I recently had the opportunity to attend the Java Posse Roundup, a small open spaces conference put on by the Java Posse and Bruce Eckel. I have mostly focused on the .NET stack professionally, and while I work hard to avoid being a zealot, I still expected to be a .NET outcast in a world of Java developers. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect from the conference. I had never listened to a Java Posse podcast, and I only went because conference regulars Barry Hawkins, Dianne Marsh, and Joe Nuxoll (a posse member) said that I would enjoy it.
The result? Nothing short of awesome. I had an amazing time. The conference members were very welcoming to a .NET “outsider”, inspiring ideas were exchanged, and I learned a lot about the Java world. Here are five specific reasons why it was worth the trip:
1. Open Spaces
If you’ve never experienced open spaces, you need to. In short, open spaces are an effort to facilitate the organic discussions that happen in hallways and around bar tables at normal eyes forward conferences. Attendees post ideas for discussion topics on sticky notes and place them in a time slot, and people get together and talk around that topic. Whoever shows up is the right group, whatever happens, happens, and if you aren’t interested in the topic, it is your responsibility to find (or form) a group that does interest you.
I previously experienced open spaces at CodeMash, but the Roundup takes it to another level. All of the sessions are open spaces sessions, and all of the attendees really buy into the idea of open spaces, so the conversations that happen are incredible. Another interesting twist at the Roundup is that most of the sessions are recorded which I think helps to make sure people contribute positively to the discussion.
If you still aren’t convinced that the format makes for awesome content, here’s how you know: I was out until at least 2 every night, and I still woke up at 8 every morning to make the 8:30 sessions. There’s no way that I’d make it 5 days at any other conference without skipping at least one morning session.
2. Lightning Talks
Two evenings of the conference were devoted to lightning talks, which are presentations lasting 5 minutes or less. There were no limits on topics, and variety was definitely encouraged; topics ranged from taxidermy to Continuous Integration environments and everything in between. The lightning talks educated me about a wide variety of things, but they also helped me learn the attendees interests better which led to even more interesting discussions and stronger connections later in the conference.
Don’t believe me? Check out the lightning talk recordings.
3. A Small, Welcoming Community
Unlike most conferences, there were only around 50 attendees at the Roundup, and that was a good thing. Aside from the fact that the town of Crested Butte doesn’t scale well for a much bigger conference, the number of attendees meant that I knew almost everyone there by name by the end of the week. At most larger conferences, you may meet one or two folks that you get to know well, but at the Roundup I was able to develop great connections with dozens of thought leaders in the industry. That type of exposure is invaluable and is much more difficult to encounter at larger conferences.
4. Cross Training
As a “.NET guy”, I learned a lot about the culture and thinking of folks in the Java Community. Some folks were even interested in picking my brain about F#. I spent a couple of the afternoons working with Dick Wall (another posse member) and others working to get the F# Koans running on Ubuntu. Along the way, I was able to learn a lot about Scala by asking Dick to compare the F# features we were working with to Scala. Cross training between platforms and communities like this is incredibly rewarding and educational, and it’s something that I wish we did more of as an industry.
5. Crested Butte
A picture’s worth a thousand words:
Best. Conference Destination. Ever. The one downside? Bonding over skiing, while fun, makes late nights of socializing even more tiring in the morning.