YAPC::EU Recap

Sweth Chandramouli (@sweth)
october 17th, 2016

YAPC::EU is Europe’s premier event for the Perl programming language. This year the conference was held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, from August 24 through August 28. Infinity sent one of our developers, Sweth Chandramouli, to attend, and we asked him to give a quick recap of his experiences there.


Hi, folks! Sweth here. I’ve been a Perl developer off and on for over 20 years now, but even though I’ve attended my fair share of tech conferences over the years, I haven’t had a chance to attend any Perl conferences since one of the original (O’Reilly-hosted pre-OSCON) The Perl Conferences back in the late 1990s, so I was thrilled when Infinity wanted me to attend YAPC::EU in Cluj. From start to finish, the experience was a great one, and the thing that made it best was the amazing sense of community that I found there.

As a quick aside: I’ve been on the road for the last few years, traveling the world with pretty much everything I own (and one of the reasons I love working for Infinity is that everyone there works remotely, so they don’t mind at all that my remote work happens to be from a different country every few weeks or months). My itinerary had taken me to Asia for the first 6 months of 2016, and I had plans to be in France in September, but I didn’t have any specific plans for where to be in between, so when the prospect of attending YAPC::EU in Romania came up, I started looking into possible destinations to spend the month before that conference—and much to my surprise, everyone told me that I should just head to Romania early. Romania, it turns out, has what is generally acknowledged as the best internet connectivity of any country in Europe (and among the best connectivity in the world), and the city of Cluj-Napoca, where the conference was being held, is a thriving cultural center with a lively college-town atmosphere, and so I ended up just heading to Cluj a month before the conference.

From even before I arrived, the sense of community was really quite impressive—I reached out to the local (and very large) Perlmongers group online with some questions, and the folks there bent over backwards to help me figure out things like which neighborhood to stay in, where to get a good SIM for my mobile phone, etc, and once I arrived, I felt like I was among family, starting with Jeff Goff meeting me on my first evening in town to grab a quick drink and take me on a walking tour of town, and continuing over the next five weeks with multiple other local Perl folks meeting up with me for coffee, lunch, etc.

The sense of community was even stronger the week of YAPC itself; as I mentioned before, I’ve been to a fair number of tech conferences, and I’ve never been to one as open and welcoming. On Monday night before the start of the conference, as folks were trickling in to town, people coordinated via the Telegram Messenger channel that the conference organizers had set up, and large group of us met up for pizza. Despite the fact that most of them already knew each other from past Perl events, I never felt left out; to the contrary, in fact, by the end of the evening, I had made the acquaintance of many great folks that I continued to hang out with throughout the conference and that I’m sure I will be friends with for years.

The next day—the day before the official start of the conference—I attended Dave Cross’ training session, which was a soup-to-nuts workshop on building a web app with the Perl Dancer 2 framework. We actually have a lot of great Dancer/Dancer 2 expertise at Infinity (including one of the core team members), and I work with Dancer regularly for our clients, but I’ve never had the chance to build a Dancer app from scratch rather than jumping in to help someone fix an existing deployment, so I found the course very useful; in addition to the info about Dancer, Dave pulled in lots of other useful information (including lots of things related to Javascript that I’ve already found useful in my day-to-day work). And, again, the sense of community was palpable; there were probably a score of people in the class, and by the end of the day I knew at least half of them well enough that we hung out again later in the week. The sense of community continued that evening, when local IT firm Evozon hosted a pre-conference rooftop party at their headquarters, and again, I met many folks that I’m sure I’ll be in touch with for quite a while.

Wednesday kicked off the conference itself. Highlights of the tech sessions that day were Merijn/Tux’s presentation on the latest changes in the Text::CSV CPAN module, including some older features that I hadn’t known about and have already made use of, and Lee Johnson’s tour of cool Git tricks that he uses (and one of the other great things I discovered about the Perl community is how open Perl folks are to using the right tool for the right job, which is why so many of the talks there were about “perl-adjacent” topics like Git, Docker, Postgres, and the like). Throughout the day, I again was amazed by how many random and interesting conversations I found myself a part of; that trend continued again that night, when the official conference kickoff party happened in the courtyard of the historic Banffy palace in downtown Cluj. (For folks who might assume that computer geeks don’t dance: as the evening wore on, a group of us popped out to find a quieter bar more conducive to conversation, but when we left, a large contingent of Perlers were getting their groove on something fierce to the DJ that the conference organizers had arranged for, and by all reports they kept going all night long.)

(Even though the rest of Infinity couldn’t attend, they were also part of the community on Wednesday, releasing a great mobile app for the conference on iOS and Android for YAPC attendees to use when planning their week.)

Thursday’s tech highlights were: Job/jkva’s presentation on building accessible web sites (which was a treat if you are a fan of the topic, and if you aren’t a fan of the topic, you should be); Attila-Mihaly Balazs’ presentation on low-level details of computing and why they are relevant to programmers in higher-level languages like Perl; Andrew Yates’ talk on bioinformatics and Perl (which took me back to my days as a fledgling programmer in the 90s, since it turns out some of the bioinformatics things that I was playing with back then are still how they are done now, just orders of magnitude faster and more thoroughly); and Guinevere Nell’s lightning talk on agent-based modeling in Perl. There was no official conference event that evening, but having made so many friends, we all had no problem finding ways to get into trouble that night…

Friday was the last day of the conference. I gave a very quick presentation on the Swift programming language that morning, but the real highlights were Larry Wall’s keynote (a fun meditation on his efforts to write a program to make it easy to categorize and search Japanese characters), plus Lee Johnson’s discussion on DBIx::Class. I had to leave a little before the official end of the conference on Friday in order to catch my flight to Paris (where I am writing this recap), but even at the airport, I found myself meeting and chatting with other YAPC attendees, and wishing I didn’t have a pre-existing commitment in France that prevented me from staying an extra day to join the folks who were going to visit the Turda Salt Mine near Cluj.

On the whole, YAPC::EU was a great experience, with great technical content, tons of interesting people willing to chat about things both technical and not, and again, that unparalleled sense of community. I’m looking forward to my next one (and plotting how I can make it to some of the other local Perl events that folks I met invited me to, as well as how to just go visit some of those folks in their respective cities, whether or not there are events to use as an excuse). Until then, I’ll just end with my sincere thanks to Andy, Aaron, Alina, Amalia, Attila, bulk 88, Dan from Bristol, Dan not from Bristol, domm, DrForr, Dutch John whose last name I never learned, Edin, Ermann, Geoff, Gordon, Ilmari, Jean, Job, Jussi, Liz, Lukas, mst, Mallory, Merijn, Michele, Peter C, Rami, Sawyer, Stefan, Sue, Theo, Tudor C, Tudor P, Vidar, and Wendy—as well as Rob, Mircea, and everyone else at Evozon, and all of the other folks whose names aren’t popping to mind right now—for welcoming me into the Perl community and making YAPC so much fun.

Tags: technology culture conferences perl