I heard about the Stackoverflow Dev Days earlier this year and thought it was an interesting idea. We had talked about doing a similar type event for SQLServerCentral, or even at my other company, SQLShare, but the logisitics and costs are substantial. As a way of researching the due diligence of such an event, I headed to Austin on Tuesday for the Austin Dev Days on Wednesday. A quick, 36 hour trip for me to see some great speakers and see how the event is run.
I had never been to Austin, and after a morning run (day 400!), I walked over to the Monarch Event Center. It's a small facility, with about a 200 seat movie theater, an open space with a stage that could likely seat 300, and a few other rooms. I counted the numbers during the keynote and got to 162, and it seemed that a few more people walked in as the event was going on.
The format was a series of 50 minute talks. There were breaks between sessions, as well as a break for lunch. The doors didn't open until just before 9, and everyone milled around in the lobby before then. No coffee, or food, provided then, so I had to duck around the corner for a cup of java.
Registration was simple. I'd bought a ticket on the web, and got a copy in email. I printed it out, and it had a bar code on it, which had me expecting some cool application to track who came. Instead when I went to the desk, someone looked at my ticket and marked my name off a list. Not so high-tech! Still it worked, and I got a DevDays bracelet and a blank name tag that I filled out with a sharpie. It was a low budget event, with limited SWAG and sponsors. Fog Creek Software and SmartBear had tables set up with a few people explaining their products.
The speaker list was interesting. I hadn't heard of most of the speakers, which isn't surprising since I'm not in the developer community as much as the SQL community. I wasn't sure about some of the topics, but I was surprised in a few cases. Joel Spolsky, of Joel on Software, opened up with a humorous keynote that had people laughing. I've followed Joel's writing for years, and heard him speak a few times. He's funny, and interesting, and worth going to see if you get the chance.
The first talk was on Python, by a local Austin developer that does a lot of scientific computing. I wasn't sure if I'd like the talk, but I found it interesting. The focus was on a 21 line snippet of Python code that implements a spell checker and suggests replacements for misspelled words. It's kind of amazing to walk through that code, which was written by Peter Norvig of Google. It's worth reading through his essay, and I was amazed. The talk was an intro to Python tutorial, and I found it very interesting. It finished with a demonstration of a real-time application analyzing the speaker's voice in a few graphs written in Python. Very impressive. An image from his talk:
Other talks during the day were on various topics. CouchDB, which probably has a place, but I'm not sure is a great replacement for many relational engines. There was one on iPhone development where the speaker built a small clock application. It seemed that it isn't much harder to target the iPhone than other platforms, but it does require working through some hassles with Apple. There was a talk on ASP.NET MVC, which seems like a good idea, but I'm still wary of the data binding. Joel also have a talk on FogBugz and Kiln, a new source control product they are hosting, and a short talk on StackOverflow. A good overview of jQuery was slipped in as well.
There was a talk at the end of the day on code reviews, which I almost skipped. I haven't done them in years, and in some discussions with people at lunch, many others didn't do them either. The speaker works for SmartBear, which sells code review tools, but the talk wasn't about their tool. Instead it gave some good reasons why code reviews are good, and I found myself surprised by them. It was an entertaining, and informative talk.
There are lots of tweets about Dev Days, along with some pictures, if you're interested. There are more events coming the rest of the month in other cities.
Overall it was a good trip, and I had a good idea of how the event might work for SQLServerCentral. I'm not sure if we'll do one, but we have some things to discuss. We, meaning SQLServerCentral and Red Gate, plan to continue to support SQLSaturday, DevTeach, and various other events all around the US and other countries. We've sent speakers and money to both free and paid events, and hope to do more next year.