FOSDEM 2015: A Product man in the crowd

The Brussels ULB University once more hosted the FOSDEM event, a free event for software developers, where they share ideas and collaborate. The schedule was really exciting, with more than 30 dev rooms where you could find a large variety of talks about different languages or techonologies, (Go, Java, PHP), topics like Open source search, Open source design, Virtualisation, and also Lightning Talks, Keynotes and Certification Exams.

I can’t give an accurate number of attendees, because the whole event is always for free and you don’t need to sign up, but calculations speak about more than 5,000 people attending from Saturday to Sunday; a really amazing number of developers that demonstrates the importance of this event that has been celebrated since the start of the new millennium (yr 2000 :-)…).

Big event for developers, thousands of them!, talks about technology and extremely freaky stuff… so, what the hell was a Product man like me doing there? It’s just the question I’ve been asked several times these past days…

JR trollman, Developer and Product Manager at Trovit, and Saez senior, Sysadmin & System Manager at Red Arbor


  • Why not? 🙂
  • Seriously, I love this kind of events, for developers or entrepreneurs. In that case, being surrounded by hundreds of people sharing the same passion (tech, code…) is the best way to recharge your energy.
  • Open the mind. It’s possibly the main goal I carried with me. Honestly, I didn’t understand half of the words they said, but it doesn’t matter. When you don’t understand anything, your mind tries to search for new ways to be part of them (to be one of them, like another developer!), and this new vision helps you to discover other corners in your mind. When you are out of your comfort zone, you have to explore this new zone, and much of the time you discover gorgeous things you’ve never thought before.
  • Hear about their ‘worries’. I work at Trovit with the Product team, but the relationship with developers is so close. It’s extremely useful to know about their day to day, not only the world about metrics and revenues. With this vision you’re able to better understand them and achieve a better flow in your relationship with them (we are in the same boat!).
  • Listen to talented people. Trust me, the event is completely for free, but extremely talented speakers flew to Brussels from the best tech hubs in the world: Silicon Valley, Berlin, London, etc… If you can hear Sebastian Bergmann speaking live about the future PHPUnit, what other things do you need in your life?
  • Beer…!! (awesome party at the Delirium Cafe venue the Friday night!)

So, at the beginning I wasn’t sure, but after speaking with other Product men that attended previously, there were a lot of reasons to book a hotel in Brussels and enjoy the FOSDEM 2015 🙂

Trovit members!


I witnessed different sort of talks, for example:

  • Open Source by Design (Legal and Policy issues devroom)
  • Copyleft licenses and the appstores (Legal and Policy issues devroom)
  • Analysing London’s NoSQL meetups using R & Graphs (Graph processing devroom)
  • Big Graph Analytics on Neo4j with Apache Spark (Graph processing devroom)
  • Keeping secrets with Javascript (Mozilla devroom)
  • LibreOffice Design Team (Open source design devroom)
  • Every pixel hurts (Open source design devroom)
  • Beyond PHP – it’s not just about the code (PHP and friends devroom)
  • PHP7 (PHP and friends devroom)
  • Mobile == Web (Desktop devroom)
  • .. others Smalltalks and Lightning Talks ..

Really interesting talks about PHP7, R, Big Graph Analytics, and the Mobile == Web one (by Stormy Peters @storming), because of the debate generated in the room. Imagine, the subtitle was ‘the best mobile “apps” are on the web’, which ensured discussion. The speaker spoke about the future of Apps, telling us that the future is on the mobile web, and native ads are going to die because app stores are not fair, basically. What do you think? 🙂

In conclusion, a really great event to attend if you are developer, for sure. And, if you are not, you can find good points to open your mind.

Thank you to all FOSDEM volunteers and organizers because this kind of events are can make us to do really big, big things.

The trophy:

Delirium Beer!

AB Testing… the Wizard of Oz technique

If you are thinking about running an AB test to try a new feature or new design out you must do it quick and smart. As many of you have read in Lean Startup book, it’s important to create a minimum viable product before a complete launch to the market of the feature/tool that you’re implementing into your website. To do this, you should use the Wizard of Oz technique. Here is a good definition of this technique:

User-based evaluation of unimplemented technology where, generally unknown to the user, a human or team is simulating some or all the responses of the system.

The technique has often been used to explore design and usability with speech systems, natural language applications, command languages, imaging systems, and pervasive computing applications.

In other sort of words: you must create a fake product. There are 3 characteristics that your fake product or prototype must have:

1. It doesn’t have to be complete
2. It should be easy to change or iterate on-the-fly with new requirements
3. It’s easy to retire if shit happens (and shit happens so often)

You don’t want to waste a lot of your team’s time creating something that, probably, you won’t ever implement definitely in your website. Because, to be honest, the major part of the AB tests that you’ll run in your company will fail. For example, if you want to change the layout of your website and create a new design, you’re not required to full equip the test version; you can skip those useless parts of the website that in terms of costs are expensive to recreate. You must focus on your main goal, which brings me to the main question you should do yourself:

What do you want to learn with this test? What’s the main goal?

You must think about the main goal you’re looking for with the test. And usually, the goal is related with metrics. Never forget that websites are metrics: visitors, pageviews, items sold, clickouts, etc… You must take care of all your metrics in each test you decide to run: No metrics, no evolution. You must think in afterwards and if what you are testing will help you to do an important breakthrough or not. Errors, usually are a goldmine, sure, but always taking care of the path you must follow.

Coming back to the Wizard of Oz technique, try to have:

  • Rapid iterations, particularly minor changes in wording or call flow, are immediately testable.
  • Allows the system to be evaluated at an early stage in the design process.

You and your team are able to imitate the real product in these 3 aspects:

  • Feel – What might it look like?
  • Implementation – What might this work like?
  • Role – What might the experience be like?

Basicly, you should maximize learning and minimize time wasted in iterations:

  • Make an interactive application without much code
  • Make the frontend interface easy and understandable
  • Control wisely the user interface interaction without a giant backend
  • Makes sense when it’s faster/cheaper/easier than making real thing. Sometimes you can’t do it, usually you do.

Of course, running an incomplete AB test (in terms of functionalities) with this WofO technique has some disadvantages you must have under control:

  • Simulations may misrepresent otherwise imperfect tech
  • Wizards can be inconsistent
  • Playing the wizard can be exhausting. Usually, you should do this wizard manually, and you can’t afford it for a long period of time.
  • Some features are impossible to simulate effectively

The Wizard of Oz technique is a highly cost-effective way to compare multiple designs, and you’ll find out that parallel design could be better than the serial design. It is, you can create a multi-variant test (not only AB, but ABCDE) and learn of all of them to continue iterating; you can save a lot of time. Prototyping is asking questions and the best way to have a good idea is to have a lots of ideas; as I said, high percent of your tests will fail, but you can extract good information from each one to reach the goal you’re pursuing.

To sum up this serie of ideas, this technique:

  • represents creating a fake product of your final product
  • lets you to quickly iterate and move continuesly towards your goal
  • saves you a lot of money in terms of cost (the time of your team is directly related with money)
  • lets you to learn of your errors without suffering any disaster and improve the product and metrics

…be Wizard, be Fake!