Craft Conference 2017

I went to Craft for the second time this year, and it remains one of the friendlier large conferences I’ve attended. Unlike many tech conferences, it usually has as many speakers talking about culture and human factors as it does technical talks. A couple of highlights from the schedule:

Erika Carlson: Fearless feedback (video)

This was a clear, practical, and at times quite personal talk about giving and receiving feedback in the workplace. I often sit and allow conference talks to wash over me, but after Erika had been speaking for a few minutes I found myself intently scribbling in my notebook. Here’s what I learned:

I appreciated Erika’s use of repetition (in part through storytelling) to help the audience learn more effectively, so I’d highly recommend watching the whole thing rather than relying on my summary.

Anjuan Simmons: Lending privilege (video)

Anjuan gave an introductory talk on privilege: what it is, how to recognise you have it, and how those with it can improve inclusiveness in their communities by lending it to those who do not.

As someone who ticks pretty much every available privilege box (gender, colour, education, religion, physical ability, parental) this was a particularly important talk for me as it gave me some new ways to think about how to share my privilege with others. Anjuan talked about different types of privilege lending:

It occurs to me to add at least one item to this list: sharing risk. As a white man with a great education, I will often have much less to lose from sticking my neck out in order to fix problems in the workplace. Indeed, the example Anjuan gave at the start of his talk (of Leonard Nimoy confronting the studio when he discovered that Nichelle Nichols was being paid less than George Takei and Walter Koenig) is very much one of Nimoy knowing that his reputation meant he had less to lose by raising the issue than Nichols did.

I think it’s safe to say this is the first diversity and inclusion talk I’ve seen that includes a line from Eric S. Raymond clearly demonstrating his (Raymond’s) support for inclusion in the software community. Trolling at its finest.

Sam Newman: Confusion in the land of the serverless (video)

Some of my friends have been unlucky enough to be near me while I rant about “serverless” and its rather dubious silence on the topic of TCP connection reuse.

Sam talked far more eloquently about this problem, and covered a number of other “serverless” (sorry, it’s staying in scare quotes) failure modes and cautionary tales. As always, Sam’s dry sense of humour made this very enjoyable to watch.

Damian Conway: Fun with dead languages

A wrap-up of Craft 2017 could not be complete without a mention of Damian’s day one keynote. Between calculating π using PostScript and creating a programming language based on the rules of Latin grammar, this has to be one of the nerdiest and most entertaining talks I’ve seen in years. Brilliant.

I have just one piece of feedback for the organisers. The AWS Lambda opening keynote felt very much like a “vendor pitch”, or possibly an in-depth technology workshop. It probably would have been fine somewhere else in the schedule, but putting it as the opening keynote of the conference was energy-sapping and something of a sour note to start on. In future, I think everyone would be happier if we could save the opening keynote for a broad and entertaining culture talk such as the stealth keynote (video) given by Dan North in the following session.

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