photo by John

Infinity at SCaLE

John SJ Anderson (@genehack)
march 16th, 2017

I recently had the opportunity to attend and speak at SCaLE 15x in Pasadena, and it was an awesome experience. Read on for an overview of all the great talks I got a chance to see!

There are really three components to a great conference experience. Obviously, the talks that are selected are going to play a big part in how good the conference is — but the less obvious factors of the conference location and venue as well as the other conference attendees are also going to play a huge part in the quality of the conference.

The Venue

SCaLE 15x was held at the Pasadena Convention Center, which is located in the heart of Pasadena. It was fantastically walkable from the two recommended conference hotels, and very conveniently located right across the street from a number of awesome places to eat and/or enjoy a coffee or beer. Signage was abundant, and despite talks being split across two distinct buildings, it was easy to figure out what was going on where.

Generally during a conference, I’ll end up making one restaurant or bar my unofficial “home base” for lunch and/or evening activities, and SCaLE was no exception. I ended up at the Dog Haus just a few blocks west of the venue. They had a pretty good tap list (I mean, for a place outside Oregon cough) and cooked up an excellent variety of sausages. I’m already looking forward to my next return trip.

The People

As I mentioned, the second component of any great conference is who you end up attending with. I was fortunate in that I had a number of old friends attending, but I was able to meet a fantastic set of new folks as well. People will frequently tell you the “hallway track” is the most important part of any conference, and in my experience, this is absolutely true. I spent just as much time hanging out, talking to folks, and meeting new people as I did attending talks, and I think my SCaLE experience was all the better for that decision.

The Talks

Finally, the main attraction! SCaLE’s schedule was a little unusual, relative to other conferences I’ve attended in the past, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the 4 days of the conference that I figured out that the first 2 days had been designed as a series of independently run “mini-conferences”.

Not much in the topics of those mini-conferences really grabbed me (and I may have been catching up with some old friends as well as putting the finishing touches on my own talk at that point), but I did catch Nathan Harvey’s “DevOps?! That’s Not My Job!” talk on Friday. Nathan did a great job of using humor to point out why devops is sort of everybody’s problem when developing software.

Unlike the miniconf-driven Thursday and Friday, Saturday and Sunday were more of the “main event”. The conference hall was in full swing, the number of attendees seemed to double or even triple, and there was a constant buzz of conversation in the halls.

Saturday, I attended VM Brasseur’s “Passing the Baton: Succession planning for FOSS leadership” talk (video), which is a fantastic overview of an issue all successful Open Source projects have, and which very few are thinking about or preparing for.

Tell a story

I also caught Rikki Endsley’s talk on “Stephen King’s Practical Advice for Tech Writers” (video). Rikki edits and writes for the fantastic site, and had a lot of interesting things to say about both improving your writing as well as ways to repurpose a single piece of writing multiple times to maximize your return.

You really _should_ know who he is…

The last talk I caught Saturday was Corey Quinn’s absolutely fantastic “Don’t You Know Who I Am?! (The Dangers of Celebrity in Tech)” (video), which started out as a comedic assault on the notion of “celebrity” in technical circles, took a pivot through the recent S3 outage and why you probably don’t need to worry all that much about it, and ended up tying all that together into a very serious concluding sequence about what’s really important in technology: the people.

In many ways, Sunday seemed like the strongest day of deeply technical talks on the schedule. I had several talks I wanted to attend in basically every slot on this day, and I’ve got a few weeks worth of catching up on the video streams ahead of me as I go back to watch the talks I couldn’t catch in person.


First up, I saw E Dunham’s awesome “Starting Rust from a Scripting Background” talk. (video) She covered a huge amount of material in her alloted hour, and generated a large number of questions from the audience. She also effortlessly answered all of those questions, on the fly. If you’ve ever fielded talk questions, you understand just how hard it is to deal with an unexpected question, particularly if the premise of the question is flawed (which happens). E made it look easy (and I am so envious!)

Caskey dropped some devops wisdom too

Following that, I watched Caskey Dickson deliver “Cross Platform Tool Development in Go”. (video). I’m going to be honest: I dabbled with Go a few years back. I built some small personal projects in it, and while I didn’t hate it, the language just somehow never grabbed me the way others have. After Caskey’s talk, I’m pondering giving it another shot. He laid out some very nice cross-platform development and deployment features of Go, making the argument it should be your go-to language for writing system support and utility tools if you’re dealing with a multi-platform environment. (Pro-tip from Caskey: even if you think you’re not, you are dealing with a multi-platform environment.)

And then finally, in the last slot of the conference, it was time for my talk, “JSON Web Tokens Will Improve Your Life” (video). I was a little worried that with a 4:30pm talk slot on the last day (Sunday!) of the conference, that I’d be talking to 2 people. Fortunately, I still managed to attract a decent-sized crowd, who asked some interesting questions. I’ll let you watch the talk video and draw your own conclusions, however. 8^)

Wrapping up…

All-in-all, SCaLE 15x was a really great conference (and not just because it involved 4 days in mostly sunny Pasadena in early March!), and I’m very grateful to the organizers for accepting my talk. I’m already thinking of what talks I’m going to pitch to them for next year’s SCaLE 16x, because I am eager to return – and I hope I’ll see you there!

Tags: culture technology conferences passions