Category Archives: conferences

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Reflections on MicroConf Europe 2015

I go to conferences. That’s one of my quirks. I think there’s an evolution of a conference goers. You start with big, flashy conferences. Everything is exciting, new city, people, big brands, technology. But then you start noticing the cracks. Talks are just marketing hype for new technology – not too useful in everyday engineering. Big parties and participants that just want more free beer and to party. The stress of it all.

At some point, you start going to smaller events. Targeted, single track, speakers mingle with attendees. These are either a hit of miss. MicrConf was a hit.

MicrConf is a conference that’s targeted towards bootstrapped entrepreneurs. Because the focus it’s not on how to get VC funding, it significantly changes the discussions. 

Christoph already made good notes from the talks, so I won’t publish mine. What follows are more high level ideas that I got at the event.

Being inspired by success of others

It’s possible, the dream is real. People can actually make money by producing content that others want. While I have friends that have done it, it still doesn’t feel real. But talking to 10+ people, that make good money from WordPress plugins made it real for me. You can still make money by selling shareware!

I got a lot of nudges from people, to put all the online advice into practice. Just publishing that first WP plugin and making a paid upgrade is enough. You won’t get rich, but you’ll learn enough to improve on it.

That was an overwhelming theme of a lot of talks. Explaining how they were looking for a product/market fit, how they recognised it and what kind of challenges they faced.

Asking the right questions

At technical conferences, people don’t usually talk about their feelings. It’s easy to be unhappy about customers when you work for somebody else. When you are self employed, you can decide. Did you pick your customers because you want to work with them, or just because they had money?

The other way of thinking about this problem is – what is the natural size of company, that is solving this problem. A small plugin can be done by a single person, while more feature complete software as a service app, requires a team. The decision becomes – do you want to lead your own team, or would you be happier alone.

Forming good habits

It’s easy to dismiss business books as “nice story, but not for me”. Then you hear the stories from people, that actually followed their advice. Going to a retreat, where they rethought their strategy. Started writing down operating procedures. Hired people that actually wanted to do important things, that they were avoiding or were too stressful for them. Understanding your own shortcomings and working around them.

A new world

I think I burned out on startups. All that pressure to raise funding, get insane growth numbers and prove that you can get more funding, isn’t for me. But in this community, the focus is on every single user. Why did they join, what made them select this service and how does our service help them. There is still pressure to deliver, but you don’t the extra stress of unrealistic expectations. 

Talking to attendees of MicroConf, showed me that it’s possible to be an entrepreneur, without having to raise funding. Now to see what I can build in the next 12 months.

PolyConf 2015

Notes from PolyConf 2015 – Conference for developers who code in multiple languages

As developer, I feel that I work inside my technology bubble. I keep using the same tools. Because of this, it takes a lot of effort to learn new development paradigms and languages.
PolyConf was a small conference, less than 300 people in beautiful Poznan, Poland. The breadth of content, participants and organisation made it stand out.

I’ve made some notes on the impressions, that the talks and discussion provided.

Types and Immutable data structures.

Most of the talks were building on top of functional programming paradigms. There are clear benefit of that approach, as we move towards multi-core, distributed computing. I can’t wait to see some of these concept in upcoming Python 3 releases.

In this regard, Facebook’s Flow provides alternative to types in JavaScript. This has benefits over writing your code into TypeScript or ClojureScript.

Language for Every Problem

As we’ve seen in Python community – change is hard. That is why development is happening in new languages. Some decide to build whole ecosystem, while others compile to a common VM or language.

Two of the presented languages – Crystal and Elixir, were both influenced by Ruby. I would like to understand, what is about Ruby syntax that makes it a good basis for language development.

New languages also come with new frameworks. Phoenix for Elixir is one of them. A scalable web framework, that is using streams to keep processes separated and get speed benefits. A year ago, I would be skeptical about using new web framework. But with microservices and Single Page Apps, it looks like there is opportunity to experiment. We’ve offloaded most of the representation and business logic to clients.

Lots of Practical Advice

One of the benefits of being a polyglot is so you can use official libraries. A lot of good things are happening on JVM stack that we can’t just ignore.

Beware of defaults – they are usually not optimal for your use case.

