Conference Summary: Winter Tech Forum 2016

I spent last week in Crested Butte, Colorado, for the Winter Tech Forum. I’ll post here about some of the sessions I attended. We continued our conversations while skiing (cross country, for me).

(Also, see Drew Stephens’ summary here)

Who attends?

This is a conference that emphasizes a personal connection between people. The relationships built at the WTF extend long beyond the week of being together. This was the 10th anniversary of this conference (born as Java Posse Roundup), attracting a dedicated group of “regulars” each year and a healthy group of newcomers as well. This year was no exception. I think that we had about 35 people total, including about 8 that were totally new. Several of those people came with coworkers who had attended previously, while a few came entirely on their own. And two guys joined in the middle of a week after a barista found out that they were developers and asked if they were in town for “the conference”. Yes, it’s that kind of a town.

An Overview

The conference is a self-organizing conference. We met on Monday morning to put some sessions on “the board” and to discuss the overall conference. There are three 1 hour sessions each morning, determined by attendees, and then people get together for lunch and afternoons to either code, ski, snowshoe, build a lightning talk, or whatever else makes sense. Lightning talks were scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, so we got back together for dinner and evening sessions each night. I’ll describe it all below …

Sessions I Attended


I went to “Is Java 8 Functional Enough to Stem the Flow?“. We talked a lot about alternative functional languages, and the new features in Java 8. One of the conclusions that I reached was that Java 8 seems to be taking people away from Groovy more than from Scala. And Kotlin also seems to be stealing away Groovy developers. We didn’t hear a lot about migrating code *to* Java 8, but rather that the rework cost was high, mainly conceptually, especially when moving something from Scala to Java 8.

I also attended “The Next Step to Creating a Trust Organization”, which was about teal organizations. One question I’ve always had about teal organizations is how are they funded? Realistically, someone is plunking down cash. Unless everyone is “in” financially, how can the organization truly be teal? Bruce described an interesting concept whereby the original investors “buy in” with cash while employees “earn in” to the point where the finances eventually equalize. This was enlightening to me. We also discussed a new legal entity, called a B Corp which seems to be more amenable to this structure than the C or S or LLC ways of incorporating a business. Teal organizations use “advice process” to gather opinions about a decision to be made, and there’s peer influence on those decisions. Good decisions (for the business) are rewarded by the peers, while bad decisions may ultimately land you on “the beach” (ahem, voted off the island). I’m sure it’s much more complicated than this, but it was an interesting conversation. I can see how little decisions, that edge the company forward, can be easily made this way. I’m left wondering about big, disruptive change (e.g., Netflix moving to streaming and AWS)? Will an advice culture have the appetite for this? When a cross functional, expansive change is needed, who will “lead” the charge?

For reference, in the competing slot was Fluid and Flexible REST API.

After a lunch of talking about the sessions we attended, I headed off to cross country ski with some other attendees. We went to the north end of town, past the yurt and out to Mike’s Mile. Great ski, but a little sticky due to the fresh snow on top of the wet snow underneath (it was warm!). While I was skiing, several others were hacking on projects or working on the concurrency chapter for Bruce’s latest book.

After dinner, we reconvened for lightning talks. Here’s the Monday list. As you can see, it’s a mix of technical and nontechnical topics.

  • Skimo for Noobs (James Ward)
  • My adventure with nonviolent communication (Bruce Eckel)
  • Finch: A Scala combinator library for building Finagle HTTP services
    (Chris Phelps)
  • What hipchat can tell you about coworkers (Octavian Geagla)
  • Entropy: resistance is futile …or is it? (Julie Pitt)
  • Liquid Software )Fred Simon)
  • How to not do skimo and what it can teach you about software (Octavian Geagla)
  • The racing rules of sailing (D. J. Hagberg)
  • Drones for fun and profit (Chris Marks)


I started out the morning at a discussion about Immutable Infrastructure, something that is near and dear to my heart. While we were discussing AMIs, containers, and other approaches, there was a conversation about “Seeking failure as a counter-philosophy to demanding perfection” and another on “Starting a coworking space”. 

