Review: Devoxx UK 2014

A year ago Devoxx crossed an ocean for the first time. After all the events in Belgium (Antwerp) and France (Paris) a new satellite event was launched in the UK (London). And here I am again, in a London hotel room, after two days of Devoxx UK.

Day 1: Getting started

With a silly one hour jetlag (which shouldn’t be a thing, but is…) I was awake and at the venue very early. Slowly but surely people started flooding in on the exhibition floor. It quickly became clear there were more visitors than last year. On the exhibition floor a lot of smaller local startups were present. But surprisingly I haven’t had any sales pitch at all, this is something other conferences can learn from. Only genuinely interesting people talking about content.

There was also a corner where Devoxx UK had invited cool upcoming hardware like the NFC ring and Crazyflie tiny quadcopter. These projects quickly generated a crowd of people shouting: “Shut up and take my money!” The problem was, they didn’t have anything for sale… just an “you can order online”. This is a bit of a shame, I’m pretty sure they are now missing at least a dozen of impulse purchases. They should do something about this next year.

Day 1: The keynote

The awesome thing about Devoxx is… the lack of sponsored talks and keynotes. At least, that is how it seems to be. I really haven’t seen any session that even had a hint of sponsor.

This year the keynote speaker was Dan North and he talked about some of his personal experiences. He talked about moments where colleagues did or said things that really affected him and his career. Things you say and do at work might have a lot more influence than you can imagine. The best part of his story (in my opinion) was how a colleague tricked him into pair programming. If you keep asking “hey buddy, can you help me with this?” eventually your ‘buddy’ is just sitting next to you all the time.

During the keynote two amazing artists from Smartup Visuals created a drawing of Dan, later they hand customised conference t-shirts for the visitors.

Day 1: The sessions

As ‘Devoxx videographer’ I can’t always just pick a session and settle down. Most of the time I walk around and only settle down where there is a good opportunity. The first session I attended was by Venkat Subramaniam who talked about the new Lambda expressions in Java. He is a great clear speaker, to the point.

After filming some more I settled in room 2 with Dick Wall for the second session. His talk is named: “What have the monads ever done for us?”… and as you can guess it is about lambdas as well. His talk was a bit more theoretical, naming all the different theoretical objects and patterns (like monoids, monads and functors). Good talk, great speaker, best lambda related talk I’ve seen yet.

The third sessions I had the chance to see was by James McGivern. He’s a programmer with a math background and he has very similar interests as I do. His talk was about ECC (Elliptic curve cryptography) versus RSA, explaining how these security algorithms and the math involved work. I absolutely loved his talk, everything was explained so clearly it reminded me of Numberphile and Computerphile (two related YouTube channels I adore).

Instead of following more tracks I got distracted filming the Crazyflie quadcopter and shooting them from the sky using an automatic NERF gun which can only be fired wearing the NFC ring. I also had a nice discussion about the future of affordable hardware and 3d printing with Dick Wall. The thing we did that evening was to attend the IBM Sensor hacking challenge.

In this hands on session we had to form teams of 4-6 people, each team got an Arduino and a set of 30+ sensors which can be attached. The challenge was to build the coolest piece of hardware with this. There was only one rule though: We had to use WebSphere to communicate with the Arduino. This made absolutely no sense at all to me… we ended up having to write JSP pages that send signals to the Arduino to read/write from the sensors. Even worse was the deploy cycle (should not be needed, but was): stop websphere, kill hanging processes, reboot Eclipse (!), start websphere again, deploy new pages.

The winning team was the Crazyflie crew. They took their quadcopter, fired up the Arduino IDE (boo!) and made the firmware in the Arduino language. In the end they could fly the quadcopter with a joystick attached to the Arduino. Clearly this wasn’t according to the only rule we had, but it was just too cool and had to win.

Day 2: Sessions

The second day of Devoxx UK started with a session by two fellow Dutchies, Regina and Linda. They talked about a pattern they found to change things in projects. They all did this in a “Punch and Judy show”-style, which didn’t quite work in my opinion, it was very rusty and read out. Although the underlying message itself is simple and sound, they started calling everything a pattern. It is a good thing to organise brown bag lunch sessions, sure, but please don’t call this a “brown bag pattern”.

The second session of the day was “Is Your Code Parallel-Ready?” by Maurice Naftalin. His session was also about the new lambdas in Java 8. It had a nice buildup and sketched a good problem, the only thing missing was the code of the solution. The solution was described/hinted but I’d love to have seen the actual code there for clarity. The speed of this session was very slow and I didn’t learn anything new, which is a bit of a waste of time.

Next I went to a panel of: Martijn Verburg, Ben Snipe, Stephen Colebourne & Ted Neward. They talked about the patent wars going on now between Google and Oracle. The final conclusion by Stephen was probably the best: Oracle and Google are dumb, dumber and dumbest; neither can stop now and they’ll likely settle.

The title “Modern Web Architecture, 2014 Edition”, by Ted Neward, is a bit misleading. Because 80% of the talk is a big history lesson of the origin of ‘the web’. The final 20% was more about common sense. Don’t get vendor locked in, think about creating a platform with multiple possible entry points, not just a website. Not really what I expected to hear, interesting nonetheless.

The final session was by Arun Gupta and Antonio Goncalves, they quickly went through 50 new features in Java EE 7. For some reason I’m not fond of the way Java EE is going. All the logic is being put in annotations. I predict a new term ‘annotation hell’ which is going to replace the ‘xml hell’ we had a couple of years ago. I’ve been warning about this since 2008, and it is getting worse and worse.

Final keynote

In the final keynote Martijn Verburg summarized the things he learned this Devoxx UK, some of the trends he noticed. There were a lot of lambda talks, maybe a bit too much. A couple of years ago there would have been a lot of alternative language talks (JRuby/Groovy/Scala/etc) but there weren’t a lot of those talks anymore.

Then Dick Wall hit the stage, and actually continued from what we’d been talking about on the first day: cheaper electronics. The Arduino is cool and kind of cheap, so is the Raspberry Pi… but for a real Internet of Things we need devices much smaller and much cheaper. It doesn’t have to do graphics for example! It can probably be a fraction of the cost. Oh and did you know Dick Wall’s dog has a Fitbit? (true story).

Finally Arun Gupta and Audrey Neveu talked about Devoxx4Kids, which is still gaining a lot of popularity all over the world. But we can always use more volunteers and new events!