February 15 & 16, 2018 • French Quarter, New Orleans


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Exploring the past and future of software

How do you choose which conference talks to watch?

Whenever I watch conference talks online, I always ask myself “is this talk going to be relevant in ten years?” There are so many talks to watch now that I need some kind of criterion to figure out what to watch. This criterion helps me filter for depth and avoid spending my time on stuff that seems cool at the moment but won’t be useful longterm. It’s one of the reasons I like the Clojure community. We seem to care about depth while making things practical in the short term.

Clojure SYNC is designed to only have talks that will be relevant in ten–or even fifty–years. These are the kinds of talks that will make you a better programmer for your entire career. And for the businesses out there that want to build something of lasting value, these talks will help your employees make long-range decisions.

There are three themes at the conference: Career, Craft, and Context. Allow me to explain.

Craft

The simplest theme to explain is the Craft theme. I’ve watched thousands of programming talks online and one thing that has always struck me is how little Clojure programmers talk about the craft of programming–the act of writing and manipulating code. We may talk about databases and platforms, and about great algorithms, or deep ideas in Computer Science. But what we rarely talk about is the process of writing the software.

When I browse through talks from Ruby conferences, I see lots of talks about refactoring, setting up editors, OO “design”, TDD and other processes, and stylistic issues. There’s a lot of discussion about how the code gets written. This exists in the Clojure world, but it is more rare. Now, to be sure, I think they may talk about it too much in the Ruby community, but we don’t talk about it enough. So I dedicated a whole theme to this one, with three awesome talks by excellent craftspeople.

We all know how hard dates and times are to work with as programmers. Timezones, etc. But is that the end of the story? Emily Ashley works with geographic and time data and has a thing or two to say about the mapping of our precise notion of time that we use as programmers, and the informal, common-sense time that people use in the real world. Place and time data is a great example of a human concept not fitting at all with the rational abstractions we try to impose on it.

Beloved Clojure speaker Zach Tellman has been working on a book specifically about Clojure coding style. It’s still a work in progress, and he’s going to be talking about up-to-the-minute research he’s been doing. But the book is already awesome and he’s doing a lot of great deep dives into old classics about data, abstraction, and style.

The last talk in the theme is George Kierstein. She’s given a talk at the Conj before. Now, I have to admit this talk doesn’t quite fit neatly into the theme of Craft. It kind of straddles Craft and Context. But here is what it’s about: code rot is real. We stop running some code and come back to it 6 months later and it doesn’t work. The libraries have been updated. The environment variables have changed. The IP has changed! We’ve put so much time and energy into that code, and now look at it. We probably have to do a lot of work to resurrect that work–that only 6 months ago ran perfectly! George has a plan and more importantly a perspective that can help us alleviate this problem.

Career

The next theme is all about Clojure at work. We need to get paid, and companies need working software. There are a bunch of apparent challenges for companies choosing Clojure. Most importantly, will they be able to hire? Then, there are the hidden challenges that you won’t find out until you get started.

Rebecca Kinsella is a technical recruiter at Funding Circle, a company with a big investment in Clojure. She runs the Bay Area Clojure User Group, one of the largest in the world. She’s going to be talking about how to hire Clojure programmers and also what companies look for when hiring. I’m really looking forward to this one. She’s going to present then I hope to get lots of good questions from the audience.

Elana Hashman is working on the Leiningen Debian package. You might be thinking, what does this have to do with careers? Well, that’s a great question! Our modern commercial software is built on a foundation of open source projects, including Debian. We need to tap into existing ecosystems of software so that things can work. We need easy ways to install Clojure on all of the popular platforms. Investment in this area is an overlooked contributor to the success of Clojure as a business-friendly language. She’ll be talking about the challenges of building some of this essential infrastructure.

Baishampayan Ghose probably had the first Clojure code in production. Since then, he’s built Helpshift to a team of 80 programmers. He’s got a wealth of information about building large Clojure teams from scratch. I am so looking forward to some great stories with hard-won lessons.

Context

I struggled with the name of this theme because it’s supposed to encompass so many different ideas. I’ve always been fascinated by the changes happening in the world today. Software is automating more and more of the bureaucracy in the world at an amazing rate. Yet people like Alan Kay and Bret Victor also talk about untapped potential in software as a personal medium–programmable devices that can let us explore and exchange ideas in a much better way than previous media. To understand this far-reaching change, we’ll have to explore history, anthropology, psychology, and computer science.

Gerald Jay Sussman, co-author of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, will be talking about the effect of programming on humanity. Technology always changes our relationships to each other, sometimes in ways that imbalance the powers-that-be. Dr. Sussman will be speaking about the challenges of working with powerful AIs.

Will Byrd is a favorite speaker at Clojure conferences. He once told me he was excited about the history of writing and he showed me a bookshelf full of books about writing. I’m talking cuneiform and hieroglyphics. He was inspired by Alan Kay. So what does a programmer and programming language theorist take from the history of writing, a powerful technology that changed history, and what parallels does he see with software?