That session was followed with Graph Databases: Do I want one? and  When less is more – close shaves with Occam’s razor. I attended the latter, which was a fantastic discussion on MVP, paring down initial product offerings and experimentation.

And for the third session of the day, I had to decide between Testing in a Crisis and Adopting agile inside organizations – State of Play of software planning, delivery and adaptability. I chose “Testing in a Crisis” and it led to discussions about Chaos engineering at Netflix and I ended up staying back during the “afternoon session” to pull together a lightning talk on Chaos. Other lightning talks on Tuesday evening included. In some cases, I only included the speaker, because I didn’t have a copy of the title …

  • Funny business with online reviews (Gordon)
  • libGDX (Chris Z)
  • Jupyter AKA IPython Notebooks (Jack)
  • “Knitting, Yo” (Joey)
  • Barbeque. Texas Style (Rob)
  • Octavian Geagla
  • Russell’s Paradox and the Y Combinator (Marshall)
  • Peter Pilgrim
  • A View into Chaos (Dianne)
  • Why your co-worker might not be a jerk (Andrew Harmel-Law)
  • Everything. And a Pony too. (Carl)
  • CrapCan racing (Drew)


Hackday is on Wednesday, where groups form to “build something” or work on a project of their choosing. Some people work on things for their jobs that they never get around to, while others do something entirely out of their domain. The hackday projects are presented in the evening session on Wednesday.

This year’s hackday presentations included:

  • Whiskey as a Service (a crowd favorite!). See a wiring video here. And the demo here.
  • Port HdrHistogram to Rust to explore borrow checking and concurrency
  • Build a distributed system with Kubernetes
  • Explore Pony and build something cool
  • Slackbots for great justice
  • Finding a better solution for open spaces in the cloud.
  • Bring women back to Computer Science. Let’s design a curriculum for computer scientists who have left the field for a few years, using existing sources and creating new ones.

In previous years, we have recorded hackday presentations and lightning talks. I think we should do that again.


For the first session on Thursday, the attendees chose from:

  • Spark:tips, tricks,best practices
  • Is slack the new office?
  • Signal and noise – metrics, testing, and other risk reduction magic sticks

I went to the Signal and Noise session. It was quite interesting, discussing the metrics that we all capture, how we act on those metrics, and the danger of becoming myopic about metrics. We also discussed the nirvana of having a great business metric to drive behavior, and the importance of limiting the times we page our on-call to true problems, avoiding false positives.

The second session of the day offered:

  • Fighting 2 monsters: morale vs. delivery
  • Cloud Event Handlers (AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Dataflow, etc) WTF?
  • IoT: Peak Hype? (the “peace dividend of the cell phone wars)!
  • Getting women back in tech

The Getting Women Back in Tech discussion was an offshoot of my lightning talk the night before and we went in a lot of different directions. If women are under-represented, black men and women are virtually invisible, being hired at a percentage below their graduation rate (where are they going?). We also talked about how to know your top of market and reaching out into your network for advocates and mentors. We think that women who left the field with strong CS fundamentals could be encouraged back with a refresher plan (assuming skills need exercising and some tooling has changed) and an interest in bringing them back. Look for more work from me on this in the future. I’m testing some courses and trying to devise a plan, with a little help from my (male and female) friends.

We wrapped up the morning session with a spirited discussion on How can we interview/hire better?, where we explored techniques companies use for screening, hiring, and sourcing candidates. In a competing room, people discussed Are standards still relevant/open source governance.

On Thursday night, we have a tradition of the Progressive Dinner. Since most of the attendees tend to share houses with other attendees, the Progressive Dinner gives us a chance to visit many of the houses and sample our peers’ cooking. We started out with paleo lasagna, then steak and veggie kabobs, moved on to burritos, then sweet potato/sausage hash or veggie hash, and ended with paleo chili. Each house had a 30 minute window, and the movement encourages new discussion groups to form. Did I mention that the food was great?!