The main benefit if knowing lots of languages, is to be able to borrow different concepts. If you want to explore different concepts, consider:

Data Science

Jupyter Notebook with Pandas looks like the new default for starting with data analysis. Continuum Analytics are sponsoring a powerful ecosystem. I’ve learned that there is a library called PySpark, that introduces out-of-cpu computing supports. This allows Pandas to scale even better.
The demo of Julia language showed power of implicit types and great things they can do for science computing. Worth checking out, especially now that it Juypter supports it.

But wait, there’s more

  • Racket – A programmable programming language
  • miniKanren – embedded Domain Specific Language for logic programming.
  • Emojilisp – because, why not.


I went to the conference without any expectations. For most part I assumed it will be way too complicated for me. But I met a group of passionate people, that were happy to explain in simple words why they love the the languages they work in.

We should figure out how to bring such levels of discussion and participation to our other events.

PolyConf 2016 is already on my conference list for the next year.

Photo by David Klasinc  (cc-by)

What I learned by organising WebCamp Ljubljana 2015

We did it – 350+ happy web people enjoying a day together, talking about the things they are passionate about. I’m sure it was mostly not about “web”, but it was as good excuse as any to get together. It took about 25 people in the end to make it happen and I’m thankful to all that made it possible. Thank you!

Despite being our ~6th event with 100+ participants, I still learned a lot of important lessons.

Lesson: Make (transparent) plans and document things

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder said: “no plan survives contact with the enemy*”. I never understood it, until we made plans and then we tried to execute them and things changed. But just going through the motions of making a plan was useful.

Having a shared Google Drive folder helped. A set of documents, expectations and timelines allowed us to synchronise our expectations.

It’s also important that you make an archive of data available to others as team members change between events. It’s no fun if you have to ask people to dig through their archive of 1 year+ old emails.

Lesson: Effort is diamond shaped

If you look at amount of work required, you start with a small core, grow it and then wind down, after the event.
This has implications for staff meetings and timelines. You don’t have to have meetings of everyone, feel free to just email updates to people that will help you later.

Lesson: Involve external groups

Conferences usually consist of presentations with many side activities. This allows you bring more interesting people to event and to hand them over certain level of autonomy in planing them. Less work for core team with a better end result.


It’s a weird sport – a couple of months of work for a single day event, but it ends up being a really good party.

*(“Moltke’s main thesis was that military strategy had to be understood as a system of options since only the beginning of a military operation was plannable.”).

Tips on Surviving a Community event like MozFest

MozFest was huge (1500+ attendees), spanned 9 floors and had at least 16 concurrent tracks running at any given time. That’s without all the additional community areas showing their projects and the future of open society.

Based on a number of other similar events I attended and helped organised in the past (BarCamps, CCC) here are the basics, with most important at the beginning.

Keep track of your Water and Food intake

It’s surprisingly easy to get dehydrated if you’re out of your normal everyday comfort zone. You get distracted by people and talks, so make sure you start a day with a water bottle, provided by the organisers or just 0.5L bottle that you can refill. I’m in a habit that I always go to refill it once it’s empty.

Most importantly, avoid sugar and coffee (and run away from Club Mate). You probably don’t eat a Mars bar during the day and drink 4 latte’s so you probably won’t even recognise when your body crashed. But you’ll be cranky and won’t be able to enjoy the event. If you normally drink coffee or tea, try to drink only as much as you would on a normal day in the office.

To fix the problem of not running on sugary things, try to figure out how to eat the 5 – 6 meals during the conference day. The problem here is that croissant or a similar pastry doesn’t help since it’s too sugary and you will once again crash. For MozFest I’ve looked up closest store that was open that day and bought myself a mix of nuts and a sandwich. Don’t relay on organisers that they will be able to provide food that will make sense under such conditions (avoiding sugar). It’s more or less impossible at that scale, without exploding the costs of catering.

App Idea: preset the times and it will buzz your phone so you don’t forget to drink and eat.

Figure out ahead of time when you’re going to take your break

Events are super exciting, but you’re not doing yourself a service if you’re tired and unfocused. The more events I go to, the more I’m happy with hearing just 2 or 3 good talks a day or even with just a few good chats with new friends.

So if I discover that nothing super interest me, I will rather find a quieter spot and disconnect a bit from all the noise and people. It’s also a great opportunity to find a quick snack somewhere near the venue.

Read the Schedule and talk to Regulars

I’m not sure why, but getting a super big schedule often means I don’t invest the time to properly study it. Which always turns out to be a big mistake as I don’t have a good idea about what I really want to hear about. This is a bit easier with smaller one or two track events.

