Strange Loop is a conference held in St. Louis, MO, started by Alex Miller. Much like CodeMash, Strange Loop is a developer-organized conference, and is offered at a price (around $250 for 2 days) that attracts those who self-pay and those who work for small companies. I’ve found that the self-motivated individuals are engaged attendees! I decided last winter that I wanted to branch out to attend other regional conferences beyond CodeMash and Strange Loop was top on my list. I was thrilled when Alex asked me to present the Scala Koans at Strange Loop as a 3-hour workshop on Sunday.
The koans approach to learning computer languages offers small exercises, in a test-driven manner, so that people can learn a language by through small steps and self-discovery. Offering a koans workshop is an effective way to encourage people to work on the exercises, since they can ask questions and stay engaged. Particularly while the koans are being developed, any gaps in our “lessons” can be addressed by the instructors, on site. Strange Loop targets 30-40 attendees for workshops, so I asked Joel Neely and Daniel Hinojosa, both who have experience with the koans, to co-present at Strange Loop. This offered a 10:1 student to instructor ratio, which ensured that people were able to make good progress in the 3 hours. (Having 3 presenters also allowed one of us to slip out and order some pizzas for our hungry students, since our session ran 11:30-2:30 and hungry brains don’t focus well! And no, we didn’t plan to order pizza ahead of time!). Our session was well-attended and we got some great feedback. Hallway rumblings and tweets seem to indicate it was well-received. For those who are interested in learning more about the koans, I’m in the process of bringing up a website to provide resources, code, and other hints at ScalaKoans.org. It’s not live yet, so I’ll let you know when it’s up (expecting in the next week or so, depending on how much time I can find to get the content there). In the meantime, you can access the student exercises at our bitbucket site.
Back to Strange Loop. The workshop day was an optional day. The first full day of the conference was on Monday. I attended some interesting sessions, including:
- Category Theory, Monads, and Duality in (Big) Data by Erik Meijer (Microsoft)
- Functional Thinking by Neal Ford (ThoughtWorks)
- Storm: Twitter’s scalable realtime computation system by Nathan Marz (Twitter)
- Extreme Cleverness: Functional Data Structures in Scala by Daniel Spiewak
- Scalaz: Purely Functional Programming in Scala by Runar Bjarnason
- We Don’t Really Know How to Compute by Gerald Sussman (MIT)
I also attended a purely fun session, “Learn to play Go” by Rich Hickey, creator of Clojure. Finally, I may be able to figure out what to do with the Go board that’s been sitting in my basement for a very long time! I was able to play a game with another newbie and we were very evenly matched!
The Scala talks were interesting. I tend to focus on the simplicity of Scala, as a better language than Java for the JVM. These talks were focused on getting the most out of the functional aspects of Scala. As the industry sees momentum toward using functional for what it does best, this will be very relevant. Strange Loop, in general, has a fairly functional bent to it, and that’s quite fun!
I’ll fill in about day 2 of Strange Loop later. But there are more talks to attend!