ZipRecruiter, where I work, generously pays for each engineer to go at least one conference a year. I have gone to YAPC every year since 2009 and would not skip it, except my wife is pregnant with our second child and will be due much too close to this year’s YAPC (or should I say instead: The Perl Conference?) for me to go.
There were a lot of conferences that I wanted to check out; PyCon, Monitorama, etc etc, but OSCON was the only one that I could seem to make work out with my schedule. I can only really compare OSCON to YAPC and to a lesser extent SCALE and the one time I went to the ExtJS conference (before it was called Sencha,) so my comparisons may be a little weird.
OSCON is a super corporate conference, given that it’s name includes Open Source. For the most part this is fine; it means that there is a huge amount of swag (more on that later,) lots of networking to be done, and many free meals. On the other hand OSCON is crazy expensive; I would argue not worth the price. I got the lowest tier, since my wife didn’t want me to be gone for the full four days (and probably six including travel,) and it cost me a whopping twelve hundred dollars. Of course ZipRecruiter reimbursed me, but for those who are used to this, YAPC costs $200 max, normally.
On top of that there were what are called “sponsored talks.” I was unfamiliar with this concept but the basic idea is that a company can pay a lot of money and be guaranteed a slot, which is probably a keynote, to sortav shill their wares. I wouldn’t mind this if it weren’t for the fact that these talks, as far as I could tell, were universally bad. The one that stands out the most was from IBM, with this awesome line (paraphrased:)
Oh if you don’t use Swagger.io you’re not really an engineer. Maybe go back and read some more Knuth.
At YAPC you tend to get 1-3 shirts, some round tuits, and maybe some stickers. At OSCON I avoided shirts and ended up with six; I got a pair of socks, a metal bottle, a billion pretty awesome stickers, a coloring book, three stress toys, and a THOUSAND DOLLAR SKATEBOARD. To clarify, not everyone got the skateboard; the deal was that you had to get a Heroku account (get socks!) run a node app on your laptop (get shirt!) and then push it up to Heroku (get entered into drawing!) Most people gave up at step two because they had tablets or something, but I did it between talks because that all was super easy on my laptop. I actually was third in line after the drawing, but first and second never showed. Awesome!
The Hallway Track
For me the best part of any conference is what is lovingly called “the hallway track.” The idea is that the hallway, where socializing and networking happen, is equally important to all the other tracks (like DevOps, containers, or whatever.) I really enjoy YAPC’s hallway track, though a non-trivial reason is that I already have many friends in the Perl and (surprisingly distinct) YAPC world. On top of that YAPC tends to be in places that are very walkable, so it’s easy to go to a nice restaurant or bar with new friends.
I was pleasantly surprised by the OSCON hallway track. It was not as good as YAPC’s, but it was still pretty awesome. Here are my anecdotes:
Day 1 (Wed)
At lunch I hung out with Paul Fenwick and a few other people, which was pretty good. Chatting with Paul is always great and of course we ended up talking about ExoBrain and my silly little pseudoclone: Lizard Brain.
At dinner I decided to take a note from Fitz Elliot’s book, who once approached me after I did a talk and hung out with me a lot during the conference. I had a lot of good conversations with Fitz and I figured that maybe I could be half as cool as him and do the same thing. The last talk I went to was about machine learning and the speaker, Andy Kitchen, swerved into philosophy a few times, so I figured we’d have a good time and get along if I didn’t freak him out too much by asking if we could hang out. I was right, we (him, his partner Laura Summers, a couple other guys, and I) ended up going to a restaurant and just having a generally good time. It was pretty great.
Day 2 (Thu)
At lunch on Thursday I decided to sit at the Perl table and see who showed up. Randal Schwartz, who I often work with, was there, which was fun. A few other people were there. Todd Rinaldo springs to mind. I’ve spoken to him before, but this time we found an important common ground in trying to reduce memory footprints. I hope to collaborate with him to an extent and publish our results.
Dinner was pretty awesome. I considered doing the same thing I did on Wednesday, but I thought it’d be hugely weird to ask the girl who did the last talk I saw if she wanted to get dinner. That means something else, usually. So I went to the main area where people were sorta congregating and went to greet some of the Perl people that I recognized (Liz, Wendy, David H. Alder.) They were going to Max’s Wine Bar and ended up inviting me, and another girl who I sadly cannot remember the name of. Larry Wall (who invented Perl,) and his wife Gloria and one of his sons joined us, which was pretty fun. At the end of dinner (after I shared an amazing pair of deserts with Gloria) Larry and Wendy fought over who would pay the bill, and Larry won. This is always pretty humbling and fun. The punchline was that the girl who came with us didn’t know who Larry was, because she was mostly acquainted with Ruby. When Wendy told her there were many pictures taken. It was great.
Day 3 (Fri)
Most of Friday I tried to chill and recuperate. I basically slept, packed, went downtown to get lunch and coffee, and then waited for a cab to the airport. Then when I got to the airport I was noticed by another OSCON attendee (Julie Gunderson) because I was carrying the giant branded skateboard. She was hanging out with AJ Bowen and Jérôme Petazzoni, and they were cool with me tagging along with them to get a meal before we boarded the plane. It’s pretty cool that we were able to have a brief last hurrah after the conference was completely over.
One thing that I was pretty disappointed in was the general reaction when I mentioned that I use Perl. I have plenty of friends in Texas who think poorly of Perl, but I had assumed that was because they mostly worked on closed source software. The fact that a conference that was originally called The Perl Conference would end up encouraging such an anti-Perl attitude is very disheartening.
Don’t get me wrong, Perl is not perfect, but linguistic rivalries only alienate people. I would much rather you tell me some exciting thing you did with Ruby than say “ugh, why would someone build a startup on Perl?” I have a post in the queue about this, so I won’t say a lot more about this. If you happen to read this and are a hater, maybe don’t be a hater.
Overall the conference was a success for me. If I had to choose between a large conference like OSCON and a small conference like YAPC, I’d choose the latter. At some point I’d like to try out the crazy middle ground of something like DefCon where it’s grass roots but not corporate. Maybe in a few years!Posted Fri, May 20, 2016