This Week at Skills Matter: 21 – 25 July

swift-blog-postWe’re joined tonight for the first series of talks by the new Swift London user group, following on from their opening meeting a week ago. The group’s focus is on this brand new language from Apple, which is promising to make waves in the developer community.

We’ve also got some great talks on Big Data, App development, Code Golf and public speaking – check out all of our meetups below!


Join Swift London, with speakers Anthony Levings and Roger Domenech, for an evening all things Swift. Drawing on his own experiences, as well as common difficulties surfacing on Twitter, StackOverflow, and the like, Anthony will be giving a cautionary guided tour of optionals, passing closures, and other major new features of Swift.

Roger presents an introduction to Xcode’s Playground, with a practical focus on Scene Kit. A mixture of tool demonstration, basic Playground setup, Xcode integration, Scene Kit 3D object creation and custom shader use, with a little room for surprises (or Xcode crashes).


Tuesday brings Pentaho London through our doors for a series of discussions on Pentaho, ETL and Big Data. Mark Melton begins the evening talking about visual map reduce with Pentaho and how this fits together with Yarn. Mark is followed by Diethard Steiner discussing Kimball-style data mart with PDI, Harris Ward on cool CTools plugins, Matt Casters on the latest and greatest cool big data POCs and Tom Barber looking at the possibilities that Apache OODT bring to BI.

Next up on Tuesday, the London Java Community will be speaking out with a workshop for public speaking in tech. Along with Richard Warburton and Martijn Verburg, find out how public speaking is a great opportunity for people to raise their professional profile and employment opportunities, and why it is also regularly identified as the activity which people fear the most.


One of the biggest advantages of Julia is that it shares the strengths of both Matlab and Python, but it’s much quicker. There are a lot of exciting packages being built in Julia, and on Wednesday evening the London Julia Users Group and Samuel Colvin will demonstrate some of the best and give a short guide to creating your own ones. Samuel comes from an oil industry background where Matlab rules. Now he is a freelance developer, a Python user but also a Julia devotee.

Mean Stack are joined by three speakers, with Marek Karwowski telling us that good application development is all about making educated choices, and Martin Pomeroy & Paul Boon talking on Q&A Spot.


Rounding off the week of meetups for us, the F#unctional Londoners return to enjoy a pleasant round of Code Golf in F#. In this hands-on session, you’ll be having a game of Code Golf, where the objective is to complete your program in as few (key)strokes as possible.

While It’s Compiling: Skills Matter Interviews Boisy Pitre

While It’s Compiling is a continuing series of interviews with experts across a range of bleeding-edge technologies and practices, exclusive to Skills Matter. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for future interviews, or follow us on Twitter.

Find out who we’ll be interviewing next, and get a chance to put your questions forward with the hashtag #whileitscompiling.

Boisy Pitre at iOSCon 2014

We had a fantastic start to the year when we hosted the first ever iOSCon here at our headquarters in London, bringing together some of the world’s leading iOS experts including Boisy Pitre, Affectiva’s Mobile Visionary and lead iOS developer.

Boisy’s work has led to the creation of the first mobile SDK for delivering emotions to mobile devices for the leading emotion technology company and spin-off of the MIT Media Lab. We were delighted to get the opportunity to interview Boisy while he was here.

You can find the link to his talk from iOSCon at the bottom of this post, and all the talks here.

Hi Boisy, thanks for joining us for this year’s iOSCon. Can you tell us a little about yourself and the work you’ve been doing with Affectiva?

Sure. Currently I’m with Affectiva, an MIT media lab start-up based in Boston. We have an interesting technology which analyzes people’s facial expressions to determine their emotional state. The technology was developed, based on the research that one of the co-founders, Rana El Kaliouby, had pioneered in the affective computing field. The applicability of that technology was originally targeted towards the market research industry to help measure consumers’ emotional connections to brands and media.

