TL;DR My expectations regarding software craftsmanship conferences are constantly evolving towards more focused & interactive events. Less novelties (one can learn from Internet on the very next day anyway), more warstories & workshops with seasoned practitioners. DDD Europe 2018 was such an event - dedicated to domain modeling & design in general, with majority of sessions in a form of hands-on workshop. I strongly encourage all people deeply involved in building software not only to learn more about Domain Driven Design in general, but also consider the participation in next year edition.

Time for a change

This year I've decided to give up on so-called "generic software craftsmanship" conferences. Let's face it, I'm not really the "core" audience anymore, I can humbly serve as a speaker, but wouldn't enjoy it as a participant. That's why the only events I've booked in 2018 until now are either highly-specialized (narrow niche - technical or not) or do not conform to standard software conf scheme in some other way.

DDD Europe has met both these prerequisites, so I wasn't able to resist the temptation of participating. In the end it has ended more than well, which has only confirmed my belief that changing attitude towards conferences was the right decision.

Here's why, in details:

What really matters

It's quite possible some of you will feel offended with this statement, but ... it was awesome, even just once, to participate in an IT conference where 90% of participants is NOT perceiving building software products ONLY in perspective of code: languages, frameworks, particular libraries. Yea, I know there are "Agile-ish" conferences as well, but I prefer to remain both feet on the ground ;P

So, during DDD Europe there was no mumbling about microservices, .NET Cores, Angulars, Dockers, TensorFlows ... Instead, people were discussing how to TACKLE THE ESSENTIAL COMPLEXITY and BUILD GOOD, VALUABLE, NECESSARY PRODUCTS. Actual business was not treated as an annoying inconvenience, but a domain bringing truly meaningful challenges.

For a change.

* (exception)

Well, there's one exception that keeps amazing me. DDD relligion has its own very special covenant that is always mentioned in the very same breath when "DDD" is mentioned, yet IMHO the connection is ... vague. This covenant is CQRS-Eventsourcing aficionados & these guys can be truly iritating. Sometimes I have the impression that their only purpose in life is to "eventsource all the things", so they are able to embrace any conceptual shortcut as long as it justifices using their beloved architectural pattern ...

Fortunately, although visibly present, these fanatics were not able to take the conf over ;)

No-one selling, no-one buying

As the topics were non-technical & there were no products to be solved (except the professional training in areas somehow related to DDD), speakers (& workshop hosts - more about them later) were different than usual. No sales(wo)men, no tech-evangelists, no recruiters "fishing" with a particular platform in mind ... No "benchmarketing", no more riding on a hype wave. Only real-deal design-related topics: "classic" DDD, theory of complexity, Cynefin, Wardley maps, Event Storming, Domain Storytelling, etc.

Hand-on FTW

This was my 1st conference (!) where the only standard (lecture-style) sessions I've participated in were the opening & closing keynotes. All the other slots I've filled with hands-on sessions (workshops) & just 1 non-interactive case study (at the end of day 2).

Some hands-ons were better (Domain Storytelling, spontaneous Event Storming in the open space), some were worse, but they were all practical (at least to some degree) & far more interactive than plain talks. All people I've met were truly eager for collaboration, so just the sole fact of exchanging different perspectives & learning other people approaches & techniques was priceless.

Keeping in mind that preparing a good workshop can take tremendous amount of time, kudos to all the workshop hosts (even the ones who didn't rock my world).

A bit of grumble

What did I miss? What could have worked better?

  1. I think orgs were very consistent with their idea for workshop (headcount limits, earlier registration, etc.) & got as much of this system as possible, but it has (the system) certain (& painful) limitations. It was not easy to get to some of the workshops & ofc I understand that it's not feasible to go beyond some threshold, but OTOH I've enjoyed the workshops 2 years ago (in Brussels) where logistics were set up in a way that I was at least able to participate as an observer (without interfering, making noice etc.) - even if not as cool as full participation, I've enjoyed the option.
  2. In Blue Room people were not able to move (leave/join) discreetly (without distracting the speaker) once the session has started, e.g. if the presentation was not interesting/relevant to them. That's something I don't like at conferences - if you're not enjoying the stuff & would like to be somewhere else, you should be free to comfortably do so.
  3. One of the reasons why I had no remorse because of missing the "standard" sessions was that very few of DDD gurus had their sessions these year. All the most renown characters had either only workshops (pre-conf ones) or participated more passively. Ofc it's not like I want to see the same faces every year, but I can't deny it was some sort of a disappointment.
  4. The last comment will be totally unconstructive, sorry for that. DDD Europe is that kind of conference where the most interesting stuff happens totally spontaneously in the corridors/open space & you learn about that afterwards ;P No, I don't mean typical social interactions - in case of DDD Europe people just grab the whiteboard, few handfuls of post-its & start modeling. Just like that. They try this technique or another, usually there's an experienced modeler asked to drive the efforts and ... that's it, MAGIC happens. Sadly, off the record, left only in memories of the few participants :( What's wrong about that then? Well, the only problem is that you can't be in all those places in the same time ;/

Final comment

I've used to rate conferences based on how many inspirations & concepts were added to my notepad during & just after the event. In this case (DDD Europe 2018) all-time record was not beaten :) (actually it was quite far from that), nevertheless the number of items was visibly higher than the average.

What's more important, I honestly keep my fingers crossed for people like Eric Evans, Alberto Brandolini, Mathias Verraes, Cyrille Martraire or Paul Rayner - they are doing tremendous work to shift developers' (& not only) attention to what really (IMHO) matters in building software. That's something very important for anyone who cares about keeping (making?) this industry more sane & healthy long-term.