ad-hockery: /ad·hok'@r·ee/, n.
Gratuitous assumptions... which lead to the appearance of semi-intelligent behavior but are in fact entirely arbitrary. Jargon File

GR8Conf US debrief

I just got back from my second GR8Conf US in Minneapolis. Despite the jet-lag it was well worth it.

Shaun Jurgemeyer did an amazing job of organizing things. I can’t imagine how he survives between looking after the delegates, dealing with us prima-donna speakers and coordinating the hotel & conference center. Somehow he found time to also socialize with us & stay up late talking about music. I can’t thank him enough for laying on the conference and giving me the opportunity to come over for the second time.

It was great to catch up with people I met last year & meet some new ones. Craig Burke wins the coveted "actually looks like their Twitter avatar" award & "Static Null" wins the "I know you on Twitter and apparently you were there but I’m not sure if I actually met you or not" award. Minneapolis is an awesome city and I made sure I got into town early so I could recover from jet-lag and do some sightseeing (if The Bearded Lady Motorcycle Freakshow and Savages at the Triple Rock Social Club count as sightseeing).

The conference opened with some workshops followed by a hackathon sponsored by Target and hosted in their impressive downtown Minneapolis space. It was a fun event but it seems like not many people (me included) had time to finish up and the prize-driven nature seemed to discourage the formation of teams which is half the fun of those kind of events.

On the first day Peter Ledbrook gave a thought provoking keynote talking about getting involved with open source and the responsibilities of those of us who run open source projects to lower the barrier of entry to contributors and not overload ourselves trying to support too many projects at once – guilty!

I saw some excellent talks. Among the highlights:

  • Steve Pember gave a great talk about responsive one page apps. It focused on the non-functional requirements you should be thinking about; page load speeds, balancing the number of HTTP requests with individual payload weight, affordances & feedback that help mitigate user frustration and so on. There was also a fun aside on some of the craziness in JavaScript type conversion.

  • Dan Woods talked called Application Architecture in Groovy. Don’t let the word "architecture" in the title put you off – the talk was about using the features of the Groovy language to create a habitable codebase. I understand that was Dan’s first conference speaking gig but it didn’t show. He really made me think about how much of the code I write is very Java-like & the idiomatic Groovy tends to be a bit skin deep. In particular I liked the way he contrasted some "stream of consciousness" Java code with more declarative & expressive Groovy. Great to see a counter to the popular perception that Groovy is just a layer of syntactic sugar over Java.

  • Luke Daley on Ratpack showed how far the project has come recently. Despite my involvement with the project I got a lot out of the talk (to date I’ve mostly just worked on the website & manual). It’s an astounding combination of flexibility & simplicity. What really shines is the thought that’s gone into developer productivity. It seemed like everyone who attended was inspired to go start writing a Ratpack app & Dan Woods won the race by getting a port of FOAAS up on Heroku the next morning.

  • Colin Harrington was hit hard by the demo gods - his laptop wouldn’t connect to the projector so he had to borrow Dan’s which had some crazy key-bindings, then it took forever to clone his GitHub repo because of the conference wifi (which Shaun got improved for day two). I really felt for him when he then finally started the app up and was confronted with Grails dependency resolution starting to download the entire internet. I was amazed by how calmly he handled it and the talk he went on to give – There and back again: A story of a simple HTTP request – was really good. You wouldn’t think an hour-long journey through the call stack created by an HTTP request to a Grails app would be interesting and engaging but it really was.

  • I had to check out Venkat Subramaniam's talk on Grails Beyond Hello World. Venkat’s such a great speaker that I felt even though the material was probably going to be nothing new to me it would be fun. If you’re relatively new to Grails I think it would make an inspiring watch once the video is released. I was quite proud when Venkat started talking up the way the HTML validation attributes in scaffolding are automatically generated based on constraints in the domain model - I wanted to shout out "I did that!"

There was also good stuff from Zan Thrash on Node.js tools, Kyle Boon on REST services with Grails and Dropwizard and Colin again on integrating JSON with the Grails view system. Picking a track is always hard and I had to miss some interesting sounding sessions including Bobby Warner on building APIs with Grails, Steve Pember on Grails and Rabbit MQ SOA, Ryan Vanderwerf on deploying & scaling Grails on AWS and Burt Beckwith on Grails Transactions.

My talk clashed with some of the most interesting looking ones. Luke’s talk on Building Grails with Gradle sounds like it was great – he’d lost the entire presentation somehow but just winged it and apparently no-one would have known any different. The guy is a machine when it comes to live-coding demos. I’m going to have to check that out as it sounds like a technique that can really clean up some of the dependency management and recompilation issues I experience when using Grails.

I wasn’t particularly happy with how my own talk – Grails for Hipsters – went. I felt like I couldn’t think & somehow blew through all the material in about 35 minutes. I’ve done that talk before & run out of time so I’m not sure what happened. I’d spent plenty of time & effort preparing as well. Thanks to the people who said they’d enjoyed it – I hope you weren’t just being nice & genuinely did find it worthwhile.

It was a wide-ranging talk with Vert.x, Node.js tools, Casper JS, Testem and Handlebars in the mix. I think that made it hard to prepare effectively as I was trying to keep track of a lot of stuff, provide an appropriate level of detail and tie it all together somehow. It also meant I couldn’t go into much depth on any of the individual sections. I have already submitted a proposal to GGX for a talk that expands the (to me) most interesting section. Hopefully with more focus I can go deeper, show more code & have a talk that suits my presentation style a little better. Lesson learned.

In summary. GR8Conf was a blast. Excellent speakers, great location, perfect weather. I’m looking forward to next year already. Hopefully I’ll be back.

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