like a risky proposition. There was value in the event itself - the networking, and the capacity building which went with this and I have good reason to believe there will be value in the prototypes and ideas generated as a result. But, perhaps most importantly, the sector has just shown the world that it values its developers, and is prepared to invest in them, and even spend a little to make them happy. I believe this will have been a wise investment. As I said on Twitter, _ there's a community developing which I'm proud to be associated with._

If you want to know more, the tag 'dev8D' has been used extensively in various systems. Some examples:

Image by Dave Pattern (