August 9th and 10th 2017 marked the second annual ScaleConf New Zealand conference; one for those "who build and maintain web systems." Hosted at Te Papa on Wellington's waterfront, this event saw a couple of hundred IT enthusiasts and professionals gather to hear from a broad range of international speakers on all things that scale in tech.
On the first day I attended a workshop on automating ways to clean up large code bases using transpilation and enforced code standards, delivered by Sarah Dapul-Weberman of Pinterest.
For the rest of the session Sarah helped us to build our own tools. I worked on a basic linter to detect
$this aliases in callbacks (not required after PHP 5.3), which was an easy way to get my head around how abstract syntax trees and parsers work.
When the main conference morning came along I quickly traded in my Southern stoicism for an Uber ride to make the ten minute journey to the conference venue amidst heavy rain and wind (but you can't beat Wellington on a good day!). The foyer was buzzing with tech types, chatting about their work challenges and drinking quantity-over-quality conference coffee.
After a welcome speech by somebody from the main sponsor Catalyst (I didn't catch his name), so began the epic day of talks about things that most devs dream of being able to do but seldom have the chance to.
We heard from a ranges of speakers on all topics from cloud infrastructure and automated deployment tools, database engines to performance metrics tools and server-less apps to large scale security policies and even building bots.
One of my favourite speakers was Ronen Baram, MySQL Principal Consultant at Oracle. He talked to us about different MySQL replication options that are available in the community and enterprise versions of MySQL. Now, any conference speaker will probably tell you that a simple rule of thumb is to never do live demos. Ronen flipped a finger to the conference gods and gave a live demo of one of the newer "multi master" replication strategies that they've been working on, and it was epic.
So Wellington is a tech hub in New Zealand - I've even heard it being referred to as "the Silicon Valley of New Zealand." While I'm not sure if that's an accurate parallel, it explains why Wellington has a large number of tech startups. We heard from some of these who have gone on to become successful in business, including stories of the hard times and how they've managed the scalability of their company culture as it expanded.
Overall, I would say that the quality of the talks delivered was very high. While some topics were interesting yet not that practically useful for the average developer, they were all very well received and interesting to listen to. After all, how often to you hear an engineering manager from Bing talk about how he tried to take down an entire data centre in East Asia, just to test their contingency plans? Or a Twitter lifer talk about managing thousands of cloud security policies so that a monolithic yet decentralised system can work safely with hundreds of millions of users?
ScaleConf 2017 was interspersed with some interesting background information on each speaker and a selection of inappropriate and frankly awkward jokes from the MC, some which sent a sea of awkward head turns and glances around the room. Despite this, the day was probably broken up into the right chunk sizes to keep it manageable. After all, there were a total of thirteen speakers over four sessions, each lasting about 2-3 hours each. By the time the beers came out at the end I was more than ready to do some mingling.
I hope one day that I can do something in my job that involves the sort of scale that these speakers discuss, but I suspect it will stay as a proverbial carrot for me, dangled in front of me by employees of tech giants at the future conferences I attend.
I'd definitely recommend ScaleConf for next time around. It's a very interesting day out with speakers who are happy to have a chat to you, and at between $200-300 for early bird tickets it's pretty good value.
At the end of the day, I just couldn't resist this one though:
Until next time ScaleConf!
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