Imagine if your day job is writing software, writing documentation, or running a software company, and in your "spare time" you planned and executed an absolutely killer technical conference that every year for a full decade has gotten rave reviews from pretty much everyone who's attended. Sound far-fetched? Perhaps it is, which is why, as Ted Neward so rightfully says, the organizers of JAOO should be knighted or something. Once again this year, they put together one of the best technical conferences I've ever attended. And they do it year after year after year. It makes me feel sorry for people who run conferences for their full-time jobs, because the JAOO folks make most of them look very, very incompetent.
Highlights from JAOO 2006 for me included, in no particular order:
- Hanging out with the other speakers. JAOO always hosts a gathering of great speakers. This year Werner gave the Monday morning keynote, Guy Steele gave a wonderful talk on the history of Scheme, Dave Thomas (Smalltalk Dave, not Pragmatic Dave) gave an absolutely amazing talk on the overall history of computing and what ideas originated where, Obie Fernandez led a great Ruby track, and there was also our SOA track of course. It was interesting to sit in the back of Dave's talk and watch the young Java-heads squirm as he talked about all that has gone before, given that many of them seem to think that there was no computing or software before Java came along. Erik Meijer gave a talk on functional programming that I would have liked to have seen, but I went to Obie's Ruby talk instead. That's really the only downside of JAOO: parallel tracks mean you always have to choose between two or three talks you'd really like to see. I also finally got to meet Ted, but unfortunately didn't get to talk to him as much as I would have liked. Similarly, I didn't get to see Glenn Vanderburg's Ruby talk, but I did get to meet him and travel with him from Aarhus to Washington, D.C. (and from there my luggage went to Logan while I almost got stuck in Washington overnight but went to Manchester, N.H. instead -- thanks, United).
- The closing panel. I was fortunate enough to appear on the conference closing panel with Guy, Ole Lehrmann Madsen, Kevlin Henney, Erik Meijer, and Dave as the moderator. The panel topic was, "What will programming be like in 2016?" The beginning of the panel was kind of funny, as seated at one table with Dave were Guy and Ole, and each of them had pens and paper and they were taking notes, and Ole even had his laptop up and running, while Kevlin and I sat at the other table, and all we had in front of us were two beers -- each. :-) Erik was a bit late due to another overlapping event, and when he sat down at our table (with a beer, of course), Kevlin noted to the audience that by doing so he had considerably raised the I.Q. of our table. :-) All in all, it went really well, with some excellent questions from the audience -- notably, many of them were about dynamic languages -- and some insightful answers from the panel. Most of the panelists agreed that we'd be using multiple languages together by 2016, instead of trying to stretch single general-purpose languages to cover everything. I heard afterwards that this idea disturbed a number of attendees, to which my reaction is, "Good!" After all, there's no such thing as a "one size fits all" language, so get over it. All in all, it was probably the best panel I've ever participated in.
- The social scene.The JAOO crew takes very good care of the attendees, and extra good care of the speakers. The Monday party was great, with Chili John's great food, the Absolute Girls laying down the tunes, and a local brewery serving up the tasty fresh suds. I even found myself behind the kegs for quite awhile, pouring beers for everyone who asked, just to save myself the walk everytime I needed a fresh one. :-) Then there was the Wednesday speaker dinner, again with Chili John's wonderful creations. I always make it a point to spend some time at the dinners chatting with Chili John, and this year he gave me another of his cookbooks, which he also graciously signed for me. It may seem like a strange combination of flavors, but his Chocolate Chili Steak is a truly incredible dish.
- Charles Simonyi's yacht. On Tuesday evening I got "dragged" along with the track chairs to a little gathering on a yacht. I imagined we'd be on some 35-footer or similar. When we got to the harbor, though, I thought, "So where's this boat? Over there behind that enormously large cruise-ship-looking thingie?" As you've guessed by now, it was the enormously large cruise-ship looking thingie. It was 70 meters long, had 6 levels, was spotlessly clean (we even had to remove our shoes as we stepped on board), had lots of niceties like a helicopter pad, a hot tub, and a very well-stocked exercise room, carried 200 000 gallons of diesel fuel, and was permanently staffed by a crew of 16. All through the evening, at least four or five young ladies kept the wonderful finger food and drinks coming. Every time I finished a beer, a new one magically appeared -- I never wanted to leave! :-) Charles, whom I had never met before, was a gracious host, and he spent a lot of time giving us a thorough tour even though he had to fly to the U.S. in the morning and hadn't yet packed. All in all, it was a laid-back and delightful evening, and the small group made for easy conversation. Thanks again, Charles, and best of luck with your space flight!
What I found striking about the more famous speakers like Guy and Charles is how incredibly pleasant and humble they are. They've contributed more to the craft and science of software than most of us could ever dream of, and yet they are totally at ease with themselves and are completely approachable, perhaps even shy to some degree.
JAOO, thanks again. I'm already looking forward to next year.