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Computing Thoughts
Notes from "Programming the New Web" Conference
by Bruce Eckel
March 26, 2006
Summary
I continue to be amazed at how insanely great OpenSpace conferences are with so little effort on my part. Certainly, I provide structure, but most of that occurs in the first half hour and then I become a participant. As always seems to happen with OpenSpaces, I got so much more out of this event than I ever imagined.

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And that's with a relatively small turnout (ten people, including myself). I was worried about this at first, but by the end of the conference some people said they weren't sure they would have wanted it any bigger. But I've found that OpenSpace events tend to adapt to whatever size group shows up. Harrison Owen, the "father of OpenSpaces," has apparently organized conferences consisting of thousands using this technique.

Here is the URL for the conference that took place in March, 2006. I will try to plan next year's conference with more lead time.

One of the OpenSpace maxims is "whoever shows up is the right people." And even with our small group, and conducting the event in single-group mode (rather than running multiple sessions concurrently), I can't imagine a better group, with a perfect range of experiences and needs. In almost every case, when a question came up there was someone in the group who could answer it. We had a broad spectrum of experience, from one-person shops to large organizations.

I was concerned about whether the skiing aspect of the conference would raise eyebrows, and it certainly might have kept some people from coming. But those who did come told me that their bosses were unconcerned about the fact that skiing was part of the conference. And everyone seem to agree that the mid-day activity break made a huge difference by providing a change of scenery and experience, and that the conversations continued on the ski lifts, but with different perspectives. And when we met again, everyone came with fresh brains. Everyone skiied or snowboarded in one way or another (one person made use of the cross-country trails here), and two folks had their very first ski experience, and gave positive reports about the lessons and beginner slopes. Everyone felt that the outdoor activities were bonding experiences which were a continuation of the conference, and which increased the value of the sessions.

After explaining the basic structure of OpenSpaces, we did a fairly quick capture of topics that people wanted to talk about, and then a bit of reorganization. Unlike larger OpenSpaces, the topic list seemed to remain unchanged throughout the conference, but we all seemed quite happy with the results, and the topics filled the spaces just right.

One person came partly to see how an OpenSpace event is run.

In more formal OpenSpace environments, after each session the session conveners write up the notes for that session, the goal being to provide conference proceedings at the end of the conference (rather than the beginning, as with typical conferences). I've never been able to be quite that formal, and have been looking for more casual ways to capture what's happened. In this case, I found myself making a lot of very short notes when people mention things that we should look at, and others have made more involved weblog entries. So here I will just include the URLs to the other weblog entries (and photos, in some cases), and just transcribe my short notes, adding additional thoughts as they occur.

Participant Weblogs

Topic Notes

Looks like I have a lot of resources to explore.

Bibliography

Books recommended during the conference.

Conference Feedback

Although we all agreed that "eyes forward" presentations are best left to the formal conferences, we did feel that it would have occasionally been nice to be able to project live demonstrations. For example, one person had been to a Ruby On Rails seminar and could have walked us through that, and other demos could have happened. It's definitely worth having a projector and screen on hand for such things.

Do anything possible to lower the intimidation factor. Some thought that they wouldn't have anything to contribute, but we found that everyone did, regardless of their experience. Also, it's definitely not necessary to prepare anything in advance, and might be a waste of time. Best to just "bring your brain" and be prepared to interact.

Corporate budget cycles often happen at the beginning of the year (academic budget cycles can by in June or July). The earlier a conference can be announced, the better.

One person said they were going to the "Better Software" conference in July, worth considering avoiding conflict with my Java conference in July (more about that in the next weblog entry).

Many, if not all, the discussions would have made good podcasts. I will consider this further for the Java conference in July.

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel (www.BruceEckel.com) provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2006 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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