…but not as we know it.

It is now, I am delighted to say, my second time at the wonderous Monkigras. This is thanks to the generosity and foresight of my colleagues, the legendary Duffy Fron, the epic Kelly Smith, the awesome Heather Huffman and the inspirational Fabienne Piot, who very kindly furnished me and other Hursley folk with tickets to go.

It is fair to say that we had quite the time. Myself along with Jezz Kelway, Josie Messa, Laura Cowen, Alex Pringle and a cast of stars from the Lab all popped up to Shoreditch for a couple of days. Here we listened to some inspiring talks, ate great food, drank really interesting things and made friends with some great developer folks (you know who you are – but especially you, you social media tsar Jeremy Jarvis).

There are lots of things I like about Monkigras. Yes, the talks are varied, awesome and ‘meta’, but it’s how they are given which for me is the most interesting thing. Lot’s of places you go, especially to conferences, it’s very common to the hear the ‘automatically awesome’ talk. Effectively, this is the ‘we did this and it was awesome the end’ session.  These sorts of talks always end up making me feel either highly inadequate, or deeply suspicious. Then with a wave and a smile the speakers are promptly encased in carbonite and wheeled away, before anyone can ask them any really interesting questions. This isn’t the case with Monkigras. People here have proper stories to tell. These would be real life stories of triumph, but punctuated with real learning experiences.  The model is very much a ‘Yes, we did this and it worked, but we had to learn a few lessons along the way, here are those lessons so you can learn from them too.’

That’s a talk I will to travel to London to  listen to.

That theme however, isn’t confined to the talks. It is found throughout Monkigras. For example, while I listened to the talk by Rafe Colburn on how his team tried several approaches before succeeding with their bug challenges,  I watched one of the barista’s  in MacIntyre Coffee discard some very carefully crafted espresso’s on the grounds that it was not quite perfect, and so could not be served. Discard and start again. This was down to the changeable weather conditions and the effect it had on the consistency of the coffee they were using. The end result though, was when you finally did get a coffee, you were in no doubt that this was the ultimate, primary Platonic form of coffee, of which all other coffee’s were mere imperfect copies.  Keep trying until you get it just right, was the motto.

Now, Rafe’s talk was a proper story and it hit a chord with the audience, unsurprisingly. How do you deal effectively with bugs, while keeping people interested and motivated? The initial plan seemed reasonable. Let’s take a well proven process for dealing with bugs (rotation – so others can see code they have never seen before and so keep levels of engagement up). then turn it into a mandatory process. “Boo!”, said the service team as nothing happened, and  the bugs stubbornly remained on the backlog. But in a magnificent display of their ability to adapt and overcome, the  team experimented by making the process voluntary and re-focusing on some of the more high priority bugs. Suddenly, the service team engaged and the bug numbers started to fall. In the words of FPS Doug – ‘Boom! Headshot!’ Or in the words of  Private Hudson ‘It’s a bug hunt!’

During the coffee break I introduced Jezz to ‘Sexy Man Pose’ and while he sat agog, I waited patiently for the next talk.

One thing you can certainly say about Monkigras, is that the talks are varied. We had just finished a pretty technical talk, and in stark contrast we moved on to a talk given by a wonderful chap known as The Gentle Author. Now, James Governor maintains that he didn’t know who The Gentle Author was, but was so impressed by reputation and blog, he invited The Gentle Author to speak at Monkigras. This was a heart warming talk. It was filled with tales of craft and quality in the Shoreditch area, very reminiscent of the awesomely inspirational  Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It was also a tale of the worrying trend of large high street names, pushing out the family owned business’s  that have supported Shoreditch for generations and squeezing the character and community out of the area. Thankfully, it was also a tale of The Gentle Authors battle against this trend and inspirationally his victory over them, armed with nothing more than his blog.

During Lunch I had the joy of chatting with Ed Moffat, who revealed an amazing skill – check this out…


Ed’s notes of the conference no less! Simply epic! Sometimes, it strikes home just how talented a great many of the people I work with actually are.

We had the pleasure of listening to Phil Gilbert’s talk on Design. It was an interesting talk, as Phil had also spoken one year ago at Monkigras 2013 on his vision for Design for IBM and it was time to give an update on what had been achieved so far and the trajectory for the future. Phil released some little known facts into the wild about the secret origin of The Muppet Show and it’s weird yet wonderful link to IBM.  He also gave some awesome facts about the numbers of IBMers who were coming through the doors of the new Austin Design academy and gave an insight into its funkiness. A really interesting talk, but mainly it was comforting to see that Design and Design Thinking were managing to do well in other parts of IBM.

The evenings entertainment demonstrated that James really understands his audience. We circled the square for a while, before heading next door and to be greeted by a man who’s garb would have made the most ostentatious boxing promoter jealous. We entered and found wonderful craft beer, and sensational sushi and quite simply the biggest collection of cheese that I have, or will ever see again in my life.  No bland sandwiches and stewed flask conference coffee to be found. Another triumph for Monkigras and James’ extraordinarily talented team.

There will be a Prezi and very likely a hangout, where we will chat about Monkigras and the ways in which the awesome talks can be applied to make life better in IBM.

More of that soon.