Playing Games with Martin Fowler

It’s been a very busy week.  Will Provost (owner of Capstone Courseware) and I just finished putting together a two-day Introduction to EJB 3.0 course, which took a lot of work, especially because I was teaching a Spring class at the time.  That meant late nights and challenges for both of us.  I think we both hit the limit of our endurance, but at least it’s finished (except for the instructor guide, but that’s coming).

This weekend, however, I’m attending my second No Fluff, Just Stuff conference here in Danvers, MA.  This edition of NFJS is formally called the New England Software Symposium, which sounds much more formal than it is.

Part of the reason that I actually pay to go to this conference is the No Fluff Just Stuff philosophy.  There aren’t any vendors or marketing people here.  There’s a cap on the number of attendees at around 250.  It’s held over the weekend to provide the minimum disruption to work.  The conference basically consists of the best developers in the world talking about their favorite technologies.

This year I planned to spend some time with Scott Davis.  He was the co-author of the JBoss at Work book that I enjoyed so much last year.  I even used it as the required text in my Developing Enterprise Applications class at Rensselaer last summer.  When I attended the conference last year I got to meet him and enjoyed his company.  Then I found out a few months ago that he’s big in the Groovy and Grails worlds (he runs the aboutGroovy web site), which just shows what a small world this is.  I knew I wanted to talk to him about all this.

It turned out he’s running the conference this time around.  He’s also giving several presentations.  The one I attended today was on mocking web services in order to test client apps.  He’s also big on RESTful web services and had a talk that included discussing the  Yahoo!, Amazon, and Google API’s.  I didn’t get to go to that one, however.  I was busy attending Neal Ford’s talk on implementing SOA, which was very interesting.

Neal works for ThoughtWorks, which is quite a famous company, at least from my point of view.  The chief scientist at ThougthWorks is the very famous Martin Fowler, who has a fantastic blog/wiki (he calls it a bliki) at and is huge in the agile community.  His UML Distilled book is everybody’s first UML book, and his Patterns of Enterprise Architecture should be required reading for every serious developer.

Neal Ford also gave the keynote this evening, where he talked about Polyglot Programming and made a strong case that Groovy will be the Next Big Thing.  Okay, maybe I enjoyed his talk so much because I agreed with so much of it, but he really did do a good job.

Then the fun happened.  He and Scott got a few people together over in the bar, where we were joined by none other than Martin Fowler himself.

Frankly, for me that registers as a brush with greatness.  It took a lot of self-control for me not to go all fan-boy on him.  I did tell him I’ve been a great admirer of his for years and have recommended his books to hundreds of students.  He tolerated that but I could see he wasn’t wild about the adulation, so I backed off.  He and his wife (he lives in the area so she came along) brought a few British board games to the bar and everybody sat around playing them while consuming various liquid refreshments.

I knew this was going to be an interesting conference, but I never imagined I’d be sitting in a hotel bar around midnight playing board games with Martin Fowler.

I’m really impressed by many of the presenters I’ve met.  They all seem so accomplished and professional.  I’d like to do the same if possible.  I often feel I have to work hard to avoid what I call the “instructor trap,” which is to know a lot but not to actually have done much.  These guys have all done so much it’s dazzling.  I feel a certain reflected glory just by hanging around them.

(Yeah, I’ll get over this hero worship soon enough, but I might as well have fun with it while it’s going on.)

I am rather looking forward to telling a group of future students about the night I spent playing games with Martin Fowler and his wife, though. 🙂

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