The pleasure of thinking in systems - Ashley Williams

11:20 - 11:50

This presentation was cancelled, and replaced with ‘What is programming anyway?’ by Felienne Hermans

For at least three years now, I’ve been kicking off each of my many talks on software development with this statement:

‘I like thinking about thinking, especially the type of thinking that happens when people write code.’

In this talk, I'll dive a bit deeper into the type of thinking that has made me fall in love with coding; more specifically: systems thinking. To many, the idea of systems thinking is often relegated to those developers who are ‘close to the metal’, reasoning about the very specific, often niche, technical operations of abstractions that live several levels below the ones our most popular programming languages afford us.

As a former philosophy/neuroscience student with no formal computer science education, I’d like to disabuse us of this very limited notion of systems thinking; opening our perspective to systems on every level and domain of software, from the technical to the political, economic, and social. There’s a wealth of lessons to be learned if we take our understanding of systems to an interdisciplinary level, and I’d like to inspire and empower us all to be less narrow in our understanding of systems and their relevance to our coding culture.

As the consequences of our technical work loom larger by the day, a more holistic view of the systems we operate in is more critical than ever. By the end of this talk, I hope to have convinced you that systems thinking is a joyful, amazing, process that we have only yet begun to leverage.

About the speaker

Ashley Williams


Ashley is an engineer at Integer32, contracting for Mozilla on the Rust Programming Language. She is a member of the Rust Core team and leads the Rust Community Team. Previously, she worked as an engineer at npm, the package manager for Javascript, and currently is the Individual Membership Director on the Node.js Foundation Board of Directors.

A long time teacher, Ashley has focused much of her energies on education programs for open source projects, founding NodeTogether in 2016 and currently leading the RustBridge initiative. She has represented teachers' perspectives at TC39 meetings to influence the growth of JavaScript and continues to be passionate about growing the web through her work on Web Assembly.

Ashley has travelled all over the world to speak about programming language design, computer science concepts, and education. When not headlong in a discussion about pedagogy, she is probably getting seriously fired up about philosophy, language, systems, and/or jokes.