I've been meaning to go to a developer conference for a few years and finally decided to go to the NDC Conference in Oslo.
I hit a rut and couldn't see where I was going any more. My career to date hasn't been the usual:
- I started off swapping keyboards and mice after not being able to get a developing job after University
- Import 30,000 contacts in 3 hours after writing an application to do it for me getting me noticed within the company
- Became the Head of IT for a financial organisation in Cardiff within 2 years for a company with 150 staff
- Downsize with the company over 3 months to 6 staff due to the recession and then rebuild the company to 80 staff within a year
- Quit the 9 to 5 and start up a company with a friend in my Dad's garage
- Build the company up to 30 staff in Cardiff
- Company relocates to Dublin as do I during the week for a year
- Leave the company and start a contract on Sunset Boulevard 6,000 miles away
- Start a family and realise the commute so get a new contract 2 miles from my house
- The career fear has started so quit the contract start a contract in New York for 1 year
- Go back to the local contract for 9 months then start a new contract locally
I'm starting to feel that my career isn't progressing and I hate the thought that my day to day will continue like this until I can retire (at time of writing I'm 32). I need to find some inspiration to figure out what to do next.
I saw adverts for NDC Oslo which I sold myself on as a career intervention. I booked the all access pass, an Airbnb and flight tickets for the family and myself to go out there for the week.
Monday and Tuesday were scheduled for a workshop. NDC offered a great selection making it difficult to figure out which one to go for. I decided to attend the Hack Yourself First course with Troy Hunt.
This is what I noticed over the 2 days:
1) You're no different to anyone else
I've always had the fear of being brought up for being wrong in a room with hundreds of people to point and laugh at me. The conference started at 8am for pass collection, I arrived at 8:01am (its always cool to be fashionably late to the party) to collect my pass and then looked at everyone else in the queue.
After collecting my pass at 8:02am (with thanks to NDC for their prompt service) I went and sat at the Oslo Opera house having a coffee and a pastry to reflect on what the random obscene word I was doing here.
Worst case scenario, I was in Oslo which I quickly learned is a beautiful city with lovely people. Beers expensive though so better focus on the conference.
2) If you're going to self promote, self promote!
When consulting I'm looking to try and distinguish myself from the competition. I can say all the buzz words and explain how I've used them before and how I can use them again. Going to conferences would hopefully give me that edge that I've been looking for.
I tweeted a photo to show where I was and who I was listening to (Troy Hunt). He retweeted it and I got over 10,000 impressions that day, putting this into context my previous tweet has been viewed 50 times.
3) The reason you're there is to learn, so learn
I quickly realised that the majority of the room had the same issue as I did, we didn't really know everything that Troy was talking about. Sure there were bits that I had worked with before, but some things I had never heard of.
There were two security experts listening to the talk to, and they were first to answer the questions that we raised. Fair enough they knew their stuff, but the gentleman next to me said quietly If they know it all, why are they here?.
The workshop format was to discuss a topic and then attempt to complete an exercise at the end of it. At this point I noticed that whenever Troy asked for any answers or questions, everyone remained silent. Not for lack of his brilliant presentation skills, more for the no one wanted to be wrong.
4) Help out
During a demo of how to proxy your mobile via your machine to view and/or manipulate traffic, Troy experienced some issues setting it up. I decided to make notes and have a go at setting it up when I went back to the flat that evening.
Troy thought the issue might be with the provided wifi network, but I experienced exactly the same issues with my own. After a bit of research I found that the latest iOS update required one more step to validate a new certificate which fixed the issue.
Before I could tweet Troy about the fix my self doubt hit me thinking that he probably mentioned this in a slide that I didn't view. It took me over five minutes to send the tweet with numerous edits, but I sent it which then followed by a tonne of regret. It's now in the public domain and people will probably shout me down.
After 15 minutes I had a reply and it was positive, the euphoria was immense. The following day I walked into the workshop and could see Troy's desktop on the projector, he was trying out the fix. It worked and he thanked me once the day got started which mean't the absolute world to me.
Prior to the conference, Geek Beer was arranged for people to meet up and talk. This was great for me as my family weren't coming over until the following day and I knew no one else at the conference.
