Pittsburgh Tech Fest '15 Round Up

Brian Gray


Pittsburgh Techfest was last weekend, and I joined seven Summa speakers and a bunch of other Summa attendees of the event!

For years, the after hours self-organizing tech scene in Pittsburgh has been growing exponentially (thanks to groups like Pittsburgh Code & Supply, Pittsburgh Agile, and many others), and Pittsburgh TechFest is an invigorating part of this landscape. It was great to see so many technologists together on one day learning AND sharing their knowledge/experience. It is a low-key event as far as conferences go: short sessions, fast paced, and that is why it works so well. Many short sessions allowed me to dip my toes into many topics and led to a lot of great hallway conversations. There were some interesting formal talks, but my favorite were those that were more open to some discussion and Q&A.

Take-aways from some of my favorite talks (just a small subset of the over 40 talks at PTF!):

UX Survival Guide by Nicholas McClay

Nicholas presented the user experience design process soup to nuts from early whiteboarding to figure out what to build through A/B testing in production and gathering usage metrics.

  • The Design Triangle of Certainty, visualizing how designers, their tools and output increase in fidelity as certainty increases over the lifecycle of a project.
  • “It is hard to create demand. It is much easier to listen to people and solve their problems.”
  • Workshopping iteratively evolves ideas which tends to yields better results than brainstorming which creates a large volume of ideas

It’s Never Just an If Statement: Rightly Dividing Complexity in Software by Keith Pinson

Keith presented an interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive argument that sometimes the overall complexity of your system is reduced if you make more/many changes. In other words, sometimes a small simple change is a band-aid to a problem and is hiding deeper complexities.

  • “You can iterate toward a bad state”
  • “Simplicity is not about counting–when you simplify, you often end up with more things” -R. Hicky @dotemacs
  • Personally, I found this a useful point of view, and would add that neither extreme is the right place to live. I think Keith would agree, he was just presenting that this should be considered.

5 Reasons Why Collaboration Contributes to Innovation by Shawnelle Price and Scott Smith

In a great example of practicing what they preach, Shawn and Scott turned this session into a collaborative session through Q&A, discussion and sharing of experiences, and I found that to be very interesting and a nice change of pace from many of the other talks. Much of the discussion focused around workshops with customers: how to create an environment where this is the norm.

  • The 5 reasons:5Reasons
  • How to handle disagreement in a workshop? It’s about leading.
  • What if you can’t get access to the right people (e.g. C-level)? They will cancel the workshop, and it usually means they need to better explain what the focus of the workshop is. 

Thanks TechFest team for a great event! Looking forward to 2016!


Brian Gray
Brian Gray, Summa

Senior Technical Consultant