I was lucky enough to be invited to the Brisbane YOW! 2016 Conference, and had the opportunity to interview Dave Thomas, the founder and chairman of the YOW! Australia and Lambda Jam conferences.
What makes you say that a conference was a good one?
A good conference is one that the attendees are very enthusiastic about, and they articulate that enthusiasm as they leave, hopefully talking to you through the day and telling you it was a good conference, saying that they will be back next year. And one that the speakers say that they really enjoyed.
There are only two customers for a conference, the attendees and the speakers, and if they both go away happy, it was a good conference.
It seems like YOW! tends to be ahead of the wave as far as new technologies are concerned. Would you say that is true?
We have an independent program committee of pretty talented people who select the speakers. The sponsors get no say in who speaks, which sometimes makes it hard for sponsors, but it doesn’t bother us since we are going to do the conference anyway whether we have sponsors or not.
The idea is that we believe in what we call the “complete developer.” We take suggestions from anyone who sends them in and our speakers and the program committee nominate people. Then there is a program committee meeting with a big board full of post-its with topics and names, and we select from speakers that have at least two strong advocates.
We have 500 speakers in our network and we can twist the arms of quite a few people. But we also try new people all the time; we like a good mix. And this year, we are quite proud that 33% of our speakers are female.
So, last year we had someone from JPL talking about the software in the Mars lander. We try to bring people that are really good speakers and who can deliver a positive message.
What role do you see conferences like YOW! playing in the industry?
We provide the opportunity for developers to hold up a mirror and see where they are relative to their colleagues and thought leaders. And often the Australians are right on top of things. When it comes to something like Agile or DevOps, you are as good or better than many places in the world. But often you don’t know that. You’ll say “I’m going to go to Mecca,” but actually, it may be that you’re already doing as good as it gets. But at least you are now calibrated in terms of that.
The other thing is that we are opinionated, so we put on things that we think people should know. You may come as a Java or C# developer and wonder, "Where are the 20 talks are about my language?" But we don’t have that because we have the idea of computational diversity. One of the reasons why we always have talks on Erlang is because that is really the best place to learn distributed computing and microservices. The people who know Erlang are just great at doing distributed systems. So we try to focus on the key underlying ideas rather than the fact that you are programming in a particular language, because if you have the core concepts then you can learn any new language or technique.
So, YOW! aims to give our attendees those concepts, and let them “level set” themselves against other companies and against the industry professionals.
What is the future of YOW?
What we have been doing is working. We would like to do a lot more, but when you talk to people they are pretty exhausted. We have three full tracks, in Melbourne and Sydney we also do workshops, and we also run the CTO summit. And that is just this time of year.
We are running a conference in Perth along with a functional programming and data analytics workshops in Sydney, and another conference on IOT.
So, we are constantly branching out. It is very much driven by the community. We are in Singapore and Hong Kong now because people asked us to come. We like to work with and complement local user groups to bring in the speakers that they couldn’t get locally.
We reinvest substantially into conferences. If we make more money than we spend, we’ll run another conference. We’re not driven by profit. We take care of our speakers and our attendees, so we do spend the money, but that is not our motive.
Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?
My theme for the year is that everyone understands QuickCheck, which is property-based checking. It was invented by someone called John Hughes, and it can make a substantial difference for developers.