Location: Portland, ME
I arrived via train in the historic city of Portland (the First Portland, as they say around there) in the mid afternoon. It was raining and blustery out and made for a grey but very beautifully dramatic landscape as is the norm for New England. I hopped in the first Uber I could grab and made my way to my hotel. After checking-in, fielding some work and getting settled, I meander my way through the Old Port area to the Casco Bay Lines for the event of the evening; The Monktoberfest: Harbor Cruise mixer.
In case you’ve not heard of The Monktoberfest “un” conference, it’s a small, informal collection of technologist and beer lovers that convene in the great city of Portland, Maine. For the 2 days of the event, the attendees listen to talks on a variety of technology-centric topics ranging from diversity to continuous deliver to homebrew automation. Oh, and also partaking in some amazing beers. I have to think that Portland is the capital of craft beers.
It was pretty easy to find the right boat by the collection of “techie” looking folks standing around enrobed with various technology related shirts, hats, and satchels. This being my second Monktoberfest, I knew what to expect and immediately remembered how casual and approachable everyone is that attends. While waiting for the boat I immediately struck up conversation with the nearest person next to me. A native of Portland I made fast friends with Sarah Hines (@sarah_hines) who owns and operates a local WordPress shop, Shines & Jecker , and services a variety of small and medium sized businesses. While standing in line I also saw the infamous Samantha Ready (@samantha_ready), from SFDC, and looped her into my growing circle of pre-cruise friends. We also met John Stoltenborg (@tlots), another Portland area developer and I learned that everyone in my initial circle was a first-time-monktoberfester.
On board the boat we got into the bar line before it got too big so as to sample some of the delicious local Maine brews. I grabbed a Bissel Brewery’s “The Substance” and headed outside to get some fresh air on the cruise and meet some more folks. I met Peter Busque (@busquep1), an engineer with Cisco’s Meta Cloud and owner of the Hopyard, as well as re-met my buddy (from when I used to develop for Newsgator), Ashley Roach (@aroach) who now also works at Cisco as an API architect. Overall, there was an incredible mix of folks with a variety of technical backgrounds and lots of interesting things to say. This event was off to a terrific start.
After the cruise various groups peeled off in search of some food and more conversations. Over dinner I talked with Fintan Ryan (@fintanr) who’s an analyst from Redmonk’s London office. We discussed a myriad of topics ranging from Heroku’s new VPC offering to jay walking and where it’s the accepted norm. I also hung out with the amazing Dave Carroll (@dcarroll), SFDC dev evangelist, with whom I had a fun philological discussion as well as talked Salesforce shop. There were, of course, more delicious beers and my Untappd profile expanded at an unprecedented rate.
The next morning, after a healthy breakfast of bacon, eggs and more bacon, I made my way to the main event at the Portland Public Library. From there I met more folks and re-met folks from the previous evening. The presentation line up was as follows:
- Justin Sheehy: Just Another Privileged Impostor
- Very interesting discussion on privilege and diversity
- Rafe Colburn: Management is Not About Sorting Apples
- This one hit home with it’s discussion about errors, blame, and how to learn from mistakes when developing
- Brady Murray: (Un)social Networks
- Great presentation on the sad truths of social networks and their likeness to echo-chambers
- KellyAnn Fitzpatrick: Dungeons and Towers: Medievalism, Gaming, and the Academy
- Awesome discussion incorporating D&D, Tolkein and History. Tickled my geek-bone for sure.
- Luis Villa: Constraints on Very Open Systems
- Really great comparisons to historical events and the development of the Wikipedia
- Peter Busque: Here’s What You Don’t Know About the Hop Market
- This made me want to invest all my money in the beer industry
Of these amazing speakers, the ones that resonated with me most were Rafe’s, which highlighted the importance of blameless postmortems in development, and Luis’s talk on Very Open Systems. These two talks seemed very applicable to the development we do at Topcoder. When performing a post-mortem, comparing the reality of a situation up with the perceived reality (at the time) of the people involved is really important. Done in a blameless, open fashion, it lends to learning from mistakes quickly and putting controls in place so those issues don’t arise again. To paraphrase, pretty much no one goes into work today and says “let me drop all these database tables”. The Very Open Systems talk had some great take aways such as “see and allow silver linings”, “monitor carefully”, and “lean on the cultural when you can’t lean on the technical”. These points I think apply to Topcoder and the very open system that is our community.
After the sessions we all convened at the Oxbow Blending & Bottling tasting room for dinner, beers and more informal conversations on practically everything. It was a great night filled with great conversations and meeting more new folks.
The second day’s line up consisted of:
- Samantha Ready: Recipe for Change: 5 ingredients to get ideas to stick
- Great presentation on about ideas, developer communities and providing value
- Laura Ku: Building a Volunteer Legion for a Diversity Initiative
- Interesting lessons learned from trying trying to drive a diversity agenda
- Owen Zanzal: Homebrew Ops-Adding Automation & Control to the Hobby of Homebrewing
- This one was seriously awesome. Homebrew automation for everyone!
One thing that’s so great about this format for a conference is that your free to have real, meaningful conversations. You can geek out and discuss technology and you’re not worried about selling something or being sold to, as you would at most industry events. In this format you can develop real relationships with people doing amazing things and truly learn something.