Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

04 Jan 2015, 10:12 a.m.

A Few Technical Talks I've Really Liked

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Someone at Hacker School asked people to list programming/technical talks they'd liked, and to include links, context, description, and what makes it great. I said:

  • A Dozen Databases in 45 Minutes -- audio (click "Download audio of this session"), liveblog. You are a developer confused about what data storage tool to use. If your understanding of data storage tops out at "Mongo is webscale" or "mysql + memcached = win"; then this talk is for you." So the speaker gives a whirlwind tour of several database management systems, including the first explanation of why you'd give up consistency for performance that has ever made sense to me!

  • Cache me if you can: memcached, caching patterns and best practices -- slides, video. You are a developer who has heard that you should cache things and has worked on systems that have deployed to production. The speaker explains how memcached works, what it DOES NOT AND CANNOT do (I love that -- the use case is so much clearer to me now), and walks you through using it.

  • Python Epiphanies -- exercise, video. You are a Python developer who's written a few thousand lines of code, cumulatively, and you aren't clear on what decorators, iterables, partials, generators, and/or namespaces really are, or when/how to use them. This tutorial walks you through those. I had lightbulb moments here around how most things I'm used to doing in Python are syntactic sugar over double-underscore-methods, and I am more comfortable understanding and using the features I mentioned. (Also check out "Loop Like a Native" for more similar enlightenment.)

  • Freedom, Security, and the Cloud -- slides. You have to deploy code in the cloud and sometimes you pay cloud platform/hosting providers, and you want to understand the current security/privacy/sovereignty threats and solutions. The speaker gives you a clear (if chilling) understanding of the current systems and their vulnerabilities, and what we can do to mitigate risk, while also being super funny. Audio will be available someday soon.

  • Fundraising: Under the Hood -- video. You are a Wikipedia editor or reader who has seen those fundraising banners; you want to understand the system that displays those banners, interacts with payment gateways so donors can donate in a zillion currencies and countries, prevents fraud, double-checks the accounting with payment processors, and notifies everyone of everything. I like that the speaker demonstrates why and how a big system works by helping you see all the problems that the components solve.

  • Wikimedia Foundation January 2014 site performance update -- video starts ~37 minutes in?, slides. Context: you are a Wikimedia Foundation worker or Wikimedia volunteer who wants to understand why we should prioritize the speed of site response. I like the way the speaker contextualizes the importance of the work and helps less technical people understand terminology.

  • Designing Poetic APIs -- video, slides. You are a developer who sometimes has to create APIs or libraries, and you'd like a framework for the decisions you have to make. The speaker gives you useful principles with good and bad concrete examples for each.

An incomplete list for sure! I would love for other people to publish similar lists on their blogs. And I try to do similar things in my speeches, in case that is helpful.

Also, I wish these speeches had transcripts. So I have posted on the Transcripts for Everyone! community to request that!