Last night, I helped my friends at Unspace with the inaugural session of Technologic, their new monthly series of gatherings that’s part cocktail party, part mini-conference, part salon (in the sense of bright people getting together informally to share ideas rather than in the hair salon sense).
The event was held at their office, which is located in Toronto’s Queen West, a neighbourhood that mixes boutique-type shops, resto-bar/night club type-places and a number of start-ups and tech consultancies.
Unspace have strong ties to the Toronto developer community and a reputation for putting on some of the best indie developer conferences around, having set the bar rather high with RubyFringe and FutureRuby. Technologic is but one of their big plans for the coming year, and these plans are going to make Toronto’s developer scene even more interesting. Better still, they’ve invited me to help out with these events whenever I’m available. Looks like I’m going to be the Microsoft go-to guy at these events, as well as someone you talk with about development, the industry, or whatever else you like.
There were no pizzas, box lunches or other food typical of developer gatherings. They did charge a cover, but it went to good use – they got a catering service to make use of their kitchen (Unspace’s office could easily be converted into a very sweet downtown condo) and crank out some excellent hors d’oeuvres: chili meatballs, chorizo sausage, egg rolls, mushrooms and goat cheese in pastry and my favourite: puff pastry filled with bacon custard. I will have to atone for my dietary sins in the gym this weekend.
The photos above and below show the Unspace bullpen. Normally it’s packed with desks and bookshelves, but they cleared the room in order to create a makeshift standing-room-only conference space, with a riser at one end of the room functioning as a stage. With the initial drinks and food served, the attendees were herded here so we could start the presentation portion of the evening.
It started off with a quick intro by Unspace partner and master planner of all events social, Meghann Millard:
And with the quick intro out of the way, Reg “raganwald” Braithwaite took to the stage for the first lightning talk.
Reg’s talk was titled Bullshit, and it was about how many of the popular beliefs held by computer programmers may just be that. Sure, we believe that object-oriented programming makes us more productive than structured programming, but can we actually prove it? Or that you can be more productive or less error-prone or some other superlative in programming language X than programming language Y? Or that pair programming produces benefits other than preventing you from constantly checking your email or idly following Digg/Reddit/Hacker News links?
As you can see in the photo below, taken during Reg’s presentation, the topic gave them considerable food for thought:
Next up was Unspace partner Pete Forde, who talked about one of Unspace’s current projects, a web application that lets people who make TV shows and films find music for the soundtracks based on criteria like style and mood.
The application makes great use of HTML5 to create a slick yet usable user interface that would’ve been all but impossible in web pages only a little while back.
I got called into my role as “Guy who can kill time onstage while the big presenter sets up” and a couple of jokes and a performance of the Oompa Loompa Service Pack 2 song later, Rails core team/Merb Guy/jQuery core team guy Yehuda Katz took the stage for the big presentation, titled Explaining What You Do.
This was a non-technical talk for techies and focused on explaining to laypeople – specifically, the creatives and “suits” with who we work or who are our clients – what it is we do and what the technology we work with does. All too often, we techie types take a techno-snobbish, high-priesthood kind of attitude and expect laypeople to learn about our world, all the while refusing to learn about their work. Yehuda’s talk was about the first step in fixing that relationship and explaining our work to laypeople so that we can work with them better. I certainly hope that it’s not the last time he gives this talk – there are a lot of developers who need to hear this message.
With the presentations done, it was back to the cocktail party / salon aspect of the night, with good food and drink, good conversation and great people to share both with. A number of people asked me for a quick Windows Phone 7 demo, a request that I’m always happy to oblige, and I helped point people with questions about various Microsoft tools and technologies (namely ASP.NET MVC and Azure) in the right direction. It’s also good just to hang out with the folks who make Toronto’s tech scene fun, interesting and motivating.
Kudos to Unspace for putting on a great event! When I find out the details of January’s Technologic, along with the other things that Unspace is planning, I’ll let you know – I’d love to see you there!