About a year ago, Affectiva decided to expand their technology to mobile devices and tap into other industries beyond their current market – including gaming, healthcare, education and others. So, I came on board to lead this mobile initiative; and worked with some brilliant engineers to shrink the existing technology, which had a significant server component, down to the iOS platform. The Affdex Mobile SDK is the outcome of that effort. It does all the processing and reporting of emotional data on a frame-by-frame basis back to the app, right on the device – eliminating the need to connect to a server.

So it’s built on a lot of research – was iOS the natural progression and the natural platform to go to? What sets it apart from other platforms?

iOS was the initially targeted platform. In hindsight, I believe this was the right choice, as targeting iOS devices has been a bit easier due to the commonality of hardware and software; and it allowed us to get the SDK to market pretty quickly. Although we initially focused on iOS, I knew we were going to eventually develop an Android piece as well; which we’re almost done with, in fact. For the Android SDK, we hired team members who love and play in that sandbox. My philosophy is that for a company to be successful in a mobile strategy they should have experts that specialize in a particular platform.

In terms of applications going beyond the obvious marketing and advertising aspects, what are the real-world applications that exist now? Is there anything particularly interesting or exciting that Affectiva is working on right now?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the wild west for apps that want to take advantage of emotion technology. It reminds me of the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. The idea of touching your device was not new, but Apple started democratizing it with the iPhone. That was the first really breakthrough moment in mobile. The second important breakthrough moment in mobile was the introduction of voice as input – again, Apple democratized how we interact with our phones and our devices when they offered Siri. I see emotional analysis having that same potential in mobile. Like voice, it give us a way of controlling the device and for the device to understand you better and offer you more choices.

So what type of apps can take advantage of this technology? Well obviously the low-hanging fruit would be games, where you’re interacting with the game – you want to have your emotions maybe control the game or have the game respond to your emotions in some way to adjust the level of intensity of play.

Health is another big opportunity where I think this technology can bring value. Take emotional health and well-being, for instance… there’s so much research pointing to the fact that our emotions have an impact on our health for better or for worse. So there’s a whole avenue of possibilities in that regard.

Then there’s the fun stuff. Imagine an app that analyzing your photos on your device to determine the emotional content to get an overall feel of your pictures. Or an app which changes music or colors on the screen while it watches your facial expressions. . Approaches like that can certainly lead to some interesting applications.

Of course, Affectiva is pursing app ideas at the moment based on this technology, but I cannot comment on them at this moment.

You mentioned that 2007 was the introduction of the first device, and how it’s moved-on, especially with Siri. Do you think that for someone such as myself, as a user of this device, are things going to continue coming out in stages, or is there anything around the corner that’s going to be as big and as ground-breaking as touch, or voice? Is there anything that’s going to jump out?

Emotion recognition technology has the potential to be that huge leap which brings in completely new way of interacting with our devices, whether we’re sensing emotions using the camera or through some other sense or mechanism. Having technology understand us better and gather deeper insights into our own emotions, through analysis at specific points in the day as we’re using apps, is a significant break-through in computer-human interaction.

And it’s a different level of interaction that liberates us. Just like touch liberated us from typing on tiny keyboards, and added a new paradigm of full natural touch with swiping. Emotional expressions in our face are instinctive; and they too can be a form of input and control, but they can also be a great form of feedback to us. I really think this will raise awareness of how we see ourselves in the world, as well as how we interact with others.

We hosted Droidcon last year, with devices such as the interactive mirror that could recognise your emotions in the morning. There is a huge interest currently in the Internet of Things, in connected devices and so on. Going beyond the iPhone or Android devices themselves, do you do much in terms of reaching out into connected devices?

Certainly. This technology can reach beyond just the device in your hand. For example, the automotive industry has expressed interest in our technology. That industry may be easier to break through on the Android side of things than it is with iOS, as iOS is a lot more compartmentalised and controlled by Apple. But certainly that’s one industry which could benefit from emotional analysis – just imagine driving along and your car wants to know if you’re falling asleep or paying attention or distracted; it’s looking at locations for safety, and again, health and well-being.

