Yesterday I attended an “unconference” organised by the Swedish ALT.NET group. An unconference is like a conference except it’s free, informal and mostly self-organizing.

This unconference had two parts: first a series of “lightning talks”, i.e. brief presentations of up to 10 minutes, and then an “Open Space”, i.e. a set of self-organizing discussions. (The Wikipedia page explains quite well how the “self-organizing” part works, and it actually worked surprisingly well.)

Both parts were fruitful and interesting. The lightning talks were a good way to get started and to get our brains moving, but the bulk of the action happened in the Open Space discussions. The topics ranged from Domain-specific languages through Traditional roles in Agile projects to Working with legacy code.

I wanted to take part as a pig rather than a chicken, to use a Scrum metaphor, so I held a talk myself, about continuous integration – how we’ve implemented it in our project, and why I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Apparently I made an impression on at least one listener.

I got somewhat spoiled at my previous job. At a global firm with a large number of excellent developers, there were always presentations to attend, debates to follow, people to learn from. Now that I work in a very small team of rather more ordinary developers, I don’t get that kind of inspiration and information served on a silver platter any more, and need to look for it more actively.

I’ve also come to realise that I care more about code quality and good design than the rest of my team, and sometimes the uphill struggle against a morass of ugly old code gets a bit demoralizing. It was nice to meet people whose values and ideals are more aligned with mine, and who grapple with similar problems.

I went home yesterday with two book tips, one tool to try out, some good advice, and a renewed sense of energy and inspiration. I’m looking forward to the next ALT.NET event already!