I was one of the first people to arrive and met the organisers who gave me recommendations to Oslo for the family. I met a couple of other people but then found 3 guys from Oslo.
We kicked it off, had the same humour and started discussing British TV comedies, work and everything else under the sun.
Arriving early for the conference, I walked past one of the guys from Geek Beer the previous night so made our way together to get some breakfast. I didn't realise how big NDC is, it was being held in an arena, it was huge. Centre stage was a hanging box of projector screens with a countdown. When it reached zero, I want my NDC (to the tune of Money for Nothing by Dire Straits). Initially I thought it was corny, but the verses related to the speakers at the conference and rhymed perfectly.
Dylan walked on stage after the song (more about him later) and presented such a motivational speech about how important technology is using numerous historical references and pointing towards today and the future. If he wasn't performing the keynote I'd expect to see him either on or around the stage at a Guns and Roses gig.
The Conference Day 1
Implementing Authorisation In Web Applications And APIs**
Brock Allen / Dominick Baier
Interesting talk on Identity Server, I've used their product in past contracts to secure applications so was great to finally see them in person. The lesson I learned from the talk is that there is a limited amount of information that you can convey within a one hour window, so many notes were taken to review later on.
Suave - Zero To Hero Of HTTP APIs
I went to see Henrik's talk from the recommendation of one of the guys from Geek Beer. The majority of the technical aspect of the talk went over my head, his product predominantly focused on F# which I have little knowledge of. The parts that I took away from the talk was from the journey in the industry which were inspiring.
Functional Techniques for C#
Kathleen had a solid hour delivering key points. There were a lot of points that I took note to regarding functional techniques for repositories which I plan to implement in my own projects.
Building Resilient Applications In Microsoft Azure
I was excited for this talk as Azure is constantly evolving with new products continuingly being shown on the dashboard. I've followed Scott's blog for a few years now so was also good to see him live. He demonstrated from code to architecture some of the best current techniques to make resilient applications. I was happy to see he demonstrate some techniques I currently have, whilst also showing some new features which I plan to try out.
Jon Skeet for me is the rock star of C# development. I admire his ability to be his own compiler but I'm just happy to try to keep up with him when he's discussing code to such a deep level before losing me. I don't aspire to be like Jon but I do enjoy his talks that continue to remind me that there is so much going on under the hood. With his computer like ability to understand code, he's very much human in expressing this making it as easy as possible to understand complex nature to his talks as well as standing up to equality within the industry.
Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of APIness: The Secret To Happy Code
After seeing Dylan at the Keynote I felt I had to see what else he had to offer. Without knowing too much what the talk was about going into the room, it was the most reassuring talk I had.
A lot of points he raised I do on a day to day basis, thus making me realise I take this into account as being standard practice, its what I expect from myself.
He mentioned about inheriting an extended process of notes to setup a machine to work at a new company. At a recent contract I experienced the same issue so went about writing my own readme.md file for the next person to use when setting up. Points taken were to make friendly code, to help other developers understand how to integrate or handle errors from our own code base by giving detailed, concise feedback from the code itself.
At the end of the talk I wanted to thank him for helping me realise this, but then thought it would be best to send him an email later on. Luckily I was able to meet him at a bar later on in the week but more about that later.
The Conference Day 2
ETW - Monitor Anything, Anytime, Anywhere
I've had little experience with monitoring how custom code is managed when developing so was interested into how I can start to do this. Dina made a lot of good points which I intend to look into in the future.
Emerging Web Security Standards
Scott was a special guest at the workshop earlier on in the week. He had a really engaging talk which further expressed points he made at the workshop. His points in regards to the advantages for HTTPS over HTTP will be used in the future to help further understand the full advantage of going HTTPS only.
Tools And Technical Analysis Of The Hacking In Mr. Robot: Is The Hacking "Hollywood" or Real Life?
As a fan of Mr Robot this talk to begin with was more fun than personal development. Tiffany is the polar opposite of what I'd expect her to be, she was engaging and inspiring in what she has achieved. It was also great to see someone do something they love.
Abusing C# More
Day two of Jon Skeet was just as good as day one. If you get the chance, check out the Mongolian vowel separator.