You touched on the fact that Apple and iOS is compartmentalised and controlled a lot more than Android. Do you think that’ s a drawback? Is this holding developers back on iOS or does it create an environment to focus ideas and energies?

Keep in mind that I’m coming from the Apple perspective as that’s the sandbox I play in. I completely understand and buy into Apple’s reasoning for why they do things. I’m also looking at this from a developer point of view.

We all know that Android exists on many, many mobile devices. It can be ported, unlike iOS, to phones, tablets, and other devices. The trade-off for such sheer ease of portability is the “fragmentation issue” which leads to complexity in development. At some point it becomes too massive for developers to support each of those devices. They must pick and choose their device support carefully.

I believe this is getting better as Android matures, but compared to Apple’s unified, streamlined hardware upgrading approach, it’s still a mess.

Apple’s approach, while certainly much more restrictive, brings a sense of order to the device chaos that permeates Android. If anything, I would argue that developers fare better in the Apple ecosystem because of these controls. But that is my opinion, of course.

Finally, in terms of Affectiva and how you work on a day-to-day basis – what’s the structure there? How does the team work?

We have two engineering teams, one dedicated to Android and the other to iOS. Each has an engineering lead. Both engineering teams interface with the science team, which concentrates specifically on the core technology of emotional classification. As science improvements are made, they are provided to engineering, which integrates the changes and improvements into the SDK code base. Agile is the foundation development methodology we use to organize and account for our work across the teams. This constant, connected cycle allows us to quickly iterate so that we can test, examine performance, etc.

Watch Boisy’s talk from iOSCon 2014

Boisy Pitre

What if your iPad or iPhone could detect your emotional state and respond in a way that enhances your day? What if an app could deliver soothing content when you’re feeling upset, or play your favourite song when you’re feeling happy? Find out how you could achieve this in Boisy’s talk!

You can see the rest of the Skillscasts from iOSCon 2014 here.


7 Top Android Skillscasts To Keep You On Top Of Your Game

Over the past few years, Android development has come leaps and bounds, and we’ve been delighted to be there along the way hosting some fantastic meetups and conferences to learn and share the best of it.

Check out our pick of the seven best Skillscasts from our archives, or check out our site for more. Got a favourite that isn’t in the list? Be sure to share it in the comments section below!

Smart-phones in Space: A Guide – Chris Bridges (Droidcon 2013 keynote)

A small team in Guildford, led by Dr Chris Bridges, launched a satellite – which includes a Nexus 1 – into low Earth orbit. Watch this keynote talk from Droidcon 2013 to learn about the journey from cradle to grave in Earth’s first of many ‘phone-sat’ projects, and how hardware and software challenges were overcome to achieve this scientific feat in teaching and research.

The New Gradle based Android Build System – Hans Dockter

The founder of the Gradle build system Hans Dockter, gave an energetic talk showing Gradle’s unique aspects and innovative system displays including how this build automation tool has the most advanced dependency management system out there. He also talks about Gradleware’s business journey, looking at  forming their team, automation, scalability and more.

A million times Pattrn – Lucas Rocha

Lucas Rocha gave the first ever public talk about Pattrn to the London Android User Group in August last year. He tells the story behind Pattrn, a unique wallpaper app for phones and tablets that gives you access to the huge collection of patterns created by the COLOURlovers community, as well as some useful Android design and development tips that might help your app stand out.

Accessing the cloud through your Android App – Steve Plank

Often, when we think of compute (as distinct from mere storage) in the Cloud we think of service creation, service management and operational gumph like patching, security updates, virus management and so on. Steve Plank, technology evangelist for Microsoft UK, shows how all the non-sexy “plumbing” of running a cloud-based compute service can be almost eliminated. He also explores the few simple steps needed to connect an Android App up to a customisable Cloud service that exposes simple APIs for database access, notifications, authentication, authorization and so on with Windows Azure Mobile Services.

