i'm fluent in javascript as well as klingon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bacamp RDU 2010 afterword

BarCamp RDU 2010

I attended Barcamp RDU Saturday October 23rd at RedHat's Headquarters on North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus. The Barcamp has been hosted there for the last five years. It was delayed a bit this go 'round from the usual August date, due mainly to a transition of organizers. Jason Austin led the effort this year and by my account, I'd call the developer focused event a success! I missed the pre-event social the night before, and Jason said it was not all that well attended at around 15-20, but "more beer for them!" in his words. I wanted to jolt down some thoughts here about the sessions I attended and other observations about the event which was organized by a new set of dedicated volunteers this year. New to barcamps? Read this and watch these videos.

BarCamp RDU 2010
Jason Austin kicks things off at 9am

This year I participated as a speaker, pitching a talk idea on QR Codes. It turns out that there was another developer who had pitched a talk on QR Codes based on a side project he was developing on Google AppEngine. No worries, unconference organization to the rescue. We split his topic into two and then teamed up to drop the knowledge on QR Codes. I'll get to this in a dedicated post and I'll comment now about a couple of the other talks. I attended a talk on "Designing RESTful APIs" led by Elliot Peele, a developer from rPath. It seemed like there were developers from various backgrounds in this talk and the entire talk consisted of questions, answers and discussion with the audience. I think this was a good approach. Here quickly I'll share some of the bullet points raised by the developers.
  • Background: there are xml frameworks used by rPath: xmlrpc, restlib (dev'd by rPath), and some django libs.
  • concerning RESTful apis, rPath wrote their own XML serializer to get AS3 for their Flex client UI.
  • my question: you seem to be building a system for internal use only, not an open web API, right?
  • Main question of this session from Elliot: how do you do pagination over really large collection sets?
  • audience: get said really huge dataset and hope your server can handle it - joke
  • audience: you can use django api for getting slices
  • audience: postgres 9.1 will return json representation
  • audience: we use memcache on the backend for caching in the app server instead
  • Elliot: most caching proxies won't cache query URLs - according to google caching rules
  • audience: atom has a link tag in the xml for next, current, last - points to collection.
  • why not just use Atom publishing protocol for collections? Elliot: Atom is heavy for some people.
  • audience: have you ever tried JEE JAX-RS, to use ORM?
  • audience: most AJAXy clients likely support XML, YAML, JSON - maybe not Atom
  • audience: have you looked at twitter or facebook graph? fb queries based on current item for say 50 more.
  • Elliot: i don't have YADL or WSDL i just discover an API
  • spirited discussion over whether it's okay and how to go about changing the REST API thereby breaking clients.
  • main take away: there is no right way to build RESTful APIs other than the one that works at the time. not sure this is the best approach but it is reality.

BarCamp RDU 2010 REST talk
Some XML for REST APIs via rPath

I also attended about 20 minutes worth of Andria Jensen's iPhone App Development 101 talk. I believe the slides will be posted on slideshare and this was very much an in-depth practical tutorial style session with a live walk-through (look: code!) of building out an iPhone application. There was a lot of chatter on twitter about the lack of diversity, read: women, in attendance at the barcamp. I had a few thoughts on this as it has become a real top of mind issue and subject of back channel discussion at many other large conferences as well. I had this conversation with Jennifer Wig while waiting for the hordes of developers to form lines for lunch. In my mind, Barcamps in particular suffer from the issue of awareness in general. The unconference concept is still relatively new to many developers and it's a challenge to communicate the benefit to new comers. There is a bit of anxiety experienced by developers unaccustomed to pitching and speaking in large settings. I argue this is all the more reason to "Do eeeet!" Back to my original point, I found Andria's talk to be a well prepared technical primer for developers. A sufficient nudge to get all of you out there with "the one real killer iPhone app idea" off the couch and on the road to fun and/or profit. I found it to be in the style of the excellent jQuery development talk from Barcamp 2009 by Rebecca Murphey, which led me to proclaim that "the best session of the barcamp" for 2 years running has been led by a woman! This is a good thing. Now, where was Rebecca this year? Traveling. Things happen when tech events are scheduled on a Saturday. What's been your experience with the "diversity gap" at other Barcamps and tech events in general?

BarCamp RDU rocks
Andria is ready to dazzle the packed house crowd with iPhone app dev tips

The most encouraging thing I experienced this year happened when Cristóbal Palmer asked the crowd, "Who is new to Barcamp today?" It appeared to me that around 50-60% of the audience raised their hands (wish I'd snapped that pic!). However, does this point out that there were many from prior years who did not return? We can debate it many different ways, but it's true what Shawn points out in my video spot with him. You come to Barcamp because you want to be here. These are the most passionate and curious people in the developer community of any given city. I put it to you another way, you get what you give. It was pointed another way by Cristóbal, "Everyone is an organizer at Barcamp. Everyone participates."

