That Conference 2017 - My Experiences

Well, the Przylucki clan has returned from another fun, entertaining, informative, and enlightening excursion to Wisconsin for That Conference.  I wanted to put down some of my thoughts and what I took away from the three days here while it was still fresh in my head.

One of the big things I traditionally take away from attending That Conference has been the spotting of trends in the industry.  What is the coolest, hottest, slickest new thing that everybody is doing? It has been fairly easy to spot most years.. Microservices? Docker? Git? Cloud computing? Xamarin forms? Node.js? yup, I've seen those things come in from year to year and have a strong presence on the schedules of many of the past years.  Also, I've learned to pay attention to those things, and even make myself go attend talks on those topics, even when it may not have been something on my radar previously.  While it may not be something I'm doing today, it's a fair bet that it's something I will be better off having some familiarity with in the not too distant future.  Git? yup, I'm working on that now. Node? sure, while I'm not currently doing Node, a little background and knowledge is helping me as my current client is starting to add that, and we have to create build and releases for it... Things like Docker and Microservice architecture are not something that I've gotten my hands in to yet, but I know its coming, just a matter of time...  

So going in to this year, I was looking for "that thing" that I needed to go get my head wrapped around.  This year however, I had a hard time finding "that thing".  Not sure if there was just not one overriding thing, or if the That Conference organizers had made a more concerted effort to not have as much overlap in topics, but going in I just didn't see it.  There were topics like AI, or programming Alexa tasks, or Docker that had multiple sessions, but nothing was hitting me in the face as the thing to go do.  So I went in more loosely on my session selection this year than I have in the past, intent on looking for the thing I wanted to see more in the moment that as rigidly planned out as I had in the past.  Now looking back on things, especially after looking at all of the Open Spaces sessions that were added during the week, I think that "thing" this year may have been React.. and I didn't react fast enough to make it to a React session.

As always, I took away a good deal from the daily keynotes, and this year in particular, I really enjoyed Brian Hogan's talk on Combatting Fear.  The ideas on stepping up and recognizing where you're being held back by fear, and then leading and fostering a community that is capable of breaking through fear was energizing and inspiring.  

Some of the other top sessions that pop to the top of my head are:

  • Chris Powers' talk "TDD Like You Mean It" - talking through TDD, while actually doing it really was a great way to drive home the points of making TDD your default programming pattern. This is something I really need to practice more and work on, and even though this was not my first exposure to TDD ideas, this talk was super helpful
  • Angela Dugan's talk on agile teams and how to get them unstuck was a great look in to common pitfalls and how to identify them, and strategies for getting through them.  Always a great topic for me to hear, helpful info, lots of learning for me.
  • Cecil Phillip's talk on Microservices discovery patterns was super helpful and informative.  As somebody that's not really working in a Microservices architecture right now, I left this session feeling like I made a huge leap in understanding and knowledge on how it practically works and can be leveraged in an enterprise.
  • Scott Davis' talk entitled "He is the most Paranoid Developer in the World" lived up to its name, and was both super informative, and fascinating.  The lengths he has had to go to in order to properly safeguard and secure his mobile game showed us all just what vulnerabilities are out there, especially when building mobile apps, and gave a lot of food for thought on how to think through how and what you want to keep secret and secure.
Plenty of great take-aways from all of those, as well as the other topics on Devops, or Alexa, or JSON Web Tokens, or Waterfall to Agile transformations that I attended. Loved it all. I came out this end better prepared for life as a consultant than I started with.

And of course, it is That Conference, and the family aspect of this is great.. Over the years, my boys have loved intro to programming courses, minecraft hacking sessions, internet security talks, and on and on.  Now I find after going for four years on, that my now teenage boys are finding less and less that interests them.  This year the big hit was for my 13 yr old son and the "Science around the Campfire" put on by Sage Wheeler.  He saw that Oobleck was going to be in play there, and he was sold.. and he came out of that session smiling and a happy boy having had a chance to geek out playing with science.

