BOSTON – With the lunch keynote in the books, an afternoon packed with breakout sessions and a final keynote to close it out was what remained of the 2018 ReDev B0st0n Conference. They came fast and furious, with a small break in between the second and third.

The first one to check out was a four-person panel entitled Securely Testing, Deploying and Monitoring Software. DevOps is a challenge already, but as security becomes a bigger concern and part of the process, it grows as teams try to integrate that into what is already being done. While there were some good insights about the tools available (and for some technologies such as node.js, a relative lack of them) as well as high demand and low supply for security engineers, what might have been most interesting were comments on security scans.

Two things stood out more than anything. One is that legacy applications often don’t have security scans done for many years, if ever, which can produce large backlogs of issues to go through. That leads into the second because it makes it even more of a challenge: making metrics useful. Having a large backlog is one thing, but when it leads to something that is not remotely achievable, they are not helpful. If you have a large backlog that can’t realistically be handled in the time allotted, the end result will already be known and the teams involved won’t care enough to even make a dent.

After that, the DevOps theme continued as a duo from XebiaLabs presented Does your DevOps Feel a Lot Like Office Space? Yes, the title is an allusion to the famous movie, and T.J. Randall and Erik Rasmussen did the presentation with a theme from the movie as Rasmussen played Peter Gibbons and Randall played Bill Lumbergh. In between Rasmussen taking on Gibbons’ character in part by playing a little Tetris and Asteroids, they talked about how even with all of the DevOps tools out there that help with testing, teams still need reports as well. They highlighted the importance of consistency and reliability with tests, as well as speed being in part a result of higher quality code, then talked about reports that show things like trends, code quality and if more things need to be measured. With reports, the big keys are to determine what should be in the reports and what should be automated.

They also noted that all of this holds true for mature applications, not just newer ones. All applications need consistency and repeatability in testing no matter how old they are, and security, auditing and reporting are necessary as well, even more so in code for products in heavily regulated industries.

After that, the session of choice was A Practical Guide to Creating More Desirable Products Through Collaborative User Research. This one was a little tougher than others for me to stay with as presenter Mike McNasby talked about the benefits of this and how it can be done more easily than one might think. The summary was with three main steps: automate administration, collaboratively plan and host sessions, and record and share learnings. The first is a big one, because administration can bog down a lot of efforts. McNasby and his team have that down to where it takes a tiny portion of their time, allowing more time to be spent on big revenue-generating work.

The final breakout session was a panel entitled The UX, PM and Engineering Triad. Among the attendees were many more software engineers than user experience designers and product managers. Lee Weiner, the Chief Product Officer for Rapid7, moderated the panel that discussed the cross-functional effort needed for the three types to coexist and put out products. Colleen Miller from Toast noted that one thing they do is have engineers talk to customers and engage them at events, breaking down the wall between them and the customer. While there are pluses to having that wall there to a degree, it can only help engineers to have some interaction with customers to have a better feel for how the product is used and the pain points customers have. That is the case whether the customer is external or internal, as is sometimes the case.

An interesting notion posed to the panelists was the idea of a product manager as the “CEO of the product.” All of the panelists were not keen on the notion and felt it is a misnomer, mainly because whereas a CEO makes decisions based on inputs that should include the team, a product manager is at the will of the team.

In the end, things are not as simple as asking what customers want. As Weiner quipped upon mentioning this, “No one asked Steve Jobs for 10,000 songs in our pocket.”

Once that was in the books, it was back to where the event started for the closing keynote. Clara Tsao, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF), spoke about her experience in the program, including how she got there.

It went back to a time when she was trying to find work that meant something to her. She saw companies getting a lot of money for things like juicers (some of which we may consider overpriced), and thought there might be something better, more meaningful. That came with a chance meeting at SXSW one year, where she met someone who knows about the PIF program.

She shared many details with the program, such as how long one can be in it and what those who have participated have gone on to do once they finish – many have been quite accomplished. Plenty of alumni have stayed in the federal government and moved on to executive positions within it.

Tsao’s work has been focused on the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Task Force. She began by describing some details, namely that ISIS controls land area about the size of Israel and uses Twitter for about 90 percent of their social media, with about 70,000 accounts producing over 200,000 tweets per day. How do you solve the proliferation and the recruitment? She highlighted a four-part plan:

  1. Develop a strategy for “Digital & communications” – a strategic implementation plan, and perform an audit of the landscape
  2. Develop a portal to organize resources for terrorism prevention shareholders – an interagency portal was launched in two months by the CVE Task Force
  3. Strengthen collaboration with the private sector, academia and civic society partners to pursue tools and capabilities – they created the Digital Forum on Terrorism Prevention Series, which featured 500 experts in six months, two Cabinet-level secretaries and the White House
  4. Implement coordinated communications and media strategy regarding terrorism prevention efforts – here, there is the Digital Marketing Academy on Terrorism Prevention

Her address was well-received by the crowd that stayed after a full day, and it closed out the conference nicely. It set the stage for the career and networking fair held right outside where Tsao’s keynote was given.

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