Best talks

My favorite talks on software engineering

It's a new mentorship season at work and new folks are asking how they can step up their game. With winter break coming up, it seems an opportune time to share the top tier technical talks I've watched and re-watched since I started writing software.

Here's the ranked list first:

  1. Speculation by Rich Hickey
  2. Inventing on Principle by Bret Victor
  3. Effective Programs - 10 Years of Clojure by Rich Hickey
  4. Beyond PEP 8 by Raymond Hettinger
  5. Maybe not by Rich Hickey
  6. The Economics of Programming Languages by Evan Czaplicki
  7. The Hard Parts of Open Source by Evan Czaplicki
  8. Language of the System by Rich Hickey
  9. The life of a file by Evan Czaplicki
  10. Writing Quality Code in Erlang by Garrett Smith

It's difficult to come up with the perfect ranking. I certainly hope this list changes.

The two stand-out speakers on the list are Rich and Evan, both authors of programming languages. Each of these programming languages pushes boundaries in their own ways.

Three of these talks are just about refactoring:

  • Beyond PEP 8 where the main thrust of the talk is don't get bogged down in the weeds of formatting. We luckily have developed code formatters in most popular languages these days to solve this formatting problem so we can focus on the more idiomatic problems of working in languages.
  • The life of a file where the goal was to slow down and tear down those itches to refactor too early and emphasizing how with a more powerful compiler/safe ecosystem you can trust more and worry less about program growth.
  • Writing Quality Code in Erlang which was the first refactor-style presentation where I got to see someone take code and iterate until it was great. I don't write Erlang but the emphasis on good naming stuck with me.

The newest one is Evan's The Economics of Programming Languages and I'm calling it: it is the best talk of 2023. Evan and Rich (in Speculation) talk a lot about culture, fostering good culture, in open source. Evan's talk here perfectly captures the current rot in open source and how due to monopolistic activities by large tech companies we've entered into a Dark Forest (as in the Three-body Problem sense) development model. It's these pulse check talks that ground so many thoughts that have stirred and are stirring around.

There's a lot to say about why all the talks here have been impactful to me. I definitely think when I found these videos made them more impactful. For example, I was writing Clojure/script while discovering Rich's talks and writing Elm when first finding Evan's talks. Nonetheless, these talks have influenced how and why I write software. I appreciate that the speakers took the time to share these ideas.

Have I missed a talk here? The answer is yes. Please please please let me know.