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Top takeaways from the best talks from LeadDev London 2023

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Jason Wodicka

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Last month, I attended LeadDev’s flagship tech conference in London, and spoke about engineering an equitable hiring process. I’ve written about the overall conference experience, but there simply wasn’t room in my last post to include one major area of the conference: the talks themselves.

There were so many talks with a kernel of something I learned from, but these four in particular all spoke to how central humans are to our work — from the developers, designers and product folks building systems — to the people who actually use the systems and experience the consequences of our decisions every day. 

In that framework, David Yee’s talk was a brilliant way to open the conversation. It’s easy in tech to think of ourselves in terms of our productivity, our technical decisions, or our career arc. But when everything else is uncertain, our principles carry us, and I’m glad to hear from so many people who demonstrated that their principles put humanity at the center.

Managing at the threshold

David Yee of The New York Times kicked off the conference with a talk that addressed the heart of the current stress in our field: We are living through an uncertain time. We are in a liminal space — a transitional phase between the systems we knew and the new systems that are forming. In these spaces, our old systems can’t help us — and new systems are still being born. David discussed how principles form the guidance that gets us through uncertainty.

Where we’re going wrong with Developer Productivity

I caught Dr. Cat Hicks’ talk from backstage, watching on the tech monitors as I was getting ready to deliver a talk of my own. Afterward, I had to watch it again online to catch all of the things I’d missed. As the head of the Developer Success Lab within Pluralsight Flow, she’s working to understand what sets effective teams apart, and the model she presented — developer thriving — suddenly made sense out of many of the unexplained challenges (and unexplained successes) I’d experienced on past teams.

Building for the underserved, solving for all

Serah Njambi Kiburu of Spotify clearly also appreciated the above-mentioned two talks. She ended up quoting both of them in her own session about making accessibility in design sustainable. I loved her definition of sustainability in development as being an effort that outlives us as we move on to other projects and products. Serah also introduced me to WebAIM’s hierarchy for motivating accessibility change, which I think has some application in other key areas that get treated as “nice-to-have,” like security and user trust. I came away with new ideas about how to keep humans at the center of our designs, and some concrete examples of how her team has done it.

Exit plans and how to talk about them

David Kiger of Yelp gave a provocative talk, by saying one of the unspoken things in our industry out loud: People are going to leave. What if we talked about it? What if we talked about it with them? As a director of engineering at a large tech company, David has had the opportunity to put that theory to the test — first with his direct reports as a manager, and eventually with the entire organization he leads. He shared what he learned about the benefits those conversations can have, how to have them effectively, and how his own practice around them has evolved.

There isn’t room for me to include every talk that inspired me, but those four were the few that stood out enormously. If you were at LeadDev and missed these talks, I definitely advise going back and re-watching them on video. If you didn’t make it to the conference this year, they’ll be posted publicly on the website in January 2024, so set a bookmark for yourself to go check them out. You’ll be glad you did.

Join Karat at LeadDev West Coast

Interested in gaining your own insights at a conference committed to making the tech industry and software engineering profession better? LeadDev West Coast might be the perfect fit for you. Join Karat in Oakland, California from October 16–17, 2023. Use the promo code KARAT when you register for a discount on your conference pass. I hope to see you there!

We’re also looking forward to engaging with folks at LeadingEng West Coast in October, so keep an eye out for more details about how to connect as we get closer!

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