Jessica Kerr

Symmathecist at Jessitron LLC


Systems Thinking for Developers
Friday 17:10 - 17:55

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Good programmers are great linear thinkers. We can model our programs’ execution. The great master of logical, rigorous thinking was John Von Neumann, mathematician. Progenitor of modern computer architecture, formalizer of quantum theory. When programs join a distributed system, and when we join a team, certainty becomes elusive. Linear thinking is not enough. Contemporary to Von Neumann was Gregory Bateson, anthropologist. Progenitor of systems thinking, raiser of octopuses. From stories of these two scientists, Jess draws a collection of patterns from systems thinking that help in code, in software, and in life.


After twenty years in software development, Jess believes that we are doing more than building. More than crafting. We are forming the systems that make up reality. Much of the world we live in, the world we see and the world we act in, is made of software these days. What we develop matters. And more: the way we develop it matters. It matters for how it changes us. Software lets us form complex systems faster, and adapt them faster, than any human-made material of the past. This means we can learn how to make better systems. For this, we have to learn how to see those systems. Then we have to practice changing them in small ways, and consciously looking at what happens. Jess is known for her keynotes, blog, and tweets. She podcasts on Greater than Code and Arrested Devops. Currently, she spends much of her time building symmathesies through Industrial Logic. She has worked at startups (Atomist, Stripe, Outpace) and enterprises (Ford, Bayer, Sprint). She’s programmed in and spoken at conferences about Java, Scala, Clojure, TypeScript, Ruby, and Elm. Jess lives in St. Louis, MO with two children who invent worlds and draw characters with superpowers, and two cats who meow and knock over water glasses.