I volunteered at the StackOverflow DevDays Austin conference all day today. It was a blast, nerd overload. believe it or not, this was my first conference in my field. Previously I've only ended up at the conferences for other industries: the beer industry, the science museum industry, the restaurant industry.
The highlight of my day was talking to Joel and Michael, the founders of Fog Creek Software, and rock stars in the programming industry. Michael was very gracious, especially considering that it took me a second to realize he was THE Fog Creek Michael. Off with my head! We talked about Windsurfing and scuba and swimming with Whale Sharks. Scuba lessons are definitely moved up on my to-do list.
We also discussed programmers who resist taking their vacation. For some reason I'm fascinated by the concept of hoarding vacation. I've know a few engineers that do it, and some of them actually seem to feel guilty about using their vacation time. Michael seemed to be in my camp: everyone should get away from work occasionally and enjoy the other aspects of life.
I also asked Michael a bit about the Business of Software Conference. Michael 90% convinced me to buy a ticket, especially with the Startup BootCamp. The remaining 10% of resistance comes from the steep price. Nearly $2000 for the conference, plus $750 for a hotel, plus air fare. If it was $1000? I'd be all over that. I'm not sure how I might better spend $3000 towards the goal of becoming some sort of software entrepreneur, but then again, $3000 represents a lot of camera or windsurfing equipment. It also represents months of runway.
So, I'll have to think about that BoSC thing. Maybe I can find someone (or several someones) to split a hotel room with. That's what I did at the Great American Beer Festival, and it worked fine. Any other cheapskate boot-strappers out there? Let's combine our forces.
Chatting with Joel was a different story. I was worried that I would say something ridiculous to someone who was basically (through Fog Creek, the Joel on Software Blog, and the StackOverflow Podcast) a hero of mine. But we had a nice little chat, and I don't think I said anything too strange or incoherent. At least I improved over when Neal Stephenson signed my copy of Anathem: "I really enjoy your writing, blah blah blah." I need to find a book on how to talk to celebrities; I'm such a dork.
By the way, has anyone else noticed that Joel has become some sort of software magnate? He is associated with all sorts of interesting ventures: StackOverflow and its sister sites, StackExchange, the Make Better Software Training Series, StackOverflow DevDays, and the Business of Software Conference. Most of these look like gargantuan projects. Joel either must have mastered delegation, or he is utterly insane. Maybe Joel is the Wizard and Michael is the man behind the curtain. Maybe he is a more relaxed clone of Steve Jobs. I don't know, but Joel and Michael make me feel lazy by comparison.
I also got to chat a bit with Ryan Carson of Carsonified, the organizer of the event. Really nice guy, and a real get-your-hands-dirty sort of leader. He was out there helping to hand out sandwiches when the developer lunch mob took the caterers by surprise. Who doesn't admire that? I love working with people who contribute at every level, who remain gracious under pressure.
Oh, I think there were a few technical presentations at DevDays too. Actually, now that I look at the schedule, there were a lot of presentations. Eight presentations, three breaks. I didn't catch all of them since I was volunteering, and also because I was chatting with the various cool folks hanging around the lobby.
The presentations I did see were pretty darn good. Maybe in one or two I would have enjoyed seeing more code, and more demonstrations of the code. But overall the presentations gave a nice taste of each of the technologies. I wouldn't say that I'm ready to go make an app in a new technology, but at least I have a better idea of the big picture, and how some of the underlying code works. I only wish there was some central page to download the example code from so I could review it after the fact.
Perhaps my favorite presentation was from Jason Cohen of Smartbear Software. He fired off a nice speech concerning an intersection of humanity and technology: code reviews. I'm a big fan of code reviews as part of the development and team-building process. He had some cool data on the subject to justify the practice and provide some guidance on best practices. Imagine that: data influencing the development process!
Anyhow, Jason's presentation was a lot of fun. He also had a booth at the Austin show. They handed out lots of free books containing his wisdom on code reviews. I think you can order them free from Smartbear's website, a nice price. I got to talk to Jason a bit too, a really nice guy. He's quite passionate about software development, which makes me happy.
After the conference, the attendees broke into groups by interest: those going home, and those going out to eat together. I joined an intrepid group of developers for Mexican food, margaritas, and developer nerd talk.
Overall, I really enjoyed the DevDays Austin conference. It was inspiring to see so many folks doing great things with software, getting their hands dirty. In some ways, I was reminded of Maker Faire, which is always a good thing. I really hope to be back at DevDays Austin next year. In the mean time, I'll be at DevDays Seattle next week. See you there.
*Edited for clarity and punctuation 29 October 2009.