Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Great Wisconsin Software Symposium - Fluff or not?

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the kick-off show of the 2011 No Fluff Just Stuff tour. The conference was held in the Sheraton Madison Hotel, located in, of all places, Madison Wisconsin. Those who have known me for long know that I used to live in Madison, so this town was already a special one for me*.

And those who have followed the NJFS tour know that the first show of the tour can be, well, a lot of fun. Many of the speakers were delivering brand new presentations - new technology, new developments in the industry (don't we all love Oracle?), and new formats. This makes for an exciting, if slightly unpolished, show.

To top off the experience, the Madison conference was laid out in the new "compact" two-day (Friday, Saturday) format. This format has many advantages, not the least of which being the obvious fact it's only two days long, yet offers nearly all the content of a standard three-day conference. There are some downsides - the breaks are shorter, and the "Birds of a feather" sessions have to be dropped to make ends meet. It's also a bit more physically taxing, since one must be ever-mindful of the next session, and waste little time getting there. But hey, since when has a little exercise been a bad thing for IT?

Attendance was excellent - in fact, it was sold out! The crowd was highly interactive during the sessions as well as the Q/A time with the speaker panel on Saturday. It was good to see many familiar faces from the Capital Java User Group that once met in town - good old CapJug... I really do miss those days...

[slaps self] Where was I?

As far as content, with the above caveat of the (yet) untested sessions, this show scored high marks. All my favorite G* topics were there - Groovy/Grails from Dave Klein (hey! I know that guy!) and Peter Bell, and Gaelyk/Google App Engine with Tim Berglund. "Mr. Semantic Web" Brian Sletten ran a five session series on REST/Semantic Web, as well as an HTML5 workshop (minus the "workshop" - due to time constraints).  Matthew McCullough also put on an excellent Git talk and a Git workshop afterwards, which due to my lack of a laptop I regrettably missed.  Other speakers that I did not get a chance to sit under were Matt Stine, Nate Schutta (well, I caught half of one), Craig Walls, Ted Neward, and Venkat Subramaniam.

Of course, no matter how good an NFJS event is, there's is always the persistent problem of deciding what sessions to attend - no, the problem is choosing which four to miss! The topics covered were extensive - NoSQL, Concurrency, REST/Semantic Web, Javascript, Usability, Mobile tech (specifically Android), and software architecture.

And like any good tech conference, there were sessions that stepped back a bit from the code and tried to stretch our minds to look at the bigger picture - Tim Berglund shared his thoughts on Complexity Theory and software development practices, Dave Klein presented a new session on apprenticeship as an alternative for training developers, and Venkat Subramaniam applied the lessons of history to our industry in an entertaining (to say the least!) keynote address ("Rise and Fall of Empires") on Friday night.

I have to admit - I was a bit conservative in my session selections myself - sticking primarily to areas I'm familiar with or interested in already.  I can't say I'd recommend that behavior - you really learn a lot when you force yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new. But <insert convincing excuse here>. Well, there's always next time.

And next time will almost certainly be better! The 2011 NFJS tour is looking bright at this point, and as feedback is incorporated in the new session line-up and speakers catch their stride, it's only going to improve. I can't recommend this conference enough - you owe it to yourself to attend, at least once. Me? I'm hoping to catch the STL conference in May - maybe this time I'll remember to stretch myself and bring something new back. Hey, remind me if you want.

Oh, and the title - I meant to tie this post in to the respectable snowstorm that landed about the same time as the conference. Yeah, I know - cheesy jokes about "fluff" falling from the sky. Sounds great. Maybe it's for the best that I forgot about it till now.

Take care!

*Well, special considering I don't actually enjoy the town at all, but I digress...

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