My Report on StackOverflow DevDays

On Monday I attended Stack Overflow DevDays in San Francisco. Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood are hosting this series of one-day conferences as a way to get alpha-geeks out of the office to hear experts talk about new technologies ranging from Python to ASP.NET MVC. It was the best $99 (including lunch and coffee) I’ve spent in quite some time.

The highlight of the day was that I finally had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror and Stack Overflow. We’ve emailed several times over the years but never had the chance to meet face to face. And yes, he’s as smart as he sounds on his blog and podcast. And a super nice guy to boot.

Wireless Internet
Given Joel’s recent rant about trouble with wireless internet at conferences, I thought it comical that there was no wi-fi available for conference participants (and no way to get a hard-wired connection). AT&T must have seen a spike in usage in that are of S.F. as everyone pulled out their iPhones to check email and Twitter.

Let me start by saying that Joel Spolsky is an outlier. Like him or not, the guy is a genius. He knows how to capture peoples’ attention in both his writing and his presentations.

The conference opened with a keynote from Joel on power vs. simplicity. It was an examination of UI complexity and a more thorough treatment than a post I wrote on the subject a few years back. And of course Joel’s presentation included his typical humor, twists and entertainment value. Joel is all about entertainment, which makes you want to pay attention to everything he says. So much that it was a tough transition when Joel left the stage to make way for the next speaker.

After the keynote we heard talks on Python, iPhone development, FogBugz (Joel again, though this time in his less entertaining “demo mode”), ASP.NET MVC (from Scott Hanselman who also knows how to work a crowd), Stack Overflow (Jeff Atwood), Qt (a language that runs on Nokia phones), Android and jQuery.

I work from home and since I live in Fresno I don’t get out much. The 7 hours of driving (round-trip) was tough to justify simply for tech content, but the bonus of the day was connecting with several developers including a guy I worked with in 2001, a developer of a former client, someone I had never met, and of course, Mr. Atwood.

Closing Thoughts
It’s easy to forget the impact of face-to-face contact. I sit in front of my laptop for days, nay weeks on end and never see another person who is remotely interested in technology. The conference was a well-needed reminder that there are other alpha-geeks in the world, and that being around one another generates excitement and energy that is impossible to duplicate in any other forum.

The conference was also a wake up call that I need to get out from behind my desk and make these face-to-face connections more often. So I’m in the process of booking speaking engagements over the next several months on how developers can launch and market their first product.

If you’re affiliated with a group in California who might be interested in a free speaker, please drop me a line.

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#1 John Gallagher on 10.25.09 at 4:17 pm


Thanks for letting us know how cool DevDays was. I thought as much, which was why I was gutted when I couldn’t really justify another chunk of money for another conference – I’ve already been to about 4/5 this year.

But eventually, I’d love to meet Jeff and the StackOverflow team as well as other devs. There are just so many conferences you could attend it’s almost silly. I’ve been to a few Rails conferences like FOWA and Scotland on Rails and met some really nice developers who I’ve kept touch with. And I don’t even develop with Rails (although they’re my target market which was the thinking behind this).

Thanks for the great post.

#2 Robert on 10.27.09 at 11:02 am

I went to the Austin DevDays and it was fantastic. You are 100% right about Joel’s presentation skills, I couldn’t believe the hour went by so quickly.

I feel your pain when it comes to not being able to interact with other developers and it’s definitely worth the drive to be able to interact with a large group of really smart people.

This was a great conference for the money and I’ll be going back year after year if they keep hosting it.

#3 jorge on 10.27.09 at 2:28 pm

I went to the LA DevDays. Very much the same. Joel is a great presenter.

A couple of other notes:
1. I felt old.
2. Nokia is in big trouble. The kids just don’t care about C++ toolkits.

#4 Brad Osterloo on 10.27.09 at 5:55 pm

I whole heartedly agree with your statement of “The conference was a well-needed reminder that there are other alpha-geeks in the world, and that being around one another generates excitement and energy that is impossible to duplicate in any other forum.”

Well said! – I attend community events for exactly this reason – a way to recharge the batteries abit.

#5 Eric on 10.29.09 at 4:30 pm

I went to DC DevDays this past Monday. Ditto to Jorge on “I felt old”. I wish the DC DevDays had Android and/or Qt presentations, as the topics didn’t really apply to me very much. There was some useful information, though, and I had a great time with the friend I went with. Joel Spolsky is all he’s advertised to be and getting to see him speak in person was great. Was a fun time, for $100, it’s a total no-brainer.

#6 uberVU - social comments on 10.29.09 at 5:12 pm

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