Dev8D and community networking

If there is one stereotype that Dev8d well and truly banishes it is that developers are unsociable nerds who prefer to code alone. The community, networking and collaboration at Dev8D is one of the most immediately noticeable features of the event and, according to the participants, the most valuable.

“I really enjoy drive-by debugging when you just happen to be able to solve a problem for that chap coding next to you, that’s really satisfying,” explains University of Southampton developer Chris Gutteridge. Another, Steve Coppin from the University of Kent, describes how, through collaboration, his team has been able to work more efficiently on a project they brought to Dev8D.

“Creating the plug in back at the university would have taken us two weeks. But we’ve actually been able to do it here at Dev8D in two days, and we’ve done it better. That’s definitely saved us time in the long-term,” he says. “Everything at Dev8D just fell into place for us, from discovering LTI to being able to work directly with the expert who developed the tool. And I imagine what happened to us has also happened to many other people at Dev8D as well.”

Community networking and collaboration means that more gets done in a shorter space of time because resources and expertise are pooled. Connections between developers are made that can be drawn on again in the future, and links are made between projects and people working in similar areas, or with complementary or contrasting skill sets. Developers benefit by learning from each other, institutions benefit from the wider knowledge base their developers have access to, and, ultimately, society benefits from the way in which the creativity and innovation of these developers both supports the researchers they work with and helps to make the internet is a better space for everyone.

“I would argue that mixing talented people together in such a fashion is definitely very good for the software industry in the UK,” says Pascal Belouin, who is researching social science for software developers.

According to Bradley McLean, chief technology officer of Duraspace, events such as Dev8D prove themselves to be of value in “fostering innovation and making efficient use of resources. They enable you to find out what’s going on in other institutions and that saves time and money and gets a better product. Dev8D demonstrates that you can set out to have that as your sole goal – it doesn’t have to be a secondary effect of some other goal.”

The success of Dev8D in this respect has led to calls for the concept to be replicated in other parts of the world, and at more regular intervals. One idea is to make the event quarterly and international because, says McLean, “it would allow the ideas and concepts that emerge to get a refresh every few months and you could track areas you are interested in through tweets and blogging”.

But could the Dev8D community also work virtually? Graham Klyne, from Oxford University, is part of the Developer Focus group that is looking at ways to build the community. He’s exploring the possibility of extending the notion of “developers training developers” – which is better and more cost effective than most of the alternatives – beyond the relatively small number who can physically attend Dev8D and move it into a virtual space, with a focus on the particular kinds of problems facing higher education and further education developers.

“We’ve identified the fact that vibrant communities of interest already exist but, in many cases, there are not easily exploited links between those communities. For example, I’m fairly well connected with the linked data community but when I’m working with single sign on security I don’t know where to go outside my institution,” explains Klyne.

The notion behind what he has dubbed “who you gonna call” is that when a developer hits a technical problem that might be particular to higher and further education institutions, then they always have a community to turn to for advice.

Dev8D offers proof in action that this approach works, on many levels. As one participant describes it, “Met with a developer on the first day who fixed a problem I was having. Now I have a contact any further problems.”