QCon 2008 roundup

I’m digesting my first attendance to a QCon conference. Overall it was a positive experience. I feel as though I know more now than I did at the start of the week, and am fired up to investigate a set of technologies that I wouldn’t have otherwise pushed to the forefront of my mind. So, for the core reasons for my attendance, it’s been a success. The bad news is that I’ve got mixed feelings on the success of the conference as a whole.

It was let down by some organisational silliness and the quality of the speakers was mixed, to say the least. I’ll go in to each session in more detail in subsequent posts. First off; the organisation. If you say you’re going to provide breakfast, then do so. I arrived on the first morning only to find that breakfast meant biscuits and coffee. I’d rather the organisers hadn’t claimed to lay on breakfast - at least I wouldn’t have had to dash across the road to get something to eat, hoping not to miss the start of the first talk. Food seemed to be a common problem; lunch was served in the exhibitor’s hall which in itself would have been fine, if there’d been anywhere to sit with your plate. Instead, everyone ended up perched against exhibitor’s stands, sitting on the floor or clutching a plate whilst standing in the middle of a room with everyone else pushing past. Not good. So then, on to the talks.

I think one of the biggest problems was how the talks were pitched. The talks that were most disappointing were those with a nebulous title; “Beyond Agile”, “Characteristics of next generation application servers”. It must be one of the hardest things to get right about a session though - there’ll be such a spread of attendees to a conference like this that there’s bound to be, for pretty much any subject you can name, a bunch of experts and complete newbies. So, for example, I turned up to the “Beyond Agile” talk expecting to be introduced to new techniques that led on from the agile methodologies. That absolutely was not what the talk was about though, and so I learned nothing by attending. In contrast, Ted Neward’s talk titled “The Busy Java Developer’s Guide to Scala” explicitly pitches the level of the talk - if you know Scala already, this isn’t for you - and so I got a lot out of it.

There were typically 6 concurrent talks, split in to themed ‘tracks’. One of the biggest problems was the introductory talks for the track; they were a complete and utter waste of time. So, with the combination of this useless intro talk and yet more elongated breaks, there was a whole hour between the end of the first talk of the day and the start of the first session with any content. This added up to a feeling that the pace of the conference was very slow. Given the quality of the talks was so lumpy, I was left with the distinct impression that most of the sessions were chosen because of who the speaker was, rather than what they’d got to say. I don’t know how talks are chosen for the conference but I think the process needs quite a bit of work. The ratio of good/bad talks I attended over the three days felt about 60/40; that’s quite a few duff talks.

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