Back to the roots, functional style - Lambda Days 2015

February is over, so it was a high time to open the conference season in 2015 already ;P Due to practical reasons I carefully track such events that happen in Poland (not much to be tracked, but the number is increasing from year to year) - that's how I found myself in Cracow on 26th of February, the 1st day of Lambda Days, relatively less known conference dedicated to functional programming. You can find all the details about the idea of this conference on its website, but there's one thing worth mentioning -> during the second day of Lambda Days there was a very interesting full track (or rather - 2 parallel tracks) of sessions about reactive programming. This "event within an event" was called ReactDay.

But let's get back to the conference itself.

Venue

Pardon the personal inclusions, but I can't ignore the fact that Lambda Days took their place on AGH (University of Science & Technology) - my Alma Mater. What is more, the event was hosted by The Faculty of Computer Science - of which I am a (very proud) graduate. Getting back there after 12 years (I left Cracow just after graduation) & seeing how things are doing (truly impressive!) was a great experience itself.

Back about the venue itself: top-notch facilities in a completely new building (that didn't even exist "in my times"), plenty of space, convenient location (15 mins walk from the Main Square) - almost perfect (even keeping in mind that academic year is in progress & we were in the middle of living campus :>). What's to get improved in 2016?

  • it's normal to switch rooms during the conf sessions -> people usually are encouraged to do that, if they feel they're not learning or their expectations are not met; unfortunately, that's not the primary focus for academic lecture classrooms :) doors are loud & clicky, what may be a bit disruptive for speakers - conference crew was trying to mitigate this, but they should try harder next year

  • there were some odd problems with lights directed towards the main display, especially in Track 1 room - I know that some people had some trouble with reading the slides

Not much, ain't it?

Speakers

I didn't have high expectations initially, but once the list of announced speakers started to grow, I've changed my mind:

  1. Runar Bjarnason - the co-author of famous (some would even say le-gen-da-ry) Red Book
  2. Tomas Petricek - one of the most renown people in F# community, co-author of the most important book about functional programming for .NET enthusiasts
  3. Torben Hoffmann - CTO of Erlang Solutions, quite likely the most recognizable Erlang evangelist these days; some love him, some hate him - but all have to admit that he's persistent :)
  4. Jon Pretty - Scala ninja, Level 100; Can't say much more about him - when he starts his talks, I'm lost after ten sentences. At most.
  5. Alvaro Videla - AKA Rabbitman. Twitter celebrity, latino, author of the most reasonable book about RabbitMQ; Known also for his weakness - affection to PHP. Well, nobody's perfect.
  6. TypeSafe Gang - namely Nilanjan Raychaudhuri, Konrad Malawski - active developers in "the company behind Scala, Akka & Play"; Nilanjan is also an author of a very decent book about Scala & Konrad has a capybara fetish ;>
  7. Andrea Magnorsky - a demon-programmer, proudly proving that F# may be useful out of REPL as well...

... and many, many more.

Sessions - pros

Absolutely honestly, I don't think there was even one truly weak session I was on - either I was lucky or the quality level was that high. I didn't switch rooms even once. The difference between both days of the conference was that on the 1st day I didn't have much issues with picking a session in each timeslot (I always have a 1 clear favourite of 3 tracks), but on the 2nd day there were few timeslots when I wanted to be on 2-3 sessions in the same time.

Which sessions did I like most then?

  • About reactive web applications (by Manuel Bernhardt) - actually the conversation after the session was a great supplement as well :)
  • About implementing Reactive Manifesto with Akka (by Adam Warski) - I truly appreciate both the content (especially about Akka Streams & Persistence) & the skill to present it in a very clear way even for someone who has a limited experience (and YES, you don't need slides for that - code-based presentations FTW)
  • About megacore / manycore (by Kevin Hammond) - this was a great talk in terms of commercial justification of reactive approach (apart from tekkie programming-related paradigms & beliefs); made me (re-)thinking about some stuff
  • About how F# actually makes a difference in gamedev (by Andrea Magnorsky) - somehow I didn't watch any of past Andrea's sessions live, so I went for that this time & I wasn't disappointed: zero bullshit, good examples, real-life experience

What's important as well is that all the speakers were absolutely approachable after the talks - I think that during such conversations I've learned even more than on the actual sessions.

Sessions - cons

Does it mean that all sessions were perfect & I have no complains at all? No, not at all, but these are really minor issues, that didn't kill the show at all:

  • session about OCaml was interesting, but there was "not enough of OCaml in OCaml" -> author should rather focus on the language & its features (why the hell should we use it?) than on various tools we won't even remember in 5 minutes anyway
  • too many authors started their talks with providing elementary definitions like "what's functional programming" - does it really make sense to do that on the functional programming conference? I realize that their talks may have been presented on different events before, but 15 minutes of slide re-engineering would be enough to fix that faux pas ;P
  • I love the spread of languages & platforms covered (Scala, Clojure, Haskell, OCaml, Erlang, F#, JavaScript, ...), but I was lacking basic descriptions about required knowledge level in sessions' descriptions (whether the session is suited for more advanced or beginner people)
  • listening to Runar's keynote was great, but ...
    1. I don't really think it was a correct audience ...
    2. I don't really think that half of day 2 was the correct moment for it anyway ...

Final words

I had a great time. Both at the conference & in Cracow. If you want to have a peek into the atmosphere of the event, I'll just give you one example:

Friday morning: Kinga Panasewicz (neuroscientist) is presenting a keynote about computers' impact on our brains (yeah, off-topic, but quite an interesting one). She's astonished with the number of questions & level of interaction with the audience, but time is running out, so she admits that she may have to skip some content, because the coffee break is approaching. She gets a very clear answer - a person from the crowd shouting:

"Don't worry, we'll rather skip the break, go on."

and the storm of applause as an incentive :)