Fist of Awesome – Nicoll Hunt

Have you ever punched a bear in the face? Nicoll Hunt has, and apparently it’s a lot of fun!

Nicoll Hunt’s indie game project for Android FIST OF AWESOME (the game where you punch a lot nefarious bears) smashed through its Kickstarter funding targets in just 14 days. Nicoll gave an entertaining talk about what it’s like to run a Kickstarter project, the challenges of developing a game simultaneously on Android and iOS, his involvement in the new OUYA Android-based TV console and why he went full circle from working for big companies back to bedroom coding.

Building Songkick on Android – Akshay Dashrath & Jamie McDonald

Songkick launched their Android app early in 2012. Jamie Dashrath and Akshay McDonald presented a case-study of the project, revealing how Novoda worked with Songkick to bring the app from whiteboard to market as well as the key decisions taken to create a great Android experience.

Android App Hardening – Scott Alexander-Bown

Android is to mobile what Windows is to desktop pc world; the biggest! Coupled with its open nature it’s the primary target for mobile attackers. As developers we need to ensure our apps protect users data and privacy. Scott arms you with practical solutions and sample code to harden your app.

Droidcon London 2014

Droidcon 2014Always a highlight of our year here at Skills Matter, Droidcon London 2014 is looking to be bigger and better than ever before!

Last year, we featured bleeding-edge devices like the Smart mirror and wash basin from Seraku, Epson’s Moverio glasses, and Smart watches from i’m Watch, and we’ve got more cool stuff coming up in 2014.

Not only will you get to play with all the latest devices, we have some of our best speakers returning again – including Dr Chris Bridges, Cyanogen, Hans Dockter from Gradleware and Al Sutton – to give you an update on all the innovative things they’re working on. Android is becoming the definitive “OS of Things”, and this is your opportunity to find out all the latest developments.

Check out the Droidcon page now for more info and book your ticket now!

This Week at Skills Matter: 14 – 18 July

Develop for Google Glass on Wednesday with the London Android User Group. Photo: Giuseppe Costantino via Flickr Creative Commons

Develop for Google Glass on Wednesday with the London Android User Group. Photo: Giuseppe Costantino via Flickr Creative Commons

There is a wave of excitement sweeping over the Skills Matter office this week in preparation for the arrival of Google Glass, as the London Android User Group host an evening looking at all the possibilities that it can offer for developers. The talks include the opportunity to get hands-on and try out some innovative apps and demos and start to get a feel for what you will need to consider when creating your own apps. Check out the link below for more details and be sure to register!

Here’s what’s coming up at Skills Matter this week!


We begin Monday evening with an In The Brain talk from Richard Rodger, COO of nearForm. Richard will be looking at Monolithic Node.js, specifically, how to build large-scale modular Node.js systems by avoiding the monolithic mistakes of the past.

JavaScript lets you do amazing things in very small amounts of code. Node.js lets you write server-side code in tiny mind-size pieces. We call them micro-services. Stop writing monolithic web apps! Break everything apart. Do one thing and do it well. You can run hundreds of Node processes. Come along tonight and let Richard show you how Node.js can free you from all those past mistakes!

If Ruby’s more your thing, then the London Ruby User Group are also here tonight with three discussions from Tom Stuart John Maxwell and Rosa Fox. Kicking things off, Tom will be looking at the newly-released RSpec 3, demonstrating how it has moved beyond the problems of earlier versions and exploring many of the new features. and essential talk for all you BDD developer’s out there!

Next up John will look at how Continuous Deliverance can set your development free, creating a manifesto for how to go from scratch to automated deployment, with a few tales from the trenches of mistakes made along the way.

Rounding off the evening, Rosa Fox will be sharing her experiences of becoming a developer and the huge amount of support she has received from Codebar. Codebar teach programming skills for free to people who are under-represented in the tech industry. You can find out more about the group here.


