Monday, March 19, 2007

NFJS Gateway Software Symposium

Background/Disclaimer: I have attended 5 NFJS's and received some nice schwag (a bomber jacket) this year for being a 5-timer. The first 4 years, I worked with a previous employer. This year, I attended while employed by an affiliate of a sponsor. Over 5 years, I have paid some of my own $ but for the most part I have been covered. My views are my solely mine (but you knew that).


I'm a fan of NFJS. In particular:

-- The speakers are irreverent, successful/talented, and sincere.

-- The sessions are relevant and may actually influence the industry. I'm not sure that Ruby would be as well-known if it weren't for Dave Thomas and Bruce Tate championing the cause.

-- There is a palpable energy from having 200+ geeks in such close contact. The enthusiasm and cross-pollenation of ideas is great.

There are downsides (but they are easily outweighed by the positives):

-- If you don't like to develop software, this may not be for you.

Take this test:
(a) "XYZ in 21 Days" are the best software books
(b) quick, Dave Thomas: software guru or fastfood founder?
(c) XML is a "mature rating" for video games

if you didn't smile at any of the questions, then you might not enjoy NFJS (or this blog).

-- If you expect a session on "agile development" to fix the political dysfunction of your workplace: nope.

-- Some sessions are a letdown. Sometimes, a speaker won't float your boat. Sometimes, the agenda is hijacked by inconsiderate attendees with inane questions. But this doesn't happen often.

The upshot: if your company will foot the bill, it is a no-brainer, IMHO. If not, it is a personal decision but I sincerely believe it is a good value.

The vibe from 2007

Against the other 4 years, the '07 edition was very good. The material was excellent and most of the speakers were "on". The primary themes this year:

-- The JVM may well be the platform of the future for more than just Java: Groovy and JRuby are great examples of technology leveraging Java and the JVM.

-- There are still plenty of web frameworks, each with their pros and cons. For garnering interest, Grails, Ruby on Rails, and the Google Web Toolkit are rock-stars.

-- Agile practices are catching on but a lot of shops have a long way to go (judging from the questions and anecdotes).

-- Mac OS X remains a favorite among the Geek Elite who make the big bucks.

The Keynote

Scott Davis, by his own admission, had big shoes to fill: the legendary Dave Thomas had given delightful keynotes for the past 4 years. But Scott brought the heat with a talk on choosing the right web-framework. Though a gross simplification, his thesis was essentially "analyze your situation versus the options"; he weaved in a strong metaphor to cellphones, and had a ton of eclectic references to interesting books, many of which you know but, like me, didn't get to yet. My guess is that, later that night, Border's thought it was a Christmas rush as 200+ geeks lined up to buy techie/pop-psychology books.

Scott's style is animated, unabashedly friendly, and sincere.

The talk was every bit as good as Dave T's.

The Sessions

This is pure opinion, but I was drawn to the sessions on Groovy, the Google Web Toolkit, some Agile warm-n-fuzzy stuff, and anything by Ted Neward and Stuart Halloway (in this case, "Debugging/Monitoring", "Using Rules Engines/JESS", and "Java Concurrency"). Many of my thoughts are in separate blog entries below.

One disappointment was a session on "Forgotten Web Algorithms". I was looking forward to it for weeks. It could have been a lot of fun, but seemed to be a quick gallop through slides as we tried to ensure that the speaker could catch a plane.

Some of the agile sessions weren't as fun as I would like, but often those warm-n-fuzzy sessions are like live music: it just depends on the day, and the audience.

The Speakers

My top 3 on the national tour are Scott Davis, Stuart Halloway, and Ted Neward. These are guys I want to chill with and just talk geek or philosophy.

Lots on Scott Davis above... I also like Stu Halloway. This guy is Energy Lite: all the enthusiasm, without the hyper aftertaste. He's animated, very bright, and runs a tight ship: his talks are very polished and yet don't feel rushed.

If NFJS is Narnia, then Ted Neward is Aslan with attitude. He's a big feline, literally pacing back and forth in front of the crowd, just waiting to growl about a former client site, a large vendor, or: your dumb question. But under the thunder, he's a softie. He doesn't always stay true to the material, but sometimes his extracurricular riffing is the best stuff. In fact, most of the speakers will share these little gems about any given technology that has me furiously scribbling it down.

Like a true rock-band tour, NFJS seems to pick up local talent for a given show. We had local speakers Mark Volkmann and Jeff Brown. Thankfully, I'm in a locale/position to see them throughout the year: check it out.

The Upshot

I enjoyed NFJS 2007: I have new ideas for my client site, new ideas about software (see below), and new material for jokes (stay tuned).

There will be no special schwag next year, and yet I'll very likely be back for year 6. It's good stuff.

1 comment:

Mike Venneman said...

Great stuff, MEaster!

I had heard about the NFJS tour before, and was interested, but hadn't thought about attending. You piqued my interest when you previewed your coverage of this year's event, but I was disappointed to realize I would not be able to make the dates. With this blog post I am definitely in next year and plan to put it on my calendar as soon as it's announced. Thanks for the post!

P.S. Please post a picture of the jacket.