We wrapped up the evening at the conference center, with dessert (including bread pudding!), and with more lightning talks. We found that the Monday/Tuesday lightning talks get filled up by those who have attended before, but some folks need a little more time to become comfortable with the group and to settle on a talk. And they were fabulous!

  • How this conference made my life better (Daniel)
  • Kotlin (Nadav)
  • What I learned about Ember.js in 24 hours (Gordon)
  • Coordinated Omission (Marshall)
  • Things I learned from being a musician (Gordon)
  • Cucumber BDD (Chris and Jack)


Friday was the official wrapup of the conference, with the last session (an all attendee session) ending around noon. The choices for Friday included:

  • Cross functional teams/squads/feature teams
  • Is there room for functional languages/clojure/Pony?
  • Retrospective on experiments at WTF 2016

I convened and attended the Retrospective session. We had tried several experiments, including moving from a physical board to an online board, and using Slack for communications. Almost universally, we disliked the online board. We felt that we lost some of the communication that we had previously achieved by standing in front of a physical board and discussing the sessions during the breaks. We did see some benefit in being able to see the schedule from everywhere, so we will try a more hybrid approach next year.


  • Wargames and Chaos
  • Creating an intelligent system that’ll manage our infrastructures.
  • How to help foster a culture where people want to share public data in open data and software platforms?

I attended the Wargames and Chaos session. Everyone is at a different place in their journey toward building resilient systems and testing through Chaos. It was interesting to discuss the various approaches.

The conference concluded with a general session where people talked about what they learned, how they benefited and ideas for the future.

In the evening, we held a wrapup (catered) dinner at the local museum. The historical building was interesting (including a model of the town and a train!) and the food was great. Historically, the Friday dinner has seen less attendance, as the adventurous souls have cross country skied or snowshoed out to the Magic Meadows yurt for a catered dinner, while others have chosen Djangos, a wonderful restaurant on the mountain that shares its name with a Python web framework. It was great to have everyone together for dinner this year (but I personally love the yurt).


I said that Friday is the official wrapup, but the unofficial wrapup occurs on Saturday morning, when most of the attendees who are still in town show up at Bruce Eckel’s house with the leftover food from the week and the attendees use his kitchen to turn the food into an amazing breakfast. This year, that meant steak, potatoes, eggs, fruit salads, vegetables, and lots and lots of bacon. People depart throughout the morning and afternoon for various flights or in a convoy to Denver (about a 4 hr drive).

Developer Retreat

This week, the conference didn’t end abruptly. Instead, Bruce is following it up with a Developer Retreat for which a few folks stayed. The retreat is even less structured than the conference, and it will be great to see what they do!

Join us next year!

If you need a surge of technology, or a burst of energy built from talking about new ideas and meeting new people, consider attending next year. Look for an update on the Winter Tech Forum page.

Winter Tech Forum 2016: A different kind of conference

Nine years ago, the Java Posse and Bruce Eckel teamed up to create a conference devoted to the listeners of the Java Posse podcast. Because of Bruce’s experimentation with Open Spaces conferences, he convinced these accomplished speakers to give a wacky idea a try — let the attendees of the conference create the schedule and participate in the conversation. This format’s success surprised many, and the longevity of the conference, held in the middle of the winter in Crested Butte, Colorado, surprised many more.

Last year, the conference evolved in part because the Java Posse’s technical interests diverged and in part because a weekly podcast was a bit too much of a burden on this group of friends, who had spent a decade volunteering their time to provide content to Java developers. But the conference went on, newly dubbed the “Winter Tech Forum” (yes, we know the acronym) and the dedicated folks who had traveled to Crested Butte for many years … showed up with that same enthusiasm for creating a conference and for sharing ideas.