Google Glass is arriving to Skills Matter HQ on Wednesday with much excitement, as the London Android User Group join us for an evening of talks and demonstrations from Timothy Jordan and Hoi Lam. If you’ve wanted to get to grips with the fundamentals of developing for Glass, this is your chance! Spaces are limited, so register now!


London Python return on Thursday to investigate how building shallow, transparent layers for your tests makes for better failures, clearer tests, and quicker diagnoses. The talk will be led by Julian Berman, lead developer of the media platform at Magnetic, a frequent contributor to the NYC Python Meetup group and a testing lover.

And finally, the London Software Craftsmanship Community will be helping us to round up the week with a discussion around Lambda Behave & writing IntelliJ plugins for fun and profit. Dmitry Kandalov will give a demo of LivePlugin, an IntelliJ plugin for writing plugins at runtime, followed by Richard Warburton with an introduction to the Lambda Behave framework, explaining why you would want to use it over junit and cover some of its cool features.

Friday Round-Up: 7 – 11 July

In The Brain of Heiko Seeberger

In The Brain of Heiko Seeberger

You may expect this blog post to begin with a reference to a particular unexpected football score this week. However, as the author of this post was knocked out of the office sweepstake by the same winning team last week he lost interest by Tuesday. So let’s talk about what went down at Skills Matter HQ instead…

Here’s what you may have missed at Skills Matter this week!

The Week in Skillscasts

Every week we record the majority of meetups and user groups that come to our offices in London for evening events and talks. These are our Skillscasts – and they’re all available for free on!

WTF is Deep Learning with Jeff Abrahamson, at the Deep Learning London Meetup on Skills Matter.

Monday evening brought us two talks from the London Big-O Meetup, who parleyed on the subjects of the Burrows Wheeler Transforms and the Master Theorem.

Ole Schulz-Trieglaff, of the Computational Biology R&D department of Illumina in Chesterford, discussed the Burrows-Wheeler Transform (BWT) - an algorithm used in well-known data compression tools such as bzip2. He explained how it works, permuting the input characters in the text and grouping similar characters close to each other, and why this is useful for subsequent compression by run-length encoding or move-to-front transforms.

Christina Nicolau, a specialist in working with large scale enterprise web applications, delved into the Master Theorem as she looked at the out-of-the-box method for computing the complexity of certain classes of Divide et Impera algorithms. Watch the Skillscast now to look inside the box to see how the magic happens!

It was the turn of London Ajax on Tuesday, who also brought along two fantastic speakers for their July meetup which focussed on React – the low-level library for event-driven programming in PHP.

Areeb Malik went big with React as he looked at what happens when you stress test Javascript. Have you ever wondered what happens when you throw 6 megabytes of code at it? Now you can find out!

Areeb was joined by Markus Kobler who explored React and the importance isomorphic single page apps as he walked through building an app that delivers a better user experience.

The Deep Learning London meetup were in on Wednesday to answer the question that we know has been on all of your minds; WTF is Deep Learning? Neither machine learning nor deep learning are new topics, but they have both seen remarkable advancement in the last decade. Watch Jeff Abrahamson as he delves into this rapidly advancing field, looking at what we now call deep learning, its origins, and its applications.

Finally on Thursday we were joined by the awesome Heiko Seeberger, Director Services and Akka Engineer for Typesafe, for his In The Brain talk on high availability with Akka Cluster and Akka Persistence in Scala or Java, along with various advanced Akka features and patterns such as spray (or Akka HTTP).

Brand new User Group meeting soon!

chefWe’re delighted to welcome Chef Users London to Skills Matter for their first ever UK meetup.

Chef is an open source systems integration framework from Chef that allows you to describe the configuration of systems and infrastructure in code. It brings the benefits of configuration management to your entire infrastructure.

Using Chef, you write cookbooks which describe the desired state of your systems and infrastructure. You then define roles, which are collections of cookbooks and attributes to be applied and apply them to your systems.

Their inaugural meetup is on the 31st July, when Harry Thompson and Steven Danna will introduce two talks for the evening exploring Devops, Kurtosys and more! Register your place here.