ApacheCon US 2007
I just got home from ApacheCon US 2007. I have to say, upon reflection, that it is a truly unique conference. For a long time, it bothered me that it became "JApacheCon" (J is, of course, for Java). While it is still quite saturated with Java-centric content, my perspective on it has changed.
I met a lot of new people (and I'm bad with names, so likely won't remember a single one of them -- just faces) from all over the US, Brazil, Spain, the Ukraine. Most of these people ran Java-centric platforms, but they were very aware that their "stuff" runs on an architecture that is not strictly Java. It's a Java-centric conference with no blinders or bubbles.
There is tremendous value for anyone attending (and not shy) as the vast majority of people that actively write the code that you run from day-to-day on your web server are available for casual conversation. Naturally, this benefit comes with your investment of both attendance and participation.
I like this conference mainly because I get to see fellow hackers that run in different circles that my usual group. It's only once or twice per year that I get to meet up with these people and I find them very intellectually stimulating (discussing real, hands-on experience with new technologies) and not boring (discussing topics such as travel, food, religion, and even home renovation and the experience of buying power tools of eBay).
This year I gave 7 hours of tutorials (one ran over for about an hour). I gave my "tried and true" Scalable Internet Architectures talk and a relatively new one on Advanced Production Troubleshooting. While both talks are aimed at technically proficient audiences, they are very "back to basics" type instruction with an emphasis on "you will never succeed unless you know and love your architecture." Both presentations are full of anecdotes and lose a lot of value without the "presentation" itself, but I've made my ApacheCon slides available for what they are worth. These presentations do not change much from year to year because they are about engineering best practices -- and those just don't change much. I've learned that, despite the topic being quite repetitive to me, they are immensely valuable to those that attend for the first time. I even signed a few books while I was there.
The one major difference between this conference and many others I attend is the attendees. People at ApacheCon generally exhibit the same level of geekiness, drinking habits, desire to surround themselves with those of similar topic, but also have one noticeable difference. The majority of people at ApacheCon are driven to solve business problems. They show up with real problems and real experience. When you assemble all these smart people that spend their time getting things done in the trenches, you get some wicked collaboration and solution development. It's pretty amazing, because you almost always walk away with something -- and if 500 other people do the same thing -- well, that's just awesome.
Disappointingly, I was not able to recruit anyone at ApacheCon. The usuals suspects were still uninterested in change (you know who you are) and the rest were not positioned well. Of course, employers send their staff to ApacheCon and would likely not want me stealing all the good ones -- in a way, I guess this is good for the conference itself. Just bad for me.