StrangeLoop 2017

Lessons and learnings...

I recently attended StrangeLoop 2017. What follows are some sporadic thoughts about the conference and community. If you’ve been on the fence about going to SL in the past, hopefully this article gives you some insight into what it’s like.

The Hallway Track

The best talks are the one’s you don’t expect, or don’t think you want to see. Hallway track is best if you make the effort to actually talk to people. As an introvert, I default to not making that effort. Theater track is second best. It’s like having Alex Miller (or whoever put the schedule together) pick the best talks for you. It doesn’t actually matter which talks you go to, they will all be online anyway. So it’s actually best not to make a schedule nor pick talks ahead of time, just let the randomness present new ideas to you. It’s a lot of fun.

The Venue and Location

…is beautiful. The hotel and opera house in which the conference is hosted are superb, and the staff that handles the logistics of food, coffee, and tea setup, room monitoring, and A/V are first-class. Seriously, props to them for making the conference go so smoothly. I’ve been on that end of the conference work (for other, much smaller conferences) and I know it can be difficult.

Strange Loop takes place in downtown St Louis, basically walking distance from the Arch and the Cardinals’ ballpark. The Arch was closed this year, but the Cards happened to be playing at home that weekend so I went to a game, which I highly recommend, it’s a great stadium if you’re into baseball.

Some of my favorite talks

  • Coming soon

The Politics

Diversity was great, the Alloy Project seems to be working, and I think that is a very good thing. I was actually surprised by the different types of people I saw; it’s different from the typical nerdy-white-male demographic that have dominated the teams that I’ve worked on and grown used to. Even as a nerdy-white-male myself, there is only so much masculine-monoculture I can stand (which is one reason why I usually retreat into headphones with soft music playing when working in an office, and prefer to work from home). Diversity is simply more interesting than monoculture when you have to deal with people on a daily basis…

The overall political bent of the conference was rather liberal-centrist, which was only exacerbated by the corporate overtones of the sponsors. I was hoping for a more left-leaning politics because I’ve been reading a lot of poststructuralist philosophy lately and was hoping to talk about it with techies, but I didn’t really meet anyone brave enough to really broach the subject with (e.g. Deleuze’s work, when combined with from Alan Turing, makes for some fun new concepts). None of the sponsors seemed interesting to me as a mostly-independent developer. Maybe I didn’t give them much of a chance because they all seemed to be trying to entice developers with freebies and I’ve learned to despise the free lunch, or maybe I avoided all the sponsor-booths due to my bias against Monsanto’s monoculture-inducing agricultural practices (PDF).

Not that I’m inherently against large companies. But the cost structure seems to be geared toward larger companies. I remember last year (2016) there was a company pricing tier such that companies could send entire groups of developers for some batch pricing. I don’t remember the details and can’t find much historical pricing info on the website, so maybe the actual situation is different than my perception of it.

In any case, I always like to see incentives for independent developers, not incentives for large companies. I value independent devs becuase they put their own skin on the line. They will often take time out of their own schedule - time that they could be making good money - and write open source software that other developers and companies rely on. For example, in my experience, the Clojars maintainers achieve a better uptime than many internal Maven repos.

An example of a great indy dev is Chas Emerick, who actually gave a (last-minute) talk at PWL Conf (I can’t find the video unfortunately). He contributes a ton to the Clojure community in addition to running his own company (at least, I think he’s the only person working on that; in any case he’s still putting his skin in the game). There are many more developers out there like this. Matt Mitchell gave a talk in which he basically went through a bunch of ways that you as a developer could get started writing code for the public good. Each example he gives requires you to find a real problem in the world and then propose a solution. This is miles away from the typical corporate-developer workflow of picking a user story off of the board, writing some unit tests for the described functionality, and then moving bits around until the test suite passes. The typical corporate-developer has no skin in the game and thereby has no effect on the real world, which effectively renders their opinions about the world useless, pragmatically speaking. I think its a rather depressing affair when compared to the jubilee of starting a company or foundation of some kind. My point is that, if a developer would like to escape the corporatism, the wider community should provide support and incentives to do so.

—Ben Sima, 2017.10.02