Heartland Developer Conference 2018 keynote speaker Kathleen Dollard on ‘loving legacy code’

July 10, 2018

OMAHA — The Heartland Developer Conference’s 2018 keynote speaker has been a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1998, and has given dozens of speeches and talks around the world.

Kathleen Dollard is on the .NET Core Team at Microsoft, where she contributes to .NET Core CLI/SDK, and managed languages, and she’s written multiple articles on a range of .NET technologies.

The title of her presentation is “Loving Legacy Code.”

“Programmers think about existing code differently than new code,” said Dollard. “Instead of trying to design and solve problems in fairly open space, they are working out the puzzle of solving a problem within the rules set by the rest of the current code.”

She calls working with legacy code a “huge and exciting challenge.”

Among the topics she’ll address are how expensive code rewrites are, readability versus the ability to reason about code, refactoring for size and complexity, and tricks to force tests.

A ‘space brat’ inspired by NASA

Dollard describes herself as a “space brat” who grew up in Huntsville, Alabama where her father was an aerospace engineer working on the Saturn V. She says growing up in that atmosphere taught her how much people can accomplish when working together on a common goal.

“NASA has estimated that 400,000 people worked toward the single goal of a few men walking on the moon. It was truly an amazing accomplishment for 1969,” said Dollard.

But Dollard didn’t love computers at first. As a child, and even into adulthood, she largely disliked working with computers, because making mistakes was “expensive and painful,” she says.

“The first computer I fell in love with was the IBM PC,” said Dollard. “For the first time, it wasn’t painful to make a mistake. Learning is about making mistakes, it’s not about being careful. That introduced me to a career where I can learn every day. First, just getting it to work. Then getting it to work in a solid and beautiful way as I became an architect.”

She says she now has a passion for technology and language design, and the people who bring it all together.

“Now, my greatest fascination is the way programmers interact with the process of building software. I feel very lucky that I get to work on making that experience better every day in my job at Microsoft,” said Dollard.

‘This is the code that runs the economy’

She hopes her presentation at HDC 2018 will help programmers with their approach to legacy code.

“The number one thing I hope programmers take away is respect for the people writing the legacy code they have or will work on. They were working without the current understanding of the problem. They defined that understanding along with the code,” said Dollard.

“The second things is the importance of tests for legacy code and a couple of tips for adding tests to legacy code, as well as warnings about when it’s going to be hard.”

Dollard says there can be a “range of fear” for programmers when approaching legacy code.

“It’s scary to work on code you don’t understand fully, and it can be hard work. But this is the code that runs the economy. It runs airports and hospitals. It could not be more important.”

For more information, visit the Heartland Developer Conference website.

For more information on Kathleen Dollard and all the other speakers, presentations and workshops at HDC 2018, visit the website here.