CodeMash 2011 Recap

CodeMash 2011Last week I attended and spoke at CodeMash for the first time. For those unaware – and I was until last year – CodeMash is a community run effort that just wrapped its fifth year. Unlike most of the conferences I attend, there wasn’t much PHP and instead there was a heavy focus on .Net, Rails, and various functional languages. In fact, the only prominent PHPers in attendance were Elizabeth Naramore, Chris Hartjes, and organizer W. Jason Gilmore.

I gave two sessions during the week. The first was “Functional Flex” which despite tweaking and adjusting, I’m not still not happy with. When it’s a single session – instead of a tutorial – I only get to hit the high points and touch on concepts instead of live coding. Live coding is fun.. no seriously.

My second session was “Unit Testing Strategies” [slides available here] which was an update on my session from CodeWorks 2010. This session is fun because I get to talk about what we learned and where we screwed up within web2project. If you look at the slides, please realize that page 2 was delivered with a joke.

The Good

The sheer number and variety of sessions was great. I attended topics covering the more DevOps angle of massive deployments and management to an overview on UX design to a couple on team building and culture and even a hallway session on The Doctor. I’m happy to say that everyone was very passionate on their subject and it came through in just about every talk. The Scala guy did an interesting thing too.. instead of live coding, he ran a video of his coding and then narrated in real time. It was really well-done though I realized that I had no interest in Scala.

I have to admit that I was hesitant about the venue – Kalahari – or also known as the indoor waterpark.. in northern Ohio.. in January. When I got off the plane in Cleveland to find six inches of snow and more falling, I was even more doubtful. All of that said, I can confidently say that I was 100% wrong. Once Mark J Brown (Product Manager for Microsoft’s Web Platform) tipped me off that there was a bar in the hottub, I was completely and totally sold.

Also, the staff at the Kalahari was great and made sure we were always stocked with caffeine. Bravo.

I caught two Open (hallway) Sessions that were great. I noticed a few things that I’ll have to steal borrow if I run an unconference any time soon. *cough*tek11*cough*

Finally, kudos to my friend and colleague Josh Holmes who got to launch Microsoft’s Web Matrix. It was the first time a non-Executive had launched a product line and the first launch at a community event. He even managed to get Ryan Ozimek, President of Open Source Matters which leads the Joomla project. And apparently I was caught on the live stream in front of 45 billion viewers (estimated).

The Bad

My biggest criticism of the sessions was the lack of context for a few. The title of the session implied the overview of a concept but the actual session was an overview of a project that does the concept. It was even worse when the project being described implied a deep understanding of the concept after all.. This was annoying at minimum and a waste of time in a couple cases. Realistically, I think better labelling could resolve it.

Further, some of the sessions were poorly matched to room size. The Netflix cloud session was standing room only and still three people deep. You couldn’t even move without stepping in someone’s way. Regardless, it was a great session. If the organizers get some sort of “I’m interested in this” vote on sessions a month or two in advance, they can resolve some of this easily.

Internet access was abysmal but managed to stay up. With 700+ geeks and probably 1000+ devices, I was impressed that it stayed up at all. Unfortunately, it made tweeting awkward. Even worse, there are a few twitpics that I sent that still haven’t shown up..

The Ugly

There was no way to give feedback to speakers. In the PHP community, I’ve been spoiled by but there wasn’t an equivalent here. I’d like to give feedback to a few speakers and would love to collect feedback of my own.. but other than hoping people email me, I have no options. Disappointing.

The buffet lines were a mess. Since they were set up around the main hall – a giant square – you couldn’t see the other lines around the corner.. so you might see one buffet line 50 people deep while the next station was nearly empty. I think they could solve this with an announcement or two at the opening.

The dinner keynote from Ford was uninteresting to be polite. The content itself was impressive for what they’re doing but years behind 95% of the audience. I left 15 minutes into it and took a nap to prepare for the night time chaos. I’ve heard there were some awkward moments where he chided the audience for talking but when you have hundreds of geeks sitting around tables, what do you expect? There’s already been some discussion on the conference mailing list, so I suspect they’ll get this resolved for next year.

Overall, CodeMash was a blast. It was well-organized, educational, fun, and the odd venue was a great change of pace. The organizers did a good job and I look forward to submitting for next year. Personally, I’d like to see more of a PHP presence both to contribute and borrow ideas from the other communities.