Tag Archives: Open Spaces

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.

AACS priming the pump for Agile Summer Camp

The Ann Arbor Computer Society meeting tonight (Wednesday, September 3) will be an open spaces format, which will enable the attendees to customize the meeting to the topics that they want to discuss. Arrive with ideas about things that you want to talk about, and post them during the organizational period (early part of the meeting). Then, break into small groups and discuss. The meeting will start at 6:00, and is open to everyone. You do not need to be a member of AACS to attend OR to eat the pizza provided by the organization. You do need to be a member ($20/year) to qualify for door prizes.

Tonight's AACS meeting is a nice lead-in to this weekend's Agile Summer Camp, where developers will gather together at Brighton Recreation Area from Friday September 5 through Sunday September 7 to discuss agile software development in a low-tech (no electricity) open spaces environment. Camp if you want (there are 2 bunkhouses) or go home and come back each day.  But register soon!

Software Engineering Tools at SRT Solutions

Next week, on Tuesday, May 20, we're holding a 1-day open spaces event at SRT Solutions.  The theme is Software Engineering Tools.  The participants will define the topics for discussion, but we think that people might want to talk about version control, continuous integration, and other things that make their lives easier (or more miserable).

We're using Bazaar with one customer, and so that may come up.  We use subversion for most of our customers.  And, of course, there are cool tools that connect to version control systems, like Atlassian's FishEye.

And if we're talking about Atlassian tools, I would sure like to learn more about what Bamboo can do for us, and how that differs from Cruise Control

What I always find invaluable about bringing people together to talk about tools is the collective knowledge. We all have our own little subset of the software tool universe that we live and breathe in, and stepping outside of that world for a day to experience what other people find useful is a way to quickly become more effective.

Jay Wren always seems to have something to say about tools, and he's coming

The more the merrier.  Registration is at http://srtsolutions.com/static/SoftwareEngTools.html.  The $100 registration fee includes a continental breakfast and a boxed lunch.

ArbCamp 2007 was awesome!

Today, I had the pleasure to attend ArbCamp, an Open Spaces event that was held in the Ann Arbor area (at Washtenaw Community College).  Over 100 people showed up.  This event was incredibly well organized and, as with all of the Open Spaces events I've attended to date, an amazing learning experience.  This time, I definitely talked myself into going. I wasn't sure I wanted to go … it was on a Saturday.  It's time away from my kids.  The topic of the event was "social networks and social media", so this a little outside of my area of interest as a developer, but heck.  It was an Open Spaces event.  I was confident that it would be cool and my husband encouraged me to go, that he and the kids would have a fun day without me (which they did at a cool indoor playground).

I'm SO glad that I went. As I've experienced in the past, it's hard to go to an open spaces event and NOT participate. Even when the topics are a bit outside of your interest, there's often SOMETHING that you would like to learn or experience or even contribute.  This experience was no exception.

SRT is considering providing some space for coworking (allowing people to use our space, toward the idea of building collaborations, camaraderie, and broadening communication in the Ann Arbor area).  We're running into a little pushback from our insurance company, who, to be comfortable with the idea, wants some cold hard cash. I had other questions that I wanted to ask so in spite of not having any answers, I convened (*) a session on Coworking: Opportunities and Challenges.  It was great.  I learned more about the way that people are coworking in Ann Arbor and elsewhere, and I got a lot of useful suggestions.  And the other participants learned that there is more interest in coworking in Ann Arbor than they thought.  I know about this: we've been getting inquiries.

 (* Convening a session means that you add it to the schedule and take responsibility for showing up at the prescribed time and location and get things started, then get out of the way.  And it's OK to convene a session about which you know nothing, toward the idea of getting answers!)

I went to several other sessions that others convened, including one on setting up a similar 1-day event for the ArborParent group.  That's an interesting idea. I also went to one on B2B networking, where I learned a lot of things and hopefully provided some insight to others about the local community as well. The largest session that I attended was "Social Networking 101", where the topic was nominally LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, etc., but the group moved in several directions, including the cool features of other software, about which I know NOTHING (but will likely learn).  Some examples include: Jaiku and Pownce and Yahoo! Mash (which is WAY cool, according to the 20-somethings in attendance). We also talked about privacy online and how we all balance that (there was a separate session about balancing work and personal information while blogging, but I didn't attend that one).