Crappy To Happy: Strategies To Help You Kick Butt At Work
Kylie taught me what soft skills are. The room was filled yet she made the talk feel very personal. Points taken away were better ways to deal with people that I wouldn't necessarily socialise with outside of work, from people who frustrate me to people I don't connect with.
Something Something Cyber
Troy further demonstrated security vulnerabilities with the help of his 7 year old son to access a site. He has a great ability to make security interesting and fun whilst delivering important key techniques to protect your applications.
The party was held in the arena. There was honest talks from a select group of speakers about their most spectacular failures, a pub quiz, a band performing a load of songs and the beer was free! Afterwards a few of us went to the rooftop bar and met a couple of the speakers further discussing points raised that day as well as other stuff. It was so good I decided to get home at 3am.
The Conference Day 3
Hack Your Career
With a lot of coffee I managed to attend Troy's second talk. This was centred on soft skills again, providing insight in how he managed to get away from working for a big company and focus on working for himself and showed the benefits that come with it.
Azure Functions And Microsoft Cognitive Services Computer Vision API
The talked focused on using Azure to provide a serverless service for arranging photos according to how racy the picture was deemed to be. It was interesting and further pushes how some solutions today can benefit from a serverless or microsystem structure.
Banish Your Inner Critic V2.0
The final soft skills talk for the conference for me came from Denise Jacobs. She was energetic and explained a lot into why we criticise ourselves and how it is damaging us. I related to the majority of what she was talking about and have ordered her book to further dive into resolving to progress further with self development.
Building A Serverless API With Google, Firebase And PostgresSQL
The presentation used technologies that I'm not too familiar with but demonstrated setting up a robust solution. My main points taken away from this is to limit the dependency on third party providers. Dependency on them can cause issues if costs or dependency change over night, so becoming dynamic to this could potentially save future issues.
HoloLens Development: The Next Steps
Lars to HoloLens for me is Jon Skeet to C#. I've yet to invest time into looking into developing with the equipment but Lars demonstrated how familiar the code behind the scenes can be and provided an inception like demo of augmented reality inside augmented reality utilising a projector.
Scaling Agile In Your Organisation With The Spotify Model
The final talk was focused on team management. Companies I've worked with have experienced growth issues that were addressed in this talk. Agile is about being dynamic and this talk addressed that whilst presenting a core team structure to grow and adapt to a business' requirements.
It was almost a tough decision to go to PubConf from still feeling tired from the night before but managed to persuade myself to go. When I arrived at The Scotsman (another awesome venue) I bumped into Eric from Track.JS. He introduced me to his partner and we spoke about the week, where they're going next and his talk.
PubConf is organised by Todd Garder who invites 10 speakers to perform an off the record talk about whatever they want. Keeping code of conduct is key so there will be no specifics about who said what but some of my favourite talks were about don't program like an asshole and what's so good about the cloud.
After the talks Dylan Beattie took to the stage performed some of his extensive back catalog before the winners of PubConf were announced.
4 judges picked 3 winners, who then had to perform a talk with a blind slide so they had no clue what slide was coming up. Genuinely hilarious and amazed with how they managed to tackle the slides and still be hilarious. Kylie Hunt was the victor and long may she rule!
Dylan took back to the stage with the equally multi talented Vagif Abilov performing an intimate set of their interpretations. I was sat in an arm chair with a beer thinking how amazing this trip has been and feeling like it was a home from home.
I was about to make my way out but managed to speak to some of the speakers I had seen at the conference. We went out for more drinks and I had one of the most memorable nights of my life in recent date that I can hardly remember most of it.
After getting in at 5am from PubConf I had an 8am start being Dad and Partner again. The hangover was in full effect but I promised to make the most of the time we had in Oslo together. Making our way to the Sculpture Park with a bottle of water and regular coffee breaks I realised how lucky I am.
I came out to Oslo to find out what I need to do next to keep me excited, to want to wake up in the mornings and to know that when I grow older I can look back and be proud of what I've achieved on a small rock looping around a giant light.
I had all of what I need in front of me, a beautiful girl and the best boy I could have ever asked for.