Thursday, November 24, 2016

From Russia with love

Nope, it's not a review for the Bond movie. It's a story about how I got in love with an event that I've recently took part of and the community of developers behind it.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to be one of the participants and speakers at GDG DevFest Novosibirsk (Siberia).

What is a GDG DevFest? A series of events that happen once a year throughout the world. They are organized by the GDG Chapters (meetups) in a city or region and bring together the developers like you and me that are using Google technology like Go or Android in their job, day to day life, for side projects or just are interested in what's the latest and greatest on the forefront of technology.

It was one of the best conferences I've been too so far and let me tell you why.

At a fist glance, many, especially those who aren't familiar with that part of the world will probably react along the lines: Siberia? Are there any developers there? Turns out there are, and quite a few while at it. From a city of about 1.5 million people, there were more than 500 participants to the event. And I should mention that this is the first time the event is happening, in what I hope to be a long series of such events.

My experience with the conference begun a few months ago when my dear friend Natalie told me about the event and the Call for Papers. She spoke highly about Leonid, one of the organizers she met during Google I/O 16 and how the community there is a really good one. After applying with a few proposals, I was selected to present the Go 1.8 release notes.

I was thrilled about this so the process for getting a visa started, I've got the approval for holidays from my company and the day of the flight arrived. This was my first trip to Russia and the farthest Eastern place on Earth I've been so far.
At the airport I've met Denis, one of the organizers. During the hour long drive from the airport to the hotel near the conference place, we've talked a lot about the event, the developer community there, the companies that are there and many many other things. It was an eye opening experience.

Once we've got to the hotel we've met with the first few other speakers: Tanay, Edward and Daniel. As the evening approached, we went to the conference venue to get a sense of it and participate in the Go meetup. Me and Natalie had a quick workshop on how to get started working with Go, which the attendees were very quick to implement and a nice discussion ensued based on it. Then Alex, a colleague of Denis, presented how he and his colleagues at 2GIS (a local version Google Maps and not only) are using Go, DEIS for their automation, infrastructure, microservices and why.
The meetup was a very good signal that I had to step up up my slides and talk as the local community knows their way around Go very well and are eager to learn even more.

Next day the conference began and the I've realized that 500+ people mean and how coordinating this can be a small nightmare. A "nightmare" which Leonid and his team handled extremely well, as this would have been a thing they are doing on a day to day basis and it's just clockwork.

Having missed the keynote from Marcelo, which everyone was referring to even Sunday afternoon, I've joined Daniel for the Data Science Training session. To those interested in using Go for anything "big data" processing, I highly recommend getting him or his colleagues from ArdanLabs. And if you'll be lucky to attend Daniel's course and see his passion and determination to teach everyone and make them successful to correctly analyze and interpret data (and use Go while at it).

I've then moved into the room where Natalie gave a talk about the Women Techmakers Berlin Chapter (a GDG Chapter focused on diversity in technology). I knew a bit about the subject but seeing Natalie on stage, talking about it to a room packed full of people, was inspiring. During the presentation there was also a surprise announcement about the new WTM Chapter in Novosibirsk as well as a WWG Chapter that will be lead by none other than Elena, one of the co-hosts of the GolangShow podcast.

If you don't know about GolangShow, it's a Russian weekly podcast about the latest and greatest in Go (I also think it's the oldest podcast series about Go). Talking to Elena after the presentation turns out that this will also be the home of a new GoBridge Chapter.

There I was, at a totally non-Go conference speaking about Go, GoBridge and a lot of other things. And I've discovered just how big the podcast is and the efforts behind it, as I knew about it from Vlad. We came out with a few ideas out of our talk which were about to be reinforced and extended in just a bit as we've met Andrew from Bishkek that started roughly with: "Hey Florin, I want to help out to get GoBridge and content to our community in Kyrgyzstan. How can we do make it happen?" I think this is a resounding signal that Go is growing faster than ever and the efforts that the community is doing right now will send shock waves not only in time but in the whole industry as well. With the upcoming London training at the end of January and many many more things in the pipeline GoBridge is getting also a lot of traction and it's a great feeling to see that diversity matters to all Gophers, new or experienced. But back to the conference for a bit as there's even more Go stuff happening in the second day. Who knew?!

The first day ended with a small party and it provided yet another good way to interact with Go users from everywhere as well as socialize a bit more with other speakers and organizers.

Second day began with Natalie talking on the main stage about Developing Apps for developing countries (#appsforafrica if you want to search for it on Twitter). I only wish I'd had more time to dive into this as well as the presentation surfaced so many things that you'd not even consider about at a first glance. If you are an apps developer, or searching for an idea for an app / start-up, I highly recommend watching this talk.

After the presentation I jumped back in the speakers room in order to add a surprise to the slides as well. Since the list of changes in Go 1.8 is quite big and I only extracted what I think it is interesting from the 400+ commits that happened in Go between 1.7.3 and 1.8 I could also move quickly through the slides and instead of having a full hour of me, I've invited Elena, Daniel and Andrew on stage and had an open Q&A session with them and the audience. Sadly we couldn't find the cloning device in time to also have Natalie as her flight was an obstacle. For those of you watching the recordings, some of the questions / answers will be in Russian. I felt this would be a good opportunity for everyone to remove some of the language barriers and allow them to express in their native language and from the feedback I had it was a good idea.

If you are speaking Russian I highly recommend watching the recordings from the talks that were presented at the event. While I don't speak Russian myself, I believe that having people clapping for healthy amounts of time at the end of the talks is usually a pretty good indicator something was right. Oh and hearing some of the topic names being mentioned in the conversations / passing by others.
I haven't touched too much the community part of the event so far but I've seen people having fun with VR apps, Project Tango, various challenges, smiling chilling out between sessions, hacking out a project and in general having the rooms packed. And no, I'm not saying venue was not great, quite the opposite, I think if the even would have had 2x the space, the rooms would still have been packed. What was good was also that there was a diverse crowd that attended the event. And contrary to what they say, Russians do speak English very well, but for some reason they are sometimes too shy to do it.

I could probably go for hours describing how cool the co-working space in the building the event was looks like, or how the organizers where always there to help with the most stupid of issues I've had (from some minor medical issues to breaking my glasses, yeah, that happened). Or how for being the first time this event happened I couldn't see that in any parts of it, everything that I could see was spot on. The Go community in Novosibirsk is a very welcoming one, how they value deep technical questions and are happy to help out newbies starting with the language. Or how the new chapters dedicated towards increasing the diversity are among the first in Russia from for organizations like GoBridge, WWG and WTM.

But probably as much as I’d love to I wouldn't do justice to what's a really amazing corner of the world. I would definitely recommend visiting it, and if you don't like -30C they have +30C during summer.

I'd like to end up thanking Natalie for pinging me about this one, Leonid, the lead organizer of the event for all the help I've got from him, Denis for being there to pick up and drive around what would be otherwise be known as a frozen gopher now, to the speakers and attendees and last but not the least to the whole organizing team for all the efforts behind this event. I hope I’ll have a chance to attend next year as well (but I'm afraid that it will be even bigger next time!).

Edit: Oh, to see what you've missed and what to expect next year:


Edit 2: Updated some links thanks to Natalie.

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