Late in the day,I convened a session on "Dynamics of Online Communities".  We talked about our experiences with flame wars, moderating, meeting people in real life (IRL), building trust, acknowledging the "Grand Unseen Audience" (thanks Larry!), hot topics, sock puppets (I didn't know previously that this was the term for people who create a secondary identity for the purposes of criticizing others in an online community without "endangering" their "real" online persona!).  Anyhow, it was an absolutely fascinating discussion, I thought.

Joseph Jaffe did a keynote at the end of the day (separate ticket, not necessary to pay for that to attend ArbCamp).  I didn't go.  The discussion sounded somewhat interesting but not interesting enough to me to miss dinner with my family and to encounter post Michigan football game traffic in Ann Arbor (100,000 people leaving the stadium all at the same time is definitely something to avoid!).   There was an after-event gathering at Arbor Brewing Company, which may still be going on as I type this from my kitchen table.

I hope that people continue to organize open spaces events in Ann Arbor.  I was warned by Bruce Eckel a few years ago that people often become spoiled by Open Spaces events and don't like to go back to traditional conferences.  This definitely happened in my case, and we're adding a more significant open spaces component to CodeMash this year.  As a member of the organizing committee, I would prefer to go 100% to open spaces, but we're not there yet (sigh). But today, with the speaker deadline past for CodeMash, I was at least happy to know that many of the very cool and interesting people who I met at ArbCamp will be welcome to speak at CodeMash, in the Open Spaces sessions!

 I'll stop writing now in spite of still feeling excited about my day, and encourage everyone to go to Open Spaces events, even when they only seem like they might be marginally relevant to your life.  When it comes right down to it, when you put interesting people in a room together and encourage them to TALK to one another, interesting things happen.  You, too, may be spoiled for traditional conferences.

Early Bird Deadline for Suits & Geeks is today!

If you're planning to attend our Suits & Geeks event, today is the early bird deadline.  To get the $99 rate, you must be registered today.  Tomorrow, the price goes up to $125.  I'm really hoping that people sign up well before the last minute, so that catering is easier, since the registration fee includes both a continental breakfast and lunch.

Suits & Geeks is an open spaces event designed to get business people and technologists talking to one another in a way that leads us all to write and deliver great software that meets our customers' needs.  The content will be decided by the participants, so bring your questions and your expertise. In my experience, open space events are very interesting in that you both learn more and contribute more than you thought you would. 

Here's a link to my previous blog post about the event.

Here's a link to the registration page for the event.

Hope to see you there.

SRT hosting Suits & Geeks event

SRT is hosting an Open Spaces event at Automation Alley in Troy next month.  Suits & Geeks; Bridging the Business/Technology Gap, will be held on Tuesday, November 6 from 9 am-4:30 at Automation Alley headquarters.  Postcards to Automation Alley members went out today and we're already getting some interest (including one person who confessed to having grinned at the flyer). The event is open to everyone, so please join us!

From our registration page:

Suits and Geeks is designed to help bridge the communication divide between management and technologists in order to create technology solutions that drive business forward. This open spaces event will help technologists learn how to convince business managers why new hardware and software is actually good for business. Business managers will learn how to convince technologists to be more receptive to market timing and positioning.

Suits and Geeks includes a continental breakfast, sponsored by Summit Mobile Solutions, and a catered box lunch. Space for this event is limited and registration is required.

Cost of the event is $99 for attendees who pre-register by October 23, $125 for registration between October 24-November 5, and $150 at the door.

Suits and Geeks 

The Automation Alley space is well configured for an open spaces event, although one has never been held there before.  We will have several separate areas for meeting, and a space big enough for everyone to get together for a quick intro in the morning and a wrap-up in the afternoon (and for lunch, of course).  I hope that you will join us, whether you are a suit or a geek!

