December 16, 2012

Devoxx 2012 review


I'm sitting in a train to Charleroi, looking through a window at the Denmark landscape, street lights flashing by, people comming home from work, getting out for a Friday night party, or having a family dinner. To my left, guys from SoftwareMill are playing cards.
I don't really see them. My mind is busy elsewhere, sorting out and processing last two days in Antwerp, where 3400 developers, from 41 different countries, listened to 200 different sessions at the Devoxx, AFAIK the biggest Java conference this year.
Some talks were so popular, that people were siting on the stairs.
 
It was an interesting experience, watching the show, after six conferences in Poland that I've been to this year. Everything about Devoxx is bigger. The venue is called Cinemapolis, and as you'd expect, it's a cinema complex. At the ground level you can find a lot of the most important Vendors in the Java world. SpringSource, Typesafe, Jetbrains, JBoss, RedHat, IBM, ZeroTurnaround, 10 Gen, Atlassian, and many others, have their people presenting latests products, giving away t-shirts, books, or just asking for feedback. Google stands on the opposite side to Oracle, as expected, but you won't see them fighting each other. There are no lawyers and their bullshit in here, there are devs and devs only.
The main hall is where most of the vendors are at
For those needed extra charge, or a hackaton, long tables with plenty of power outputs were provided.
Grzegorz Duda (33rd) with Stephan Janssen (Devoxx)

A conference day starts very early to my standards (8 am) and so do keynotes, at 9:30. There are seven large cinema rooms at our disposal, and keynotes are streamed from the room where the whole show takes place to a big ass cinema screens and movie level sound system, so you feel just like you were just in front of the scene, no matter where you sit. 

After keynotes, normal sessions start, and go on till 7pm, with one half an hour break for a coffee and another one hour for lunch. Lunch is rather blunt, and the queue is long. My friends, who are organizing Confitura, Geecon and 33rd, say that you'd be overwhelmed with bad press if you tried something like this in Poland. Perhaps it's the nature of our nation to be always bitching, but fortunately, people here seem not to mind, and we certainly don't. With so much things going on, you find hardly any time, to even take a piss, so you tend to just swallow the food as fast as possible and get back to talks, vendors and socializing.

There's a plenty of ways vendors will try to get your attention for a while. All of them are fun.
Talking about the last one, I've been traveling to Antwerp with Grzegorz Duda, but we met half of SoftwareMill at the Modlin airport, and we were meeting more and more Poles on the way. During the conference, there were whiteboards where someone would post a question, and people would mark answers. One of them was “Where're you from?”, and as you can see from this picture, Polish representation was rather strong.
While you could have all the smalltalks with interesting people, that you would like, socializing is not really something that conference days of Devoxx shine with. First, with so many interesting talks packed up, there is little time for chatter, and second, such a huge crowd makes the interaction harder. Just a few weeks before, I had been to TopConf in Tallinn, which is a conference with perhaps 200 people, but it somehow makes everyone important, brings people together to talk, get to know each other, and leave the secure area of their own groups. In Devoxx, it's more like a rock concert, where you go with your friends, have fun with everybody, but don't get to know too many people really well. And the party of the second day, doesn't help much. It's in a club called Noxx, just next to the cinema, the conference is in, and I've heard it's the second largest club in Europe. It's a typical 'club' club, with club music, several dance floors, drink bars, and little else. The problem is, with 3400 devs, mostly male, you kind of end up with a large gay party, and the music is way too loud to talk with anyone. You can throw yourself into trance, and have really good fun, but don't count on getting to know any of the people.
So if you want interaction, choose BOFs, Labs, or the University day in general, instead of the regular conference days. Or just try the very long tables, where people could get their laptops and phones charged, do some work or show off some cool stuff to their friends.
RFID bracelet. Surprisingly durable, survived three showers with ease.

Back to the talks, after every one, on your way out, you could vote thumb-up, or thumb-down with your RFID bracelet, that you were ringed with, on your sign-up. This would get pushed to a node.js server, running on Raspberry Pi, and you'd be able to see in real time, which talks were the best. At least in theory, because the system didn't survive the real life experiment, because people were either confusing up and down, not leaving the room waiting for another talk (and this not voting), or voting for a wrong lecture.

Raspberry Pi was everywhere at the conference. Guys from Oracle would show us their new JVM build specifically for this device, to facilitate floating point hardware, and run latests JavaFX 2.0 on it (which, finally doesn't suck anymore, though doesn't get your jaw drop down either), but you'll have to wait a bit for it, since it's not yet public. Inspired by the show, I've ordered one, together with nine other guys here at TouK. Let's see what a cluster of Raspberries can do for you.

I cannot really describe all the talks. I've seen just 1/7 of the conference, and I have a notebook full of notes, but most of them are just 'a-ha' kind of remarks, when I've heard something really useful, like how to make a difference between your HTTP 403, and some new badly-configured firewall on the way, when you are building a fully REST-to-the-bones, services, with all HTTP statuses and so on, or why there'll be multi-inheritance of behavior in Java 8, and why it's not dangerous compared to multi-inheritance of state, or how the interfaces may have a default implementation in Java 8+, and why it's such a smart solution to the problem of backward compatibility and the need for a completely fresh collections API. All the Devoxx talks should be available soon on Parleys.com (which was rewritten in HTML5, by the way), and though they charge for viewing, I think it's worth you bucks.

So as we are down to money, here is a question I'd like to answer:

Assuming you have limited resources, and wonderful, local, much cheaper conferences, like we do in Poland, is it better to go for, say three local conferences like GeeCon, 33rd, and JDD, or to go to Devoxx?

The answer depends on what you expect from a conference.

If you want knowledge, GeeCon + 33rd + JDD will probably be better, just because while Devoxx has 7 tracks, you can only be on one at a time.

If you want inspiration and to feed on the passion of others, GeeCon + 33rd + JDD will be better, just because those are quite nicely distributed over the whole year (especially if you include free Confitura and Warsjava in the line-up).

If, however, time is your problem, and you have only so much to go to one conference that year, then Devoxx has a slight advantage in my opinion. Not a big one, but still.

On our way home.

The plane is circling over the Modlin airport, as I'm talking with Paweł Wrzeszcz about how much we both are scared giving public talks. Outside the window a thick fog surrounds us so closely, that I am unable to see the tip of the aircraft's wing. The captain explains over intercom, that Modlin lacks necessary radio hardware to guide us safely down, so we are heading to Chopin Airport in Warsaw. People applause loudly, as most, if not all of them, are heading to/through Warsaw anyway, and fly from Modlin only because it's cheaper.

We are slowly moving over the city.

The plane is loosing altitude, and I confess to Paweł, that I'm just as afraid of flying as I'm afraid of talking at conferences. This isn't the fear he shares with me, but I can see he's a bit uneasy too. The fog outside the window is milky white, and I can't see even the middle of the wing through it now. The plain starts vibrating, last corrections are being made. We are flying by the radio signal, which comes from some hardware on the airfield, for which some programmer wrote software some time ago.

And then we hit the ground.

And we stop.

People clap their hands with relief. Here's the standing ovation, here's the big thank you for the captain. And the crew.

And, perhaps, even though most people don't know it, perhaps also for the programmer who wrote that marvelous piece of software, which allowed us to land safely.

That's what I choose to think.