So plenty of learning, plenty of growing, great stuff for the family, all wins, but the fun side of That Conference is also very special, whether it was running That5K, or enjoying time at ThatWaterparkParty, or playing with my boys at ThatGameNight, or just eating all the bacon, lots of great time for the week. Had all of ThatFun!

Attending ThatConference

Last week I had the opportunity to attend ThatConference in Wisconsin.  Sub-titled "Summer Camp for Geeks", it really is a great three days of fun, geeky, IT learning.  The schedule of sessions was really wonderfully diverse, so I was always able to find a session that was interesting, informative, and relevant.  Each day started with a Keynote (after breakfast of course! can't start your day without some bacon!) that gave me plenty to think about.  The opening day's keynote from Elizabeth Naramore was particularly inspiring.  Titled "Ripples in the Pond" she went on to challenge us in the IT community to be the best us we could be.  To be helpful, welcoming, understanding and generally "good" people to work with, instead of falling in to the traps of being negative, and critical and difficult to work with.  There were many good examples and lots of good food for thought which was really a great way to kick off everything.  Tim Huckaby's keynote on Tuesday was full of great techno-geekery that was exciting and fun.  And Mike McGee's keynote on Wednesday was inspiring and challenging, to see what is possible when you really put your mind to accomplish a big vision.  Great job was done by all of them.

Then each day we would break out for four sessions for the morning and afternoon.  There were really so many sessions to choose from it sometimes became difficult to nail down just which one I wanted to get to... But I was really happy with the sessions I ended up at.  I saw several great session on mobile development, talking through some topics like mass, cross-platform notification using Windows Azure messaging hubs, to cross-platform development with Xamarin and Azure Mobile services, to fun applications like Geo-fencing capabilities baked in to the Windows Phone development kit. Great stuff.  Then I was able to see some interesting ALM-related sessions, including one from the TFS Whisperer Angela Dugan, which was a great lesson in real-world problems and was very informative. I was also able to catch a session on Automated Build and Deployment on Wednesday.  That session covered tools that I was not really super familiar with, TeamCity for build, and Octopus for deployment.  Now, as a TFS ALM geek, I fall in to using the Microsoft tools like TFS Build, and Release Management to handle these tasks, so this was a great opportunity to get exposure to these other tools, and to see how other people are utilizing them in the real world. Very good for me.

For all of that learning and experience, there is another side to ThatConference.  I was amazed by the great group of people that were assembled for the three days.  I was able to meet, and chat with some great people doing impressive things from all over the area... Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and even Florida and Texas.  Great to be able to get to chat and learn from them.  Also ThatConference, even with the amazing set of scheduled sessions, goes above and beyond and sets up "Open Spaces", where people can sign up to have an open discussion on any given topic that they are interested in learning or talking more about.  As if it wasn't hard enough to pick a session to attend, now I had an even wider selection! I didn't end up finding my way over to any of the open spaces talks.. I really had my sessions picked out, and didn't waver, but it was really super cool to see some ever more amazing topics pop up on the schedule every time I refreshed it.

Now for all of that, it was a huge win for me to be able to attend! I got so much out of the three days.  But one other really big win for me was having my boys be able to attend the family track sessions.  I loved seeing my oldest son Jacob especially get excited about the opportunity to learn more about computers and programming.  The boys attended a Minecraft mod-ing session, and then Jacob really wanted to go learn what he could in the "Teaching Junior Campers to program with Grown Up Tools".  They were introducing the kids to using VisualStudio and C#! How cool is that! And Jacob loved it! You know that they're enjoying their time, when they want to go to a conference room to LEARN instead of running around the water park all day! Awesome! 

Also, (shhhh, my boss may be reading) there was a ton of fun things to do in the down time.. of course there is the amazing water park (including a fun late-night private party at the water park!), and pig roast, and game night! and Badge ribbon collecting! it was a total blast to be there..  we had a great time!  And there was even a group of "campers" that would get up early to go run.. they called it "That5k" and that served as an excuse to go run and exercise, so that helped keep me motivated to get out and try to keep up with my marathon training, sweet!

Here is a shot of my badge and my son Owen's badge at the end of the conference.. the ribbon collecting got infectious!


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