BarCamp RDU 2010
Cristóbal Palmer explains how Barcamps work

It's interesting to note that each talk I attended was hosted in the Main room, meaning The Big Room, including my talk. I don't know why that is, but I thought I'd point it out. Apparently over 40 people wanted to learn about QR Codes and I think that is awesome! This voter popularity may have made it one of the most attended sessions at Barcamp RDU but I really think the iPhone application dev 101 talk by Andria was most well attended. I could not stay for all of the afternoon sessions as I had to dash off at 2pm to watch each of my sons blow out their last CASL soccer matches of the fall season, scoring 4 goals between the two of them! Gooooaaaalllllzzzzz!! I had hoped to attend the talks about NoSQL, Git, How to Rock your User Group by Jason Austin (see TriPUG), Using Dropbox as a source code repo, Using Apache Aries / OSGi for dependency injection by IBMers Lin Sun and Joe Bohn, Open source Web Framework feedback by Lincoln Baxter of JBoss, Linked Data by Dave Johnson (slides), Usability, Accessibility and SEO from David Minton of DesignHammer, and Location based services by Wayne Sutton. That's the problem with unconferences. The trouble isn't finding something of interest, it's choosing which sessions to miss. The geek humor and nerd sensibility was definitely shining through on some of the pitch titles. I especially liked "Pivot or quit it!" on Lean Startup strategy. I'm anxious to see others blog about these sessions. The entire schedule grid for Barcamp RDU 2010 can be read on Google docs or seen from the actual wall in my photo gallery on Flickr. I took it upon myself to snap loads of photos around the Barcamp on Saturday and it seemed there were not all that many photogs in the bunch. This was in addition to my attempt to live-tweet the morning sessions and interact with folks I knew and new acquaintances as well, on twitter. The hashtag was #BarcampRDU and there is a full tweet archive on twapper keeper. From my perspective it seems there was not a ton of twitterers at the Barcamp. There is still a bit of a challenge with developers being really overtly social at events, while connecting online simultaneously. I also noticed that the number of people who "checked into" Redhat on location-based social networks like Foursquare and TriOut was relatively low. I believe I recall only about 6 people "w/ me" at RedHat HQ. We had a techie swarm IRL, but no swarm badges awarded here, folks. Or maybe I'm an over-sharer?

BarCamp RDU 2010
Joe Bohn marks his votes for Barcamp talks on the schedule grid

I also shot some quick impromptu video interviews with 4 people at the Barcamp. I'll embed the nerdy faux news video with Wayne Sutton (he of socialwayne.com fame and bona fide LBS nerd) and Jay Cuthrell (Cuthrell Consulting was a big sponsor). The audio in my spot with Jason Austin, 2010 Barcamp RDU organizer, was too low to be intelligible but I'm working to re-cut it. Stay tuned. My 4th video interview is with my QR Code talk co-host Shawn Hartsock.

Final thoughts: Blue t-shirts? We're on the NCSU campus, at RedHat for howlin' out loud. We need some RED! Go Pack. Also, the food was good. Bagels and coffee in the AM from local fave Bruegger's and tantalizing spice fare from Qdoba at lunch. Plus, I won a prize on twitter. What?! Yes! The quintessential issue at all popular tech events - poor wi-fi - did not present much of an issue. Good job, RedHat. Geeks like their bandwidth. It was nice to see the session where companies presented current opportunities with the audience; open positions = good. I'd like to give a shout-out to all the folks I was glad to see and talk with at Barcamp RDU 2010, in no particular order: Jason Austin, Justis Peters, Tanner Lovelace, Bran Ganesan, Ian Shields, Shawn Hartsock, Jennifer Wig, Audra Marotta, Leo Suarez, Varsha Chawla, Thomas Vincent, Wayne Sutton, Jay Cuthrell, David Minton, Leandra Ganko, Lenore Ramm, Ted Kirby, Lin Sun, Joe Bohn, Jay Clark, Dave Johnson (excellent Barcamp RDU 2009 organizer), Pat Mueller and probably a half dozen others I'm forgetting at this hour.

Update: Blog coverage by others
Barcamp Wrapup by Thomas Vincent AKA @geistbear

Disclaimer: I work for IBM, and IBM DeveloperWorks was a sponsor of BarCamp RDU 2010. My team's group community is hosted on DW.


wayne sutton said...

awesome video and recap! As a UNC fan, loved the blue barcamprdu shirts ;)

Tanner Lovelace said...

We had red t-shirts last year. I was hoping for green as we had blue 2 years ago two, but I was outvoted.

Ryan Boyles said...

Tanner, I was hoping for Green shirts too! I should have mentioned that... I think it's really cool that the Barcamp organizers polled the attendees to help decide on the T-shirt design palette. Thanks!