And it keeps on going. This year, the Winter Tech Forum will be from February 29 – March 4, 2016. But if you’re going, do yourself a favor and travel in the previous weekend if you can. Not only can travel be challenging (it’s really best to drive from Denver, given that flights into Gunnison are often canceled due to snow), but also because there will be a warm welcome party at Bruce’s house on Sunday night. It’s a great way to meet your fellow attendees!

If you have heard about the Java Posse Roundup or the Winter Tech Forum, you may know that attendees often get together to rent houses in town. This conference can be an immersive experience, but many attendees also choose to stay at the hotels or B&Bs in town.  Once you register, you will gain access to a group where discussions about rental housing, gatherings, etc. take place.

Wait — I forgot to mention the schedule! Sessions are scheduled for each morning, and then there’s a break for lunch. Here’s the overall theme and some ideas that may be discussed, copied from the WTF information page.

Theme: Creating Adaptware in the Information Continuum
From Big Data to Responsive Systems

  • Reactive Programming
  • The Enterprise as a Scriptable Large-Scale Computation Engine
  • Tradeoffs in Software
  • The Internet of Things
  • Libraries vs. Frameworks
  • Front End to REST Endpoints to Library APIs
  • Java 8 vs. The Next Big JVM Language
  • Distributed Big Data Systems
  • Platforms for Big Data
  • The JVM in the DevOps World
  • Commit To Production, Without Human Intervention
  • Erlang for Building Servers
  • And lots more
  • Plus anything else anyone wants to talk about, of course
  • And our business track

Although the theme sets the general tone of the conference, it doesn’t preclude session topics that might be considered “off theme.” The goal of the theme is to stimulate ideas, not to prevent discussion.

But what about the snow?

Many people trek to Crested Butte for the conference because they also enjoy wintertime activities, like downhill skiing, cross country skiing, or snowshoeing. There’s time each afternoon for those activities, if you care to do so. But if you’re not into winter sports, you will find that a large number of the attendees spend that time hacking on projects, individually or in groups, or preparing for the evening lightning talks. Attendees tend to get back together for dinner and then meet up for lightning talks each evening.

If you’re intrigued, I definitely recommend checking out the information page. And maybe I’ll see you in Crested Butte!

DevOps at Netflix: Posted and Upcoming Talks

I’ll be talking about DevOps at Netflix next week at JavaOne. In the meantime, I wanted to highlight some amazing talks that are already out there that go deep in some areas that I won’t.

In particular, check out these talks from AWS:Reinvent.

I hope to see some of you next Tuesday (11 am) or Wednesday (10 am) in San Francisco.

Highlights of Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2015

I’m writing this on the last day of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I truly wanted to attend my co-worker Lilit Yenokyan’s talk today, A Fine Line: Balancing Motherhood and Career, but instead I’m actually making good on that advice and heading home a day early because I haven’t been home all week.

I cannot express how inspiring it is to have spent the week with 12,000 women in technology. In a field that is still horribly underrepresented by women, it’s absolutely critical to bring together this critical mass to visualize those who are in the field. Maybe a picture will help …


Also at the conference, Netflix sponsored a Professional Development Leadership Workshop focusing on Showcasing your Work, specifically giving your first lightning talk. I had the privilege of introducing the topic, which is near and dear to my heart. I have both attended and presented lightning talks and I think that they are a great way to get people interested in something you’re passionate about. Getting more women to showcase their ideas and to get on stage is one of the motivations for the conference, and I’m glad that Netflix was able to participate in this way.

There were many great talks and keynotes, but the highlight of my week was Sheryl Sandberg’s keynote. I can only describe it as amazing, inspiring, and thoughtful conversation. The interview that followed with the incredibly talented and funny Nora Denzel was insightful and fun.