I often go to events alone as I’m trying to visit new communities that are outside of my regular professional work. Whenever I manage to befriend a Regular conference attendee they could quickly tell me who are the speakers that are consistently giving the best talk, even if it doesn’t seem so from the talk description.

Meet new people by being easy to approach

I love my geek t-shirts. The ones with logos from the Programming languages and environments that I work with. It makes it easy to let others know what you’re interested to know and it’s a perfect conversation starter for both. Remember to compliment the Fizzbuzz 0.5x.3 release T-Shirt of a fellow attendee.

If you’re a part of a smaller group and you have something to contribute, do that and/or ask your questions. You will let a wider group of people know what you’re interested about, you’re share something useful and there’s a high chance that after the session ends, some of them will want to talk to you.

Don’t overdo it

I keep trying to do too many things. Be at the venue for the first talk go to sessions and visit the after party. Depending on the venue and party, I’ve started opting for a proper dinner and a full nights sleep instead of trying to shout at people and at a loud venue.

This are the five basics that I always get at least one wrong. So they’re not as obvious as they seem.

Tell me what I missed, but keeps you running at events?

MozFest – Learning Analytics

Learning Analytics are targeted at administrations that is trying to understand how teachers and students are interacting with the tools and processes inside the educational system.

(This blog post is just a collection of my personal notes and extra thoughts and is not something that a specific person said inside a discussion and that I probably misunderstood anyway).

There are multiple aspects to the concept of Learning Analytics, depending on who you are and what are you tracking.

Online Courses

Simple and straightforward tracking of students progress, how much time they spent on a specific piece of content, what worked for them and what didn’t. The basic premise being that you can have a feedback loop built into each iteration of the course and refine it as you go.

Besides all the research in the MOOCs area, I think there are two other interesting areas of general development in this field:

Commercial Tools like Summit Evergreen.

The problem that they are solving is that if people don’t finish their paid commercial course, they want their money back and they don’t learn and you can’t offer them better courses (and it’s overall a bad experience). So you closely track their progress and once you see that they’re not progressing, you start emailing them and trying to help them overcome whatever problem they have.

General research areas.

As we start to develop better online tools, we can also start publishing academic research papers on user behaviour. There is a persistent ethical question of when is ethically unacceptable to even build in tracking mechanisms compared to gathering everything where you anonymise the data after the fact. I do not think this part of community has already developed as well as understood all the issues. The fact that everyone is trying to publish papers so they can justify their research and get PhD’s does not provide good incentives for researchers to self-limit their access to data.

Motivational Characteristics

If you’re working in Web development, you’ve heard of a concept of *Dark Pattern* by now. It is a practice of interface that is designed to trick you into doing something you did not want, buying extra insurance or subscribing to newsletter. Whole experience of buying airplane ticket online also comes to mind.

It shouldn’t be a surprise for me, that there is a strong correlation between personality traits of certain age groups and how they react to different user interface elements. I do not have better data, but as far as I understand there are certain age and gender groups that will be strongly influenced by, e.g. the number of follower counts.

This has several interesting implications – do we try to design with such traits in mind or do we perceive it as a dark pattern and rather build more online version of a textbook instead of highly competitive online learning environment?

Designing Online Reputation Systems

I would love to learn more about different motivational characteristics of online users. But until I can find a good resource on this topic, I can recommend an excellent talk by Randy Farmer:

(and his book – Building Web Reputation Systems).

It’s about Educating Everyone

Some the issues and exposed problems might be mitigated by having better and more clearly presented privacy policies. Instead of just gathering data, get users to opt-in into collection and clearly present value to them and how this research helps everyone. Example of such data collection project done in an extremely transparent fashion was Mozilla Lab’s Test Pilot – . Where they would show you a graphic of the data you’re about to send and ask you again if you’re ok with that.

Having similar approaches to the analytics tools inside different online services in this field could make it easier for both students and their guardians to understand what is going on.

To me it also seems possible that we’re much sooner see new legalisation in this regard in EU compared to USA. This will once again present problems when using both open and closed platforms that will try to upsell local educators on benefits that might legal risk to them.

The Future

Big Data and Everything Analytics is an emerging trend that we will soon start seeing much more research and work done on. It will also mean that we’ll start to talk to educators about things like A/B testing and funnel analysis. More complex technologies and concepts for everyone.