Thursday, February 9, 2012

RedMonk Taps a Great Conference

Based on my last few blog posts, it’s no secret - I love to eat and drink. But, I’m guessing that many of you reading this do as well. And, like myself, you may also attend industry trade shows and find that many of the things you like to do aren’t incorporated into the agenda of events. For this reason, I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve tried tirelessly to avoid traveling for conferences.

A few weeks ago was the first time I found myself truly stoked to travel to a conference. Seriously. The conference was held in an awesome city (London), had an agenda of speakers that I looked forward to hearing from, and incorporated social activities that included drinking beer and eating great food. Not to mention, the conference hosts - the folks at RedMonk - are very fun people themselves.

Having just returned from Monki Gras, where CloudSpokes was a proud sponsor, I’m happy to say that the conference was a success. As told during the introduction, the event started out as a joke about combining beer and technology and turned into Monktoberfest - the predecessor to Monki Gras. These people are on to something - people wanted to attend a show, instead of figuring out an excuse to avoid it. For RedMonk, figuring out the recipe for a successful conference was easy - focus on technology, craft beer, great speakers, great attendees and toss in some good sushi and food.
Photo courtesy of Tom Raftery's twitter post
Besides the great conversations with attendees, talks by speakers and food, we learned a lot about beer! Thanks in particular to Melissa Cole, who was our guide for our beer tasting on Wednesday night and the author of our swag bag gift book, Let Me Tell You About Beer: A Beginner's Guide to All Things Brewed. While enjoying myself at RedMonk’s beer tasting, I realized running a good conference and brewing beer had a few things in common.

  • Wild disorganized bacteria and micro-organisms produce some of the best beer such as traditional lambics. Monki Gras itself was the first, as James described it, "Agile Conference" I attended. Like the wild bacteria, agenda and speakers were fluid and changing which made for a unique and great conference. In fact one of the reoccurring jokes soon became "James told me to talk about X but instead I'm going to talk about what I want to speak about".
  • One of the crucial ingredients to making beer is the local water. This was my first tech conference in London and it was a great experience. The tech scene was full of interesting, open and friendly people willing to share and discuss a wide range of technical topics. I definitely look forward to returning to Silicon Roundabout in the near future.
  • Another key ingredient to brewing beer is the hops. The quality and style of the hops depends on the region they are grown and you can find great hops in North America, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, and England to name a few. Following this theme, it wasn't surprising to see attendees from all over the world and a good deal of the talks were about managing distributed teams. This was a topic near and dear to hearts at CloudSpokes. In particular, Zack Urlocker COO of ZenDesk, gave a great talk on his experience managing the distributed development team for MySQL. I highly recommend downloading and reading through his great slide deck.
  • One of the best talks was by Kohsuke Kawaguchi, creator of Jenkins from CloudBees (slides), who spoke about lowering the barrier of entry for developers. A famous quote by Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco summed up brewing as "we get all the ingredients together and beer makes it self". This simplistic message wasn't too different than Kawaguchi's. A good software project and process should remove obstacles to allow people to participate by having better documentation, being decomposed into smaller modules, and make it easy for people to get started with your project. Furthermore, Simon Willison discussed a rule he used building Lanyard, which I will now follow as well, only use software you can download, set up and build a hello world app in 15 minutes or less. My personal favorite point was to beware of fake extensibility. Everyone should be using the same plugin architecture and APIs whether your code is an add on or it is part of the core software project.
Like good beer, Monki Gras got even better with time. The second day was just as good if not better than the first day. It says a lot about the quality of the speakers where most of the conference shows up on time the night after a lot of beer, and stays for the entire day, even skipping over lunch!In my last post, I mentioned Steve Johnson's TED talk about where good ideas come from and the rise of the coffee house culture. I still think is a great talk, but after Monki Gras, I now have no doubt that good ideas and beer can co-exist. If you want to check out all the high quality slides Lanyard has most of them well organized for you.

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