In both, Sheryl offered 3 pieces of advice to the audience:

I’ve done the “Three Things” on and off, and I think it’s definitely worth trying.  I suspect one of my coworkers from Netflix has already created a circle (can’t wait to get back to see!), and, of course, I agree with her advice to stay in tech. I’ll mirror what Sheryl said: Our jobs are impactful, well-paid, and flexible.

And men, here’s a call to action for you. If you’re in tech, I hope that you will encourage your wives, sisters, daughters, nieces and friends to go into computer science or stay in the industry. There are more of you, so the numbers game says that your involvement will increase our numbers faster. I hope you’ll help.



Why is Netflix at Grace Hopper this week?

If you’re at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing this week, you’re not alone. There are 12,000 people here! Wow! What a difference from the Michigan Celebrates Women in Computing conference I attended several years back, held at a remote Michigan State Biological station.

But — why is Netflix here? Why are other tech companies here?

Our industry is at a crossroads. We all compete for great talent to solve the interesting and difficult technical problems that we all face. And when we don’t reach women, we make this problem even harder. Why have women been underrepresented in our field? Perhaps women haven’t embraced the field because we haven’t accurately represented what it means to be a computer scientist in 2015. And it’s our job to help grow that awareness. I want women to know what it’s like to work at Netflix, of course, but I mostly want women to know the wide variety of problems and the diverse career that computer science can offer.

So — that’s why we’re here. We want to understand how the 12,000 women who are here are thinking about our industry. And we want to support them in their career growth and aspirations. And we even have a few really cool hoodies to give away.

Netflix is sponsoring a Professional Development Leadership Workshop today (Wednesday), from 10:30-12:30 and from 1:15-3:15 in the Grand Ballroom C, on Level 3. The topic is “Showcase Your Work: How to Give Your First Lighting Talk”. Please join us!

Netflix at DockerCon

Netflix at DockerCon

If you’re attending DockerCon in San Francisco this week and have been wondering what Netflix is up to with Docker, be sure to find us at the conference!

We’ve had an incredible journey with Docker over the past year. We’re running production batch applications in thousands of containers within the cloud and we’re moving toward running parts of our mission critical infrastructure as well. We’re going to share with you our work and experiences running Docker reliably at scale in Diptanu Choudhury’s talk “Reliably shipping containers in a resource rich world using Titan.”

In addition to Diptanu’s talk, several other Netflixers will be on hand to talk about how we do deployments and infrastructure. Vasanth Asokan can talk about how we are planning to expand our use of Docker; he can talk at length on the interesting aspects of containers at Netflix. And we’re definitely hiring to meet these needs. Andrew Spyker and Naresh Gopalani will represent Platform Services. They’re hiring for engineers to join Diptanu in developing Titan.  Dianne Marsh and Andy Glover represent Engineering Tools, and have 3 roles open: an engineering manager for Cloud Tools, a senior software engineer for Cloud Tools and a full stack senior software engineer for Delivery Engineering.

Find us! In addition to talking about the jobs listed above, we may even have stickers and, of course, monkeys.

You Did an Hour of Code … Now What?

This week, kids and parents and schools around the country are celebrating Computer Science Education Week with an Hour of Code. Even President Obama got involved, writing a little Javascript. But beyond writing code in school for an hour, what’s a parent to do to keep that excitement going?

Writing on a White Computer Keyboard

Here are some ideas:

  • The Khan Academy has some one hour lessons. Try Javascript or HTML/CSS!
  • The Python for Kids book is a great introduction for parents and kids alike. Programming books are often written badly, but I think that this one is well done.
  • Scratch Programming is all the rage at the elementary school level. Our local school is teaching a class which pretty closely follows this book.
  • Carnegie Mellon created the Alice Programming language for kids.

And, if you want to be the coolest mom (or dad) around, show your Minecraft kid how to program mods. First, read up on Minecraft mods on Wired. Next, here are some places to check out:

Hopefully that took you beyond the first few hours of coding and you made it fun!

P.S. There’s nothing saying that parents can’t do this … without the kids.