Events Worth the Travel

Upcoming Events Outside of Michigan

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am a huge fan of Open Spaces events.  In particular, I've really enjoyed the Open Spaces events that Bruce Eckel has offered, in Crested Butte, Colorado.

In about a week, you could travel to Crested Butte (about a 5 hr drive from Denver), and combine the Flex & AIR Jam and the Rich Internet Application Summit all in one.  Since Adobe is giving away a $499 license for FlexBuilder with the Flex & AIR Jam registration, that conference is an amazing value.  James Ward, Adobe Flex Evangelist, will be there too, of course. James is a great guy and also a great contributor to Open Spaces events.  He has a really great knack at distilling a problem into manageable chunks and showing you how to use Flex to solve it.

Immediately following the Flex & AIR Jam is the Rich Internet Application Summit.  Bruce is even offering a discount if you attend both events.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

If your employer is wincing at the expense, it's way less expensive than attending a traditional conference like Java One and, in my experience, more useful. And, you can always get a room at the International Hostel to save money on lodging. It's a great place!

I wish that I were going.  If things shake out just right around here, I may end up out there yet.  It's hard to stay home when I know that there is a really great learning experience going on. And the hiking and mountain biking are great out there this time of year as well!

Bruce Eckel's Open Spaces Events

BarCamp Grand Rapids

July 20-21

Carlus Henry let me know that BarCamp Grand Rapids is being held this weekend.  It definitely looks like a good time.

Even if you can't make it to the BarCamp, the site has some great links about what a BarCamp is and how it's organized, even how to organize one yourself.

It's organized as an Open Spaces event, and I'm a huge advocate.  It would be fun to be in Grand Rapids this weekend, but a 2 year old and a 4 year old (and their dad!) have my attention this weekend.  Would love comments posted on how it goes though!

BarCamp Grand Rapids

Summary of the first morning at the Microsoft Technology Summit

This has been an interesting day so far. There were a lot of interesting topics, and the speakers were very knowledgeable (and all have very cool jobs). Unfortunately, I have been spoiled by the Open Spaces conferences that I have attended. While many of the speakers provided ample time for questions, there’s still the sense that there is a speaker and an audience. There’s a stage, and powerpoint. There’s a presentation. This is NOT a conversation such as I am used to in Open Spaces. I’m not just picking nits here. I’ve been spoiled by the idea that it’s a democratic conversation where opinions are freely exchanged rather than topics are handed down. There’s clearly a leader directing questions. And I’m pretty sure that the speaker isn’t getting much out of the conversation either. If the goal here is to get opinions from the non-believers in the group (and I think that’s part of it), then this isn’t going to serve Microsoft as well as having an open conversation with the participants in discussions where the participants set the agenda and we all sit around in a circle and talk. I had many interesting conversations last night at the evening reception and some today at breakfast too. Looking forward to the breaks and lunch and while I’m actually learning things in the session, I’m not actively engaged. I’m sitting here, taking notes. And reading email.

UI Smackdown 2007 Early Bird Expires Today

If you’ve been planning to attend the User Interface Smackdown 2007 event to explore GWT, Flex, and WPF, today is the last day to get early bird pricing. At close of business today, we’ll be updating the pricing, so if you’ve been planning to attend and have just been procrastinating, the time is now.

We’re also getting really close to reaching capacity for the event. Unfortunately, the “Buy now” buttons for Google checkout don’t seem to support limiting quantity, so we’ve been manually watching registrations.

On a more technical note, I’m going to have to look into tying into the Google checkout API, I think. My wish list for Google checkout includes support for limiting quantity, being able to specify how many items to buy at a given time, and being able to add a comment field, so that people can manually add information about who they are registering. That’s probably a bit much to ask for in the Buy Now button realm, but hey! Anyhow, I’m looking forward to diving into the Google checkout API to see what we can do with it.

And, back on topic: register now if you’ve been planning to attend. Hope to see you there!

Registration link

UI Smackdown 2007 Event Details