OpenWest 2016 venue entrance

OpenWest 2016 Recap

Jake Goldsborough (@rjgoldsborough)
july 22nd, 2016

OpenWest is “the largest regional tech conference devoted to all things OPEN: Hardware, Standards, Source & Data”. This year the conference was held in Sandy, UT from July 13th to July 16th.

Infinity sent a large contingent of folks to Sandy for the conference, and a number of them have summarized their experiences in this blog post.


Howdy, y’all. Jake here.

I’ll be starting off this adventure by sharing my OpenWest tales.

While the talks were great, I personally enjoyed the CTF challenges, locksport, and the hardware and soldering labs the most.

Upon arrival, you were given a PCB board (which doubled as your name badge) and not much else. You could then complete puzzles and challenges to score points. These challenges included lock picking, hash cracking, and packet sniffing. After 200 points, you could pick up a kit for the board that included buttons, a dot matrix display, CPU, and battery pack. After that, it was off to the soldering lab!

It’s been some years since I soldered, so a few of them were rough. My first attempt to turn the board on was a no go. Nate, one of my coworkers also in attendance, helped me clean up a few of the solders, and we got it working on the second attempt. You could then program two lines of custom text and play a little game of snake. I programmed my name and it became the coolest conference name badge in my collection.

Pokémon Go was also released for Android N during the conference so it was fun exploring the area with coworkers.

This is what Alex Sparkman had to say.

I had the most fun getting to better know my coworkers. OpenWest included free admission to the Biz Games event next door. They had everything from video games, to rock climbing, to target practice with airsoft guns.

The bumper balls had to be my favorite, despite losing horribly. Jacob and I both donned the inflatable balls with the object to knock the other out of the rectangle. After losing to him three times in a row, I executed a drop kick with perfect precision, but no effect. He rebuffed me with a barrage of bounces until I laid exhausted on the outside of the arena.

Later conversations revealed that he had experience with Judo. His training made it alot easier to keep his center of mass over his base. He ended up teaching me a cool trick for any future games I might play.

Here are Jacob’s thoughts.

OpenWest 2016 was my first tech conference, and I had a fantastic time. It didn’t take me long to figure out why the conference was called OpenWest; the force of the open source community was present and strong in the panels and talks, and there were more than enough to choose from. I made it a goal to attend at least two interesting topics a day. By the end of day 3 I had been exposed to a number of new topics and heard conversations on subjects that allowed me to rethink or reinforce my stance on how I viewed them. In this way, it was a fantastic professional experience and I foresee myself making an effort to attend at least one conference annually to stay on top of things.

Meeting my fellow coworkers and friends was a real treat as well. I found no shortage of good conversation and company; never did I feel left behind or unwelcome to attend the dinner and lunch events, and those who had vehicles regularly checked in to make sure that I didn’t end up walking down a street alone (unless I wanted to). Late night chats that consisted of professional and life topics were one of my favorite activities of the conference, as were the daily lunch and dinner get-togethers; the latter exposed us to a couple of restaurants seen on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which as a foodie I have an obligation to say was fun (and it was, trust me). Whether they were or were not the best places to eat in Utah is debatable, but the good quality of my dinner company was not.

The Biz Games next door were noteworthy as well, and great to participate in whenever there was no panel that I wanted to attend. I climbed rock walls, played classic arcade games, shot some hoops, participated with my coworker Alex in Bumper Balls and Pickle Ball, and much more. It was a fantastic way to waste energy and burn a few calories. The main room of the actual OpenWest conference also had some fun activities that included hacking, lock-picking, and battle-bots. I learned how to pick simple locks - should I put it on my resume?

To sum it up:

I had a great time. Thank you all for having me. I hope to bump into everyone again sometime next year.

Brian commented on a few of his favorite talks.

OpenWest 2016 gave me an opportunity to learn from some wonderful speakers. These were people that I knew — or at least knew of — from Twitter, and I wanted to learn from them. I enjoyed each talk I attended, but if I had to pick favorites I’d go with these three.

“Caching on the Bleeding Edge” by Samantha Quiñones presented a detailed overview of the “geography of data” — memory architecture, history, algorithms, and useful tools that factor into caching Web applications, from Memcached and Redis to Elasticsearch and — OK, let me stop myself here and just say it was my favorite technical talk.

Graham Daniels talked about “Life Driven Development” with many suggestions related to improving work / life balance, both for employers and employees. He explicitly reminded us that “A conference is not a vacation,” and told employers “if you see your employees committing code at midnight tell them to stop.”

Josh Simmons used his “Fail Early, Fail Often, Fail Well” talk to give folks useful techniques for minimizing failure — a key repeating concept was “know the fundamentals of your business” — and how to handle failure gracefully, primarily by taking responsibility and sharing your lessons.