David Nolen often has talks that touch on deeper topics than the details of the ClojureScript compiler. I asked him to talk about the future of programming. What will programming look like in 5, 10, and even 50 years? We’ve got way more power than we often think. Many of the techniques we’re using now were developed in the 1970s for mainframes and minicomputers. And we’re just now realizing that we’ve got more than that in our pockets nowadays. How will programming look when it finally grows into its new, super-powerful hosts?

Kim Crayton is a firecracker. She’s the real deal. She’s working on her Doctorate of Business and she’s been analyzing the business implications of the coming AI Summer (I guess we’re in the Spring now, after a long AI Winter). But when AI is doing more and more manual labor, and also more and more work that we consider “knowledge work”, how can we remain relevant? AI is now building new AIs. What role will we (humans) play in software development in the future? Oh, wow, I’m actually afraid now!

Conclusions

I am so excited by the awesome lineup I’ve put together. These are amazing, world-class speakers. It’s single-track, so everyone has a shared experience. I’m hoping to inspire deep discussions that run late into the night. I’d love to be a part!

Okay, so what are you waiting for? Buy your tickets!

And I’m curious: how do you choose which conference talks to watch? Tweet me @ericnormand.

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Business benefits of Clojure SYNC

Does your manager know how many benefits their programmers will get from Clojure SYNC? And do they know how direct those benefits will be?

In this video, I go over the talks that are directly relevant to using Clojure at work–from hiring to improving the maintainability of our code. I also discuss the networking opportunities.

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Clojure SYNC

Clojure SYNC is a new conference that I’m organizing in New Orleans. Going to a conference can be a big expense. Is this new conference worth the investment? But more importantly, is it worth your investment? A single conference can’t be for everyone. I wanted to share some of the things that make Clojure SYNC special.

1. See New Orleans and the French Quarter

I searched high and low for the perfect venue in New Orleans. I was tired of going to conferences in corporate hotels where everything is fine but uninteresting. New Orleans is too unique to visit but spend your time in a box with grey walls.

With a bit of work, I found a beautiful theater in the heart of the French Quarter, just a few feet from Jackson Square. When I saw the place, I jumped on it.

2. Get out of the snow

The conference will be in mid-February. For a lot of people, that’s in the worst part of winter. Well, not for us. The average high temperature in New Orleans in February is 65 degrees. That’s the average for the whole month. It can be significantly warmer toward the end. You might want to bring a swimsuit.

3. Clojure/West is combining with Clojure/conj

Cognitect has announced that Clojure/West is being combined with Clojure/conj. That really opened up the US event calendar, which is why I chose this early date. If you were planning on attending Clojure/West, consider Clojure SYNC instead. There are still only two major Clojure conferences in North America. Just to be super clear: Clojure SYNC is the only US Clojure conference in the first half of the year.

4. Clojure has a philosophical community

If I’m going to run a conference, I want it to be special. It’s definitely going to reflect what I like about Clojure and the community. The thing that draws me most about Clojure is that it’s a philosophical community. We’re not just writing code. We’re exploring meaning. That’s why Clojure SYNC is oriented about three big themes that look deeply into what we’re doing as software developers.

5. The speaker lineup

Wow, am I lucky to have such awesome speakers. I did my best to make sure they were all high-impact speakers, and when I look over the list, I can’t believe how lucky I am to have them.

6. A single track

I’ve attended Strange Loop a couple of times. It’s a great conference. But I have to say, one thing I don’t like is that there are so many tracks. Sure, it means there’s variety. But what it makes me feel more than anything is regret. I think “this talk is okay, but one of these four other ones is probably better”. Then when I talk to someone during the social time, we haven’t seen any talks in common. Nothing to chat about!

One of the meanings of SYNC that I’m trying to tap into is that the attendees are synchronizing. They are having a shared experience in the same place and same time. They all enter, have their minds blown, and leave changed in similar ways. I think a single track helps make that possible. The most valuable part of a conference is the other attendees and I want to foster bonding between them.

7. Social events

The average conference party is boring. There. I said it. Some of them are pretty awesome. But the ones in the hotel? Meh. And when I asked a local hotel how much a party would be, fhew!, that’s a lot of money. I don’t want to seem cheap, but that price for such a boring party? Definitely not worth it!

I was looking around for another way to do it—more affordable and more awesome, when I had an idea: why not get local volunteers to guide events? Attendees would get to experience the city in a way they prefer and have smaller, more intimate groups where you can have great conversations. People have thought of all sorts of cool stuff, including vegan dinners, pub crawls, jazz nights, and more.

8. A great excuse for a company meeting

I worked remote for years. Whenever our team (or the whole company) would get together, we were so productive. Just being in the same room with people made everything happen so much more smoothly! If you work in Clojure and you’re remote, consider making Clojure SYNC a team retreat. There are houses you can rent within walking distance. You can attend the conference and stay the weekend. It will be a great bonding and group work event. I’d love to help you if you need some pointers for where to stay.

