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Alex Martelli


Author of "Python in a Nutshell", co-author of "Python Cookbook", PSF Fellow, frequent speaker at Python conferences, prolific contributor to StackOverflow, and winner of the 2006 Frank Willison Memorial Award for contributions to Python, Alex currently leads "1:many tech support" for Google Cloud Platform. He's married to Anna Ravenscroft, his co-author in the "Cookbook" 2nd edition and "Nutshell" 3rd edition, also a PSF Fellow, and also a winner of the Frank Willison Memorial Award, in 2013.

"Good Enough" IS Good Enough!

Fundamentals, Intermediate


Our culture's default assumption is that everybody should always be striving for perfection -- settling for anything less is seen as a regrettable compromise. This is wrong in most software development situations: focus instead on keeping the software simple, just "good enough", launch it early, and iteratively improve, enhance, and re-factor it. This is how software success is achieved!


In 1989, Richard Gabriel caricatured two approaches to SW development: "worse is better" ("New Jersey approach") and "the right thing" ("MIT/Stanford approach"), reluctantly concluding NJ was more viable, for several reasons (speed of development, flexible designs, systems adaptable to a variety of uses [including changes in requirements], ease of gradual, incremental improvement, ...). And this debate hasn't died down since.

Debate rages, but reality has moved away from "right thing" ("Cathedral"-centralized "Big Design Up Front", focus on academia/large firms, unsuited to shifting real-world requirements), toward "NJ" ("Bazaar"-like, agile iterative enhancement, dynamic start-ups/independent developers, a world of always-shifting specs).

In this talk I support "the NJ approach", on both philosophical and pragmatical grounds, with examples from many areas. Winners of the "mind-share battles" focused on simplicity ("good enough"), not theoretical refinement/completeness: large ecosystems of developers, incremental improvement -- TCP/IP approach vs ISO/OSI, HTTP/HTML vs Xanadu, early Unix's simplistic (but OK) approach to interrupted system calls vs Multic's/ITS's perfectionism.

In Python, metaclasses often end up too complex (80% of their pluses can be had via class decorators, for 20% of the complexity); OTOH, incremental improvement worked just fine in sorting, generators, and guaranteed-finalization semantics.

The talk is not perfect, but I do think it's good enough.

The Tower of Abstraction

Fundamentals, Intermediate


Abstraction is a powerful servant, but a dangerous master. We code, design, think, debug ... on a tower of abstractions. Spolsky's Law tells us that "All abstractions leak". This talk explores why they leak, why that's often a problem, what to do about it; I also cover why sometimes abstractions SHOULD "leak", and how best to produce and consume abstraction layers.

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