I had the pleasure of attending Monki Gras 2012 last week in London, UK. It is a fabulous small conference and that will always be it's challenge. (More on this in a moment.) Monki Gras was probably the best small conference I've ever attended. It was ostensibly a conference about where we're going in software development, tying it back to ideas of craft over industrialization. Following along that theme, we had craft coffee for the breaks, craft beer in the reception and as a tasting at dinner, and enjoyed craft food at the breaks and lunch.
The presentation content, however, was incredible. The format was "short" talks lasting 20-30 minutes. It worked well, allowing lots of time to talk amongst the participants. There were ~150 participants and speakers and this was a perfect size. Over the two days, I walked away with something new to think about from almost every single talk.
Some highlights for me included (and I'll post slide references as I received them):
- Excellent observations from Matt Lemay (@mattlemay) from bit.ly on "What we share is different than what we click". Best quote: "We've had social media for long enough to be embarrassed by ourselves."
- Matt Bidulph (@mattb) talked about new ways to consider social media data analysis and presented ideas for the "Place Graph" alongside the "Social Graph" (see pictures below). In a question: What is the Holborn of Amsterdam? Or the Williamsburg of London?
- Laura Merling (@magicmerl) walked us through a great introduction to the idea of the "craft telco" building on the history of the telco space, and comparisons to the brewing industry from pure to industrialization to craft. (Think Twilio.)
- Kohsuke Kawguchi (@kohsukekawa) talked about developing developer communities from his experience in Jenkins and the idea of a developer pipeline (analogous to customer pipelines) and how to get developers qualified through it by making everything relentless easier. Slides here on SlideShare. This talk was a great complement to my blog post on software development discipline and developing communities. I also blogged Kohsuke's talk separately on the Outercurve Foundation blog.
- Jason Hoffman and Bryan Cantrill gave an enormously entertaining "Doppelbock" talk on the differing roles of CTO and VP, Engineering with some wonderful anti-patterns. Slides here on SlideShare. Best quote from @bcantrill, "Process doesn't write software."
- Zack Urlocker (@zurlocker) gave a great talk on considerations for distributed product development practices.
- Mike Milinkovich (@mmilinkov) also gave a great talk on the relevance of foundations in an open source world. (There was a broad debate on the subject back in November 2011.)
Day Two moved us down to Rich Mix, an equally interesting and completely different venue in Shoreditch. The talks were equally brilliant. My top picks:
- Gavin Starks gave us great insight into developers and apps driving social change at amee.com. Very cool example of Autodesk integrating with the AMEE environmental data feeds to allow designers to model carbon footprints of designs while still designing, rather than discovering the cost in manufacturing.
- Paul Downey (@psd) talked about hardware forks and gave us a view of solderpad.com (@solderpad). (Think git for hardware developers only better — very cool.)
- Donnie Berkholz talked about how much assholes cost projects with examples from the Gentoo world. (They lost 20% of their community from trolls and trouble makers and they NEVER CAME BACK even after the asshole problem had been solved. That's how expensive it gets.)
- Dave Neary (@nearyd) gave a great introduction into how to develop developer communities from a different perspective to Kohsuke, but again emphasizing the need for detail and craft. He built on ideas of mentorship and apprenticeship and examples from the world of Go. (Ask him about the design of Go boards sometime if you want to be blown away by craft.)
- Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier (@jzb) introduced people to ideas for promoting their projects with the press and some insight into the world of tech journalists being pitched by PR. A very good how-to with slides here on SlideShare.
- Leisa Riechelt (@leisa) gave a wonderful talk on "Why most UX is Shite." Her [excellent] notes are up on her blog with a link to slides.
- Finally, Irene Ros (@ireneros) and Alex Graul (@alexgraul) gave a great presentation on what makes good data visualization and how subjective it can be from both the presenter and observer perspectives.
There were a number of great observations flying around the twitter verse during the conference but two bear repeating:
#monkigras is a new kind of conference where the participants are equal to the top calibre speakers— alexis richardson (@monadic) February 2, 2012
And from Matt Lemay, one of the speakers:
Unsurprisingly, @monkigras was a tremendous success. This will be the future model for many, many tech conferences. This is a *moment*.— Matt LeMay (@mattlemay) February 1, 2012
And therein lies the challenge. It was the perfect size at ~150 people. It wasn't an invite only event so there was a wonderful mix of people. Smaller would have been fine, but bigger and it will lose some of the sense of intimacy and informality that makes the side conversations easy and important. (One person observed that the U.S. event last Fall was more interactive. I've heard of that difference between the U.S. and UK at similar sized events in the past.) I believe James Governor did design the agenda, asking speakers to give specific talks and I've seen this work really well before (Transfer Summit/UK) at bringing an underlying sense of coherency to a small conference. It certainly worked brilliantly well at Monki Gras. Pairing the event with craft beer and craft coffee also worked in ways I didn't imagine.
All in all, a brilliant conference. Redmonk hopes to have all the filmed talks online soon, and I'll update a link as it becomes available.
Update [15 Feb 2012]: I have also written about three perspectives on the care and feeding of development communities on Network World based on three talks given at the conference.