Technical talks that'll change how you think

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talks

It’s not that often that I go to a conference or watch a talk on YouTube that truly changes the way I think about programming or software development. Even though I’m someone who does frontend development for a living, most of the talks that were most illuminating for me are talks that are either language-agnostic or unrelated to my daily work.

Here are a few of the best talks I’ve ever seen on programming or the field of technology. If you have an amazing one you think I’m missing, feel free to tweet it to me @monicalent.

Category Theory in Life

By Eugenia Cheng, professor of mathematics and author – @DrEugeniaCheng

One of my all-time favorite talks (although technically a talk about math rather than programming), Dr. Eugenia Cheng explores how category theory maps onto life and how we can use category theory to understand the world around us. She covers topics ranging from privilege to war and back to math. Or “maths” as she calls it :wink: You will love it!

Narcissistic design

By Stuart Halloway, working at Datomic – @stuarthalloway

This talk is easily in my top three favorite talks of all time. It’s an ironic look at terrible programming practices that can make you un-fire-able as a developer in your company. Stuart references everything from Java to ActiveRecord, with concrete examples of poor programming choices. You will laugh and you’ll learn!

Simple Made Easy

By Rich Hickey, inventor of Clojure and founder of Datomic – @richhickey

Who doesn’t cite “Simple Made Easy” as one of their favorite talks? Here Rich Hickey talks about the difference between things that are simple and things that are easy. You’ll walk away with a different perspective you can use to make technical choices.

Nothing is Something

By Sandi Metz – @sandimetz

This talk is the most hands-on practical talk in the list, which explains practical OOP pitfalls with real code. Sandi Metz is a fantastic and engaging speaker, and you will take something away from this talk that you can apply straight into code on your next working day.

Programming in Anger

Link not yet available, but should be in a few days

By David Nolen, lead developer of ClojureScript – @swannodette

I saw this talk at Lambda World in Spain, and it was easily the most stand-out talk of the whole conference. David Nolen talks about his experience maintaining ClojureScript. If you’re a frontend developer curious about alternative ways to work with React, as well as what it’s like to maintain an open source project over a long period of time, you will enjoy this talk.

Build impossible programs

By Julia Evans, software engineer at Stripe and zine creator – @b0rk

Julia talks about building a profiler for Ruby, and how she assumed that if it had been worth doing then someone else would’ve already done it. If you want to be encouraged to write code and build useful things, you’ll surely enjoy this talk which is delivered in a very fluid and light-hearted way.

Boundaries

By Gary Bernhardt, runs Destory All Software screencasts – @garybernhardt

Finally a software architecture talk with a good mix of code and context, that’s easy to grasp but not so trivial as to be meaningless. Gary talks about the pitfalls of mocking and integration testing, figuring out where to place boundaries in your application, and a practical look at how to implement “functional core imperitave shell”. Very useful no matter what programming language or framework you’re using.

Zebras All the Way Down

By Bryan Cantrill, CTO of Joyent – @bcantrill

I’ve watched a lot of Bryan Cantrill’s talks, but this one particularly stood out to me. I don’t want to spoil the talk with details, but it goes to show that you can find interesting problems at all levels of the stack.