This year’s SPA conference (Software Practice Advancement) is soon approaching and starts this weekend on Sunday 28th June.

Organised by the British Computer Society, this four day event comprises a packed programme of sessions from a number of forward-thinking practitioners in our industry. The programme also includes evening “diversions” that provide ample opportunity for networking with other attendees.




Now in its 19th year, SPA offers a great opportunity to actively take part in sessions that are all about working on, and learning about, recent advances and ideas in software development.


There’s plenty to get involved in throughout the conference. Topics range from hands-on humanitarian software, to using Agile techniques to boost team productivity, or baby step refactoring, so there’s something for everyone interested in software development.


The team at 7digital is involved with a coding session that explores crafting high quality systems with emergent design, while another session we’re hosting looks at how the next generation is learning about technology and provides a workshop on the tools that young people are currently using in their Computing classes at school.


Say hello to us at the following sessions:


Exploring Emergent Design with TDD

Hosted by Leon Hewitt and Neil Kidd

Date/ Time: Mon 29th June, 9.45 – 12.30


Engaging Young People in Software Development

Hosted by Emma-Ashley Liles and Alex Graff

Date/ Time: Wed 1st July, 14.00 – 15.15


For more information, see the SPA2015 site. We look forward to seeing you there!


Paul Shannon, VP of Technology, 7digital   



SPA; SPA2015; conference; event; software; development; BCS.
Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 16:14

Over the last month we've started using ServiceStack for a couple of our api endpoints. We're hosting these projects on a debian squeeze vm using nginx and mono. We ran into various problems along the way. Here's a breakdown of what we found and how we solved the issues we ran into. Hopefully you'll find this useful. (We'll cover deployment/infrastructure details in a second post.)

Overriding the defaults

Some of the defaults for ServiceStack are in my opinion not well suited to writing an api. This is probably down to the frameworks desire to be a complete web framework. Here's our current default implementation of AppHost:


For me, the biggest annoyance was trying to find the DefaultContentType setting. I found some of the settings unintuitive to find, but it's not like you have to do it very often!

Timing requests with StatsD

As you can see, we've added a StatsD feature which was very easy to add. It basically times how long each request took and logs it to statsD. Here's how we did it:


It would have been nicer if we could wrap the request handler but that kind of pipeline is foreign to the framework and as such you need to subscribe to the begin and end messages. There's probably a better way of recording the time spent but hey ho it works for us.
Sunday, September 16, 2012 - 11:31

At 7digital we use Ajax to update our basket without needing to refresh the page. This provides a smoother experience for the user, but makes it a little more effort to automate our acceptance tests with [Watir]( Using timeouts is one way to wait for the basket to render, but it has two issues. If the timeout is too high, it forces all your tests to run slowly even if the underlying callback responds quickly. However if the timeout is too low, you risk intermittent fails any time the callback responds slowly. To avoid this you can use the [Watir `wait_until` method](, to poll for a situation where you know the callback has succeeded. This is more inline with how a real user will behave. ### Example
Friday, September 14, 2012 - 13:21

At 7digital we use [Cucumber]( and [Watir]( for running acceptance tests on some of our websites. These tests can help greatly in spotting problems with configuration, databases, load balancing, etc that unit testing misses. But because the tests exercise the whole system, from the browser all the way through the the database, they can tend be flakier than unit tests. Then can fail one minute and work the next, which can make debugging them a nightmare. So, to make the task of spotting the cause of failing acceptance tests easier, how about we set up Cucumber to take a screenshot of the desktop (and therefore browser) any time a scenario fails. ## Install Screenshot Software The first thing we need to do is install something that can take screenshots. The simplest solution I found is a tiny little windows app called [SnapIt]( It takes a single screenshot of the primary screen and saves it to a location of your choice. No more, no less. * [Download SnapIt]( and save it a known location (e.g.
Monday, September 3, 2012 - 11:51

[TeamCity]( is a great continuous integration server, and has brilliant built in support for running [NUnit]( tests. The web interface updates automatically as each test is run, and gives immediate feedback on which tests have failed without waiting for the entire suite to finish. It also keeps track of tests over multiple builds, showing you exactly when each test first failed, how often they fail etc. If like me you are using [Cucumber]( to run your acceptance tests, wouldn't it be great to get the same level of TeamCity integration for every Cucumber test. Well now you can, using the `TeamCity::Cucumber::Formatter` from the TeamCity 5.0 EAP release. JetBrains, the makers of TeamCity, released a [blog post demostrating the Cucumber test integration](, but without any details in how to set it up yourself. So I'll take you through it here.