Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Waza inspired!

Last week I attended Waza, Heroku's annual user conference, with high expectations. This was only the second Waza, but it was the first for me. I have been playing around with Heroku for a while but have not done any big projects until now with the current Wear test series. That being said I really am a big fan of Heroku and was looking forward to it quite a bit. I attended with my conference mate, the exalted Jeff Douglas which is always a real treat. It's not like Dreamforce where people come up and ask for his autograph, but more like walking around with the major of geektown. I have been in IT for a few years now and I have been going to big user conferences for most of them: NUF, Networks, Dreamforce... each one more elaborate than the last. But this one was different.

Walking in the front door the tradtional Japaneese theme is overwhelming. They had two women on a raised platform playing kotos, and pine trees, and more bamboo than the POW sequence of Deerhunter. After walking around for a few minutes I realized that this conference is geared for developers only. Lots of mohawks, piercings and sarcastic geektastic t-shirts. Jeff had his Google Wave t-shirt on so he fit in fine, but I was only sporting a chive shirt, since I left my "I know Jeff Douglas" shirt at the dry cleaners. My wife asked if anybody was wearing a suit and I said only Matt Trifiro the Chief Marketing Officer... but it was purple with pink stripes. We had a few minutes before the keynote so I wandered to the mezzanine. There was a crowd of people around a u-shaped table so I walked up to see what it was all about. To my astonishment it was an Arduino lab with about 8 stations and volunteers walking around to each station answering questions. At this point the roof opened up, the clouds parted, and a bright light shown from the heavens right upon me and that very area. I could hear harps and angels voices. Once I collected my composure and dried my eyes, I asked the guy who had that "main guy look", "What do Arduinos have to do with Heroku?" He smiled and said "Nuthin really, they're cool [pause] actually we have this huge red light in the stairwell at the Heroku offices that an Arduino turns on when the site is down. So I guess Arduinos have a little to do with Heroku". I regaled him with some of my Arduino projects then headed down to the keynote.

Before the keynote, like all other conferences, you expect some C-level to talk about the theme and introduce the speaker. However this was more like the Olympics opening ceremony. They had these two Japanese men on stage in traditional Japanese robes. One started beating a giant kettle drum and and the other hitting a gong. It had the production quality of the pre-battle sequence of [$insert_your_favorite_samurai_movie_here] movie. The jumbo-trons showed a birds-eye-view of a giant white banner that said 'Waza' on the bottom. A traditional dressed Japanese woman came up with a small mop and bent down on the banner in the prostrate positions to bless the event. She then put the mop in the bucket and proceeded to paint two Japanese characters on the sign before it was hoisted high on the stage. Meanwhile the drum and gong are crescendoing and the crowd is going wild. I assume the two characters she had written are "hero" and "haiku", which are the roots for the portmanteau Heroku, but my Japanese is a bit rusty.

Next, Orien Teich comes out and explains how this opening ceremony serves two purposes: One to show that this is an experience that we are all sharing together, and two to highlight a cental Heroku theme that coding is as much about art as anything else.

Next Michale Lopp (@rands) gave his famous speech about 'Stables' and 'Volatiles' which was awesome and humorous. You can gauge the technical prowess (or maybe where they stand on the Stable and Volatile spectrum) of a speaker by the amount of profanity they use in their presentation. Later Linda Liukas (@lindaliukas ) of Code Academy and girl-power Ruby activist read an awesome short children's story about a little girl name Ruby who is friends with the snow leopard and the quirky and particular Penguins. It was quite cute and creative. It made me want to make up my own story about Bash and tell it to my five year old daughter Lily, but I don't know if it will inspire her to be a programmer like Linda's would.

I saw a few more breaks outs, like Rune Madsens (@runemadsen) "Programming in the Visual Arts", where he showed how to replicate famous graphic design patterns with JavaScript. But then I wondered "where are the breaks-out where I learn to deploy my code automatically with Grunt?" Or "what is the best distributed logging platform to use", and I felt a little ripped off. But then I remembered why I like to come to these things.... Inspiration! And man I got that! In Orien's opening remarks he said that this is our time! We are entering an age where the programmer is celebrated and can make an impact on the world. This wasn't a conference for those who are looking to improve the business process via automation. This was a conference that inspired the artist in each of us, and how by tapping the artistic side we can become better developers. I look forward to attending Waza next year and hope to see you there!

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