Continuous Delivery and Open Source: Taking it on the Road

I’m honored to be speaking at two conferences this week. First, I’ll be at the Open Business Conference in San Francisco.  Matt Asay is not only the VP of Business Development and Strategy at MongoDB, but he’s also one of the founders of the Open Business Conference. When he reached out and asked me to speak, I was honored and thrilled to be able to say yes. I’ll be speaking on how Netflix has woven together open source components to build a continuous delivery platform. Furthermore, other companies are able to use these projects as well, and build solutions that meet their needs. At Netflix, we’re pretty happy to provide these artifacts of our technology business practices to the community. We’ve benefitted from open source software as well, and it’s great to be able to contribute to the ecosystem. The Open Business Conference runs Monday and Tuesday. My talk is on Tuesday: “Continuous Delivery at Netflix: From Code to the Monkeys”. I’ll be participating in a town hall meeting in the afternoon as well.

And when Michael Keeling reached out to me about the SATURN 2014 conference, I was equally thrilled and excited. I was crushed when I realized that it was the same week as the Open Business Conference. With some clever finagling with both family and at work, I realized I could do both. So I’ll be delivering a keynote at SATURN on Thursday morning, “Engineering Velocity: Continuous Delivery at Netflix”.

So while I won’t get to spend as much time at either conference as I would like, I will get to attend both and only miss 2 bedtimes and 1 morning with my kids. And my team will rock through the week without me.  Hope to see many of you at one place or the other!

Michigan, Michigan Tech, and Netflix … oh my!

I was thrilled that the Michigan Tech Spring Break trip to Silicon Valley was able to make a stop at Netflix. My co-worker, Roy Rapoport, and I had some fun conversations with the students and I’m looking forward to their LinkedIn requests when they get settled back into life in the Copper Country. Oh, and fun tidbit — MTU was recognized in the “Top 20 Public Colleges with the Smartest Students” by Business Insider this week. Congrats to my alma mater!

And, this week, Evan Hauck stopped by Netflix to visit. He’s in town from Southwest Michigan to speak at the GPU Conference in San Jose. I first met Evan when he spoke at CodeMash Conference, two years ago. He’s doing some really interesting work on mass spectrometry while co-oping at Leco Corporation in St. Joseph, MI. What’s so unusual about Evan is that he’s a high school senior this year. A-mazing. Oh, and the connection with the Michigan Tech blurb above? Evan will attend Michigan Tech next year, and will study Computer Science. That “smartest students” thing is definitely getting a boost from Evan. Looking forward to seeing him on the Spring Break trip in a few years!



Prerequisites for Netflix Precompilers at CodeMash

In CodeMash-speak, we call the tutorials “precompilers”. If you’re planning to join the Netflix precompilers on Wednesday, here are the prerequisites (downloads, mostly) so that you’ll be ready to get started immediately. We only have 4 hours and lots to do!

Architecting for the Cloud: Hands on With NetflixOSS
Sudhir Tonse
Wednesday, January 8, 8:30-12:30

Browser (preferably Chrome or Safari as Netflix Asgard will not work with Firefox)
JDK 1.6 or later (Oracle SDK peferred)
gradle (See
(*) git (see
(*) Your favorite IDE. Instructions will be in Eclipse (Juno or later)
Gradle plugin recommended
(*) Apache Tomcat 7.X

The items marked in (*) are optional.
Git is used to clone the existing NetflixOSS repositories. If you dont have git installed, please download
IDE: Although useful you may also follow along with vi/emacs/<your favorite text editor> as well. We will use gradle to build and run the apps

Setting up your Environment for the AWS Cloud using Netflix OSS
Joe Sondow and Peter Sankauskas
Wednesday, January 8, 1:30-5:30

Your own AWS account (you can convert a shopping account), with Billing and Payments enabled.
Access to AWS console
git installed
Your favorite text editor.

We’ll walk you through the rest!

Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday!