Tuesday 4 October 2011

Oh, to be a mobile developer

I’m no developer. I’ve not written any programming code since the family VIC 20 passed away. These days I tinker with the occasional HTML tag but that’s about it. Instead I write in a rather more conventional language, favouring Roget’s Thesaurus and the Oxford English Dictionary as my SDK.

But that didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying Over The Air 2011, an event aimed squarely at mobile developers.

Here's the blog post I wrote about OTA11 for TheFonecast.com:

The text message just said "Yellow Citroën hatchback". At least the diaeresis on the ë was in the right place. It meant the stranger who was giving me a lift from the station was probably an urbane French speaker. Either that, or they had surprisingly good predictive text on their phone. The third possibility - a serial killer with an old Sagem - hadn't crossed my mind yet.

It was at this point I realised I'd already fallen for Over The Air, a unique event aimed at mobile developers. Throwing caution to the wind, I'd arranged a lift there via Twitter with a mysterious developer I'd never met. Or spoken to.

I needn't have worried. The mystery developer turned out to have an iPhone mounted on the dashboard of their yellow Citroën. I breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Two and a half hours later, having talked about everything from religious homophobes to battery life (via Doctor Who and greenhouse gases) with no obvious disagreements, we arrived at Bletchley Park. This definitely had the makings of a Very Good Day.

I'll admit the sight of the mansion, the huts and the grounds didn't really impress me. It's not that I'm soulless, just that I'd previously been there in the 1980s when BT used some of the buildings to host training courses for their telephone engineers. Yes, Alan Turing and I worked on the same site, albeit decades apart. However, I doubt that Mr Turing played table tennis and drank lager in the evening after a day of soldering practice and safety films. To be honest, I'm not even sure if I'd pass the test that bears his name.

Delegates who'd arrived for the 10am start had been welcomed by an introductory talk from Dr Sue Black, Bletchley Park campaigner and Senior Research Associate in software engineering at UCL. Slow traffic and GPS failure on the iPhone had delayed us, so Sue generously revisited her keynote speech and explained to me why Bletchley was so important to the nation... and to developers in particular. The answers are in Saturday's podcast; listen out for the phrases "geek Mecca", "shortened the war" and "world's first digital programmable computer".

Next on my interview list was co-founder Daniel Appelquist, who took time out from keeping the entire event on track to discuss the aims and ambitions of OTA.

Also happy to chat was Paul Johnston, a man who was in the fortunate position of living nearby. Not for him the pitching of tents on the lawn or the secret Coca-cola hoarding in preparation for all-night coding. I could have talked to him for much longer but it was time to hear some of the presentations.

Hang on moment. I'm getting ahead of myself. You'll find my conversations with Sue, Dan and Paul online at TheFonecast.com: listen online, subscribe via RSS, get it on iTunes or download the MP3. And on Friday you'll be able to hear part 2 of my report, which includes some of those presentation speakers.

As for my love affair with Over The Air, I'm already counting the days until we meet again.