9. Mardi Gras

Okay, I don’t know if this is that clear, but Clojure SYNC starts two days after Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is actually the last day of the whole carnival season. It starts at the beginning of January, ramps up until it climaxes on Mardi Gras day.

If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it is something to experience. The whole town is involved. You might have visions of lurid drunkenness and sexuality. That definitely happens, but in general, it is a celebration of life with great food, drink, family, friends, and of course costumes. However, after Mardi Gras should be one of the quietest times of the year, which is why we can get great rates on the hotels.

It’s worth considering coming about four days early if you want to experience it. The logistics of that would require a whole article by themselves. But please email me if you’re interested in hearing more about it. Oh, and New Orleans is celebrating its 300th birthday in 2018!

10. Food and drink

New Orleans is known all over for its unique cuisine. The dishes we love are a fusion of Native American, African, French, Spanish, and more. They have evolved for hundreds of years and are enjoyed in homes and restaurants.

I know craft beer has been a trend for a while, and you can find some of that here, but really New Orleans is a cocktail town. The Bourbon Orleans (one of the official hotels) has a beautiful bar on Bourbon Street and they’ll help you discover all of the cocktails New Orleans is known for.

New Orleans has also had a coffee culture for quite a while. You won’t find many Starbuckses here because we’ve had coffee shops for a long time. Our specialty is café au lait, which is half coffee and chicory and half steamed milk.

BONUS: Pay for it with 2017 tax money

Because tickets are on sale now in 2017 and programming conferences are tax deductible expenses for programmers, you can spend those last dollars from your budget to avoid paying extra taxes this year.

Kim Crayton to Speak at Clojure SYNC

I am very excited to announce a surprise speaker. The epic Kim Crayton will be speaking at Clojure SYNC.

Kim Crayton has skyrocketed herself through the tech speaking circuit. She’s working with programmers and leaders on issues of diversity and inclusion in technology as a Community Engineer. She’s also working on her Doctorate of Business Administration. Kim has been thinking about the role programmers will play as increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence relieves people of more and more work. While it’s clear to see that many manual labor jobs will be replaced with robots, what is less clear is how knowledge work will be affected. Kim will trace this evolution and give us ways to remain relevant.

Baishampayan Ghose to speak at Clojure SYNC

I am excited to announce that Baishampayan Ghose (known as BG) will be speaking at Clojure SYNC.

BG has been a part of the Clojure community for a long time. There is evidence on the Clojure mailing list that he had the first Clojure code in production back in 2008! Since then, BG has built a team of 80 Clojure programmers at Helpshift (he’s the Co-founder and Ex-CTO). I asked him if he could talk about the reality of building a company on Clojure–the good, the bad, and the ugly of the business-side of things.

Elana Hashman to speak at Clojure SYNC

I am happy to announce that Elana Hashman will be speaking at Clojure SYNC.

Most languages have a one-command installation on Unix-like systems. That makes it really easy to get started for beginners. Clojure has had that off-and-on, but it’s been kind of inconsistent. I was happy when Elana told me she was working on a talk about organizing a group to maintain the Debian package for Leiningen. This kind of organization is important for the Clojure platform on multiple levels. And it would be wonderful to understand all that’s involved with engaging with a platform like Debian.

George Kierstein to speak at Clojure SYNC

I’m excited to welcome George Kierstein to speak at Clojure SYNC.

We’ve got a problem. It’s called bit rot. We have some working code. We don’t run it for a few months. And when we try to run it again, it doesn’t work. How did that happen? The system it was running on changed enough (packages upgraded, libraries deleted, passwords changed, permissions, hardware, IP addresses, ……..) that it just doesn’t work. The only way we know how to keep software working is to pay someone to run it all the time. It’s a bit like in the Dark Ages where you had to have monks copy books to keep the skill of reading and writing alive, and also to stave off the natural entropy (fires, rotting, losses, etc.) that would befall the books. There has to be a better way.

Here’s George’s abstract:

Can we store code and expect to ever get it to run again? Perhaps for a year or two but what about 10? 20? How we can begin to reason about the problem domain? Taking a page from climate science, this talk explores models to better frame the problem which could provide insight into how to design systems that can outlast us.

George Kierstein will talk about this problem and a solution she came up with to mitigate some of the challenges with archiving software for the indefinite future. We’re spending more and more time creating software. If it’s so important, maybe we should think about how to keep it.

David Nolen to speak at Clojure SYNC

I’m excited to announce that David Nolen will be speaking at Clojure SYNC.

David is a prolific speaker and his talks never disappoint. I’m always surprised by what interests we have in common. Specifically, the ongoing work of Alan Kay and its exploration of what computation is and what it means for how we live. For a couple of years now, every time I saw him at a conference I’d mention that I wanted to host a conference in New Orleans. He’d tell me “Quit talking about it and just do it. I’ll be there!” And here he is.

I asked David to talk about computation, history, and the human condition. I trust that it will be awesome.