SATURN 2015 Highlights

The year is nearly over and it seems safe to conclude that 2015 is the year software architecture went mainstream.  Conferences that have been traditionally very technology heavy are including more and more software architecture design topics. O’Reilly Media and InfoQ added software architecture conferences to their line-ups this year and even Gartner named software architecture as a main theme for it’s 2015 Catalyst Conference.

As George Fairbanks and I were preparing our SATURN 2015 opening address it seemed fitting to reflect on SATURN’s 11 year journey and figure out where it fits in the evolving software architecture landscape that SATURN very much helped to create. During the SATURN 2015 opening address we shared what we see as SATURN’s main strengths.  Three ideas that together we think have given SATURN it’s staying power and helped it remain relevant for over a decade.
  • Strong Foundation - Literacy is perhaps the most important factor to building a strong community. SATURN has always been dedicated to not only understanding and codifying foundational concepts in software architecture but also teaching those concepts to the next generation of designers.
  • Cutting Edge of Practice - For over a decade SATURN speakers have been pushing the state of practice forward. Stories from the field about what works and what doesn’t have made up the bulk of the technical program since the very first SATURN. SATURN is a place for sharing new ideas, getting feedback, and improving the way we practice software development.
  • Community - The SATURN conference brings together a group of like-minded people every year to geek out about the fundamentals and future of software architecture. The conference is small by design. We are a friendly crew and everyone is welcome. One of my favorite things about SATURN is that everyone is open to a good conversation, even the super popular authors and people with wikipedia pages.
Look through the SATURN archives and you’ll see that these three themes have permeated the conference since the beginning and in my opinion they continue to differentiate SATURN from other conferences. These are the SATURN community’s strengths and hopefully will make up the future for quite a while to come.

My SATURN 2015 Highlights

SATURN 2015 was a spectacular conference. Easily my favorite of the year. Here are some of my personal highlights with links to relevant talks, videos, and docs where appropriate.
  • Workshop on microservices architecture -- For the first time SATURN held an exploration style workshop as part of the conference. Under the guidance of Dennis Mancl (of OOPSLA and SPLASH workshop fame) George and I planned and facilitated a full day workshop where we asked tough questions and thought about different aspects of microservices architecture. The workshop agenda and outcomes are publicly available on GitHub.
  • Design Thinking is for you - Ari Font (IBM), Jeff Patton (Jeff Patton & Associates), and Jonathan Berger (Pivotal) hosted an amazing panel on design thinking. Architects are designers and good user interaction cuts deeply into a system, not just touching the surface UI. That said, architects have a lot to learn about collaborative design. I was so thankful that Ari, Jeff, and Jonathan accepted our invitation to speak at SATURN this year! Notes | Slides | Video
  • Design thinking office hours - SATURN 2015 Office hours were an open space style session with assigned moderators / hosts. Ari and Jonathan hosted a session on design thinking with about 8 people in attendance. For me this was one of the most valuable sessions of SATURN. I love exploring new ideas and the 8 or of us made some interesting discoveries in how software architecture design can become more aligned to design thinking as it’s currently practices.

Ari facilitating a lively and interactive discussion with some office hours participants.

  • New viewpoints for talking to stakeholders - This year’s Architecture in Practice award went to Jochem Schulenklopper and Eelco Rommes from Inspearit for the their talk "Why They Just Don’t Get it: Communicating Architecture to Business Stakeholders". This was such a refreshing and insightful talk, and I was so happy to see them get the peer selected Architecture in Practice award. The idea is something we talk about often but rarely do well -- vary the way you share information for your audience. Jocehm and Eelco shared several examples of ways they visualize architectural views in ways that are more interesting and obvious for business stakeholders’ concerns. Notes | Slides | Video
  • Battledecks - I read about this silly thing on the internet and thought it might be fun as an evening social activity. Battledecks is an improvisation game in which a speaker is provided with a title and 10 slides they’ve never seen before, and asked to give a semi-coherent talk using the provided deck. I have never laughed as hard at a conference as I did during this session. Bravo SATURN for being willing to have some fun as a community!
  • Google’s talk, Perspectives on the Modern Practice of Software Architecture - Jeromey Carrier, Rick Buskens, and Jack Greenfield of Google shared some extremely insightful reflection and practical advice about some of their experiences at Google. What’s great about their stories from inside Google is that few companies are dealing with the scale and complexity they deal with.  What’s also interesting about Google’s stories is that, at just over 17 years old, it seems like Google me be starting to feel their first significant pains from major legacy systems. I have a feeling there’s going to be even more interesting architecture stories from inside Google in the years to come.
  • My Silver Toolbox - With amazing Pecha Kucha talks from Gail Harris, Simon Brown, George Fairbanks, Ari Font, Eric Willeke, and Will Chaparro, this session was a blast and filled with many amazing nuggets of wisdom. What made this session even more special was that I turned the tables on the audience and managed to get even more nuggets of wisdom from them!

    SATURN 2015 - My Silver Toolbox group participation
    Participants in the "My Silver Toolbox" session brainstorming to decide
    which software architecture tools are most important to them.

  • All the keynotes - Mary Shaw gave an awesome opening keynote that really set the stage for the conference.  Gregor Hophe shared some amazing advice (which sadly can’t be released on video but some of his keynote is available as prose on his website).  And Mark Schwartz shared some real and very candid stories about how he’s led US Citizenship and Immigration to modernize and really embrace the emerging, fast-paced, agile world that architect’s everywhere are responsible for fostering at their organizations.  It was wonderful having such thinkers, leaders, and speakers share the stage at SATURN 2015.

Looking Forward to SATURN 2016

I had a blast at SATURN 2015 and not only had a chance to get crucial feedback on how I practice software architecture, but also learned many new ideas I've been able to use with my team at IBM. For me, it's a really great, inclusive, fun, smart community of people who are actively defining where software architecture design is headed. It was a privilege to be the custodian of this conference as the technical program chair for two years and I look forward to attending many more SATURN conferences as a regular attendee for years to come.

Compared with some of the other tech conferences out there, SATURN is not the flashiest conference, or the biggest, but as the longest running practitioner conference in software architecture, I think SATURN will continue to have a strong influence over what software architecture is and where it’s headed.

SATURN 2016 is now accepting proposals for 15, 30, and 90 minute talks.  This conference is perfect for sharing new ideas and lessons from your experiences in software architecture design. Whether you're interested in design, technology, methods, businessy things, or working with teams, this is the place for ideas and stories that help us push the state of practice forward.


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