Software Engineers Attend Conference

I originally wrote this article for Volume 118, Issue 2 of mathNEWS.

Last week, nearly two dozen students represented Waterloo at the Canadian Undergraduate Software Engineering Conference (CUSEC) in Montreal, Quebec. In between shivering through the Montreal Winter, discovering the RESO (underground city), and trying to help egg-cat with their homework assignments, we absorbed knowledge from the following speakers:

Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, spoke about progress made against SOPA/PIPA; how it is the World’s Internet, not America’s Internet; how the fight isn’t nearly over yet.

Jeremy Ashkenas, creator of CoffeeScript, argued the case for code as an art form, rather than just a process to be engineered.

Greg Kroah-Hartman, Linux kernel developer, talked about how big the kernel is, how much it changes every day, and how to get involved contributing patches as a kernel newbie.

Bret Victor, known for designing experimental UI concepts at Apple, discussed how current code-compile-debug cycles require the programmer to execute code in one’s head, and that the latency of interaction for developers makes it difficult to discover novel things about code. He also demoed a real-time JavaScript IDE concept that updated a canvas in real time, allowed variables’ values to be tweaked by dragging sliders, and displayed the trajectory of a player across time. He then spoke about having a guiding principle, gave examples of historical figures with guiding principles, and then discussed the pros and cons of living by your own guiding principle – to a standing ovation.

Manveer Heir, Senior Designer at BioWare, warned everyone sternly to stay as far away from the game industry as possible – before telling those who remained how to get in, and what it’s like in the industry.

In between speakers, we ran around handing out resumes and making pleasant conversation, rode up and down the hotel elevators, and talked in our sleep. We played chess amongst ourselves at games night, taught the first-years how to tip at a pub, and made it back to Waterloo.

Now for a week of catching up on assignments and studying for quizzes.

Maybe we’ll actually get a chance to pay back some of our sleep debt. Next week.