This is Trey’s review.

Comfort: 8/10

The South Town Expo Center in Sandy was well set up. I always found a seat, a power outlet and WiFi. I could hear the presenters easily in most of the conference rooms, though the curtained off rooms in the main section were a little noisy. The A/V quality of the keynote speakers varied a bit but it was acceptable. The walk from the hotel was quick and pleasant.

Freebies: 9/10

About 2 dozen vendors handed out free swag and candy.

Presentations: 10/10

With over 100 presentations available I certainly found many that interested me. I would have liked to attend twice as many as I did. Of the presentations I attended, our own John SJ Anderson’s “A Modest Introduction to Swift“ and Rob Martin of OC Tanner Company’s “Why Be Functional” stood out.

Social: 5/10

I think a large scale mixer event like a banquet, a game night, or a movie night like they offer at YAPC would have enhanced the conference experience. While I felt welcome and the facilities were handicap accessible, the domain name used in the CTF challenge struck me as embarrassing and unnecessary.

Overall: 8/10

Mike highlighted some of his favorite parts

I had the privilege of attending OpenWest last year, where Dan Callahan gave an excellent talk on the Rust programming language. This year, I was similarly wowed by his talks covering the latest developments in browser technology — particularly service workers. If you’ve not yet read up on or played around with service workers, I highly recommend it. I believe that service workers will soon be playing a big part in modern web applications, especially single page apps. Architecturally, service workers sit in between a web application and the network — think of a service worker as a client-side HTTP proxy written in JavaScript. Apart from the control this enables the web developer to have over the behavior of a modern web application, it enhances the mobile experience considerably by bringing a more native app-like feel to the mobile web.

Docker is gaining new features every day and Docker’s Jeff Anderson’s was on hand to share some of the latest developments with us. Docker Machine, Docker Compose, and Docker Swarm are new tools for orchestrating and deploying distributed containerized applications. If you’ve worked with Amazon’s EC2 Container Service (ECS), the abstractions in Machine, Compose, and Swarm will be familiar to you. The most exciting thing I took away from Docker Machine was the provider abstraction. What Vagrant does for hypervisors, Docker Machine hopes to do for cloud providers. My hope is that Docker Machine will eventually make moving applications around cloud providers as easy as hypervisors have made moving applications around servers. Another exciting addition in Docker 1.8 is Docker Content Trust, which brings digital signature to Docker images for the first time. This is great news for Docker users — Docker Hub contains a bevy of prepackaged images. Docker Content Trust will help verify the integrity of this content.

OpenWest 2016 offered a great mix of technologies by many excellent speakers. I got a lot out of it and I hope to return in 2017.

Eric had some thoughts, too.

OpenWest was my first large general developer conference, and I think it was a great one to get started. The couple thousand attendees made it a large conference with all the amenities (extensive vendor tables, hacker’s lab, dedicated game room, long bathroom lines between sessions) but the dozen or so tracks made each session small and personable.

I tend to be a utility infielder when it comes to tech work. (I tend to be the same when playing ball, come to think of it.) This conference played right into that tendency by letting me float among all the different tracks available. My current project at work has me QAing lots of code written by non-II developers, and so I went to several sessions on improving the QA/dev interaction and overviews of several of the tools of the QA trade. I dabble in a variety of languages, and I got to see presentations on various types of Javascript, Perl, Swift, Python, and good ol’ bash. I also like to do nerdy things outside of work, and was delighted to see a track devoted to “nerd life”. This was my favorite part of the conference, and why I think any tech-minded person should consider attending. In this track I got to watch someone talk about the history and importance of the venerable game Nethack, while he was playing through it live. I saw someone show off the many, many things you can do around the house with a Raspberry Pi (including building a smart “magic mirror”). I didn’t go to this one, since I have long lost the ability to write freehand, but the track even had a session on fountain pens.

I really enjoyed hanging out in the hacker’s lab, too. The first day I called on all the skills I learned playing countless hours of Skyrim to pick a few Masterlocks to win points toward circuit components. I was the first one on the II crew to win my components and solder them onto my name badge to get a working mini-computer. It was a small victory, but when you work with a crew of geniuses like those at Infinity Interactive, you’ve got to hold on tight to those small victories.

It was a great experience, and I’m already looking forward to returning in 2017.

Bring it on home

Be it the talks, the hardware hacking, or the socializing, everyone at Infinity Interactive had a great time and came away with a unique experience. We are inspired and excited for the next chance to apply any and all of the knowledge we obtained while at OpenWest.

For my fellow co-workers, this is Jake saying “See ya next year, OpenWest”.

Photograph of some of Infinity Interactive’s attendees at dinner

Tags: technology culture conferences