I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Craft Conference – well, after learning that there was a software engineering conference regularly being organized each year in my hometown. I’ve been missing this piece of info for years on my end! 😅
The conference was located at the Hungarian Railroad History Museum which was great – we were hanging out around some old railroad tracks and an exhibition of railroad engines. I think it was inspiring and fun, and I loved the occasional faint smell of machine grease in the air! 🚂
The venue was partially outside, with some stages located in large “festival” tents and a circus tents. It was fairly easy to navigate around thanks to the conference guide. This way, although we were on full house, the venue never felt overcrowded. And it was fun to run between tents in the rain, during the first day!
Generally, I found the event to be well organized – there was plenty of staff, food was fine and catering was really professional. (Just as I’d expect from an internationally acclaimed conference.) They served breakfast, lunch, supper and complimentary snacks, drinks & coffee all over the place. I especially loved the sausage booth!
All of the talks were on-time, there was basically never a hitch with the equipment, the sound or online streaming. Each stage came with their own host who gave them some ‘personality’. The whole thing was really a smooth and welcoming experience.
There were also a few dozen sponsor booths to check out in between the talks – they unfortunately reflected the state of the IT job market pretty well. Imagine some large financial co. having a booth and then when you walked up and inquired, they mentioned having something like 2 open positions and gossiped about a recent layoff. 🤷
Of course, the talks – that’s why we’re all heading to a conference, not just for the free food, right?! Well, my expectations were not sky high, this being my first time at any SWE conference. I also haven’t really been watching any conference talks before during my career, always preferring readable resources when it comes to learning new concepts.
Anyway, there was plenty to choose from with about 7 stages hosting talks in parallel. The separate tracks allowed for much variety.
The talks themselves… I’d call them a hit or miss. I think it’s inherent to the genre: imagine you’re some engineer or consultant offered the opportunity to give a talk at a conference. What would you prepare with?
You have hundreds of random people among the audience, all with different agendas:
- Some have absolutely no experience in your field and are expecting a primer to the topic, something to help them get oriented and pique their interest.
- Others already know the basics or even more, and are expecting a cool new idea, a thoughtful message or a novel viewpoint.
- Yet another group of people are just casually listening, trying to catch the most important takeaways while browsing on their phone.
In my opinion it’s really challenging to strike the right balance so that all these groups are satisfied – and some talks managed to be plain underwhelming, offering little more than reading a short blog post or the “About” page of some project.
I personally enjoyed those talks the most which contained at least a simple introduction to the topic in question, with a key takeaway and meaty slides containing references to check out after the talk.
Unfortunately, several talks were not like this, and in some cases it was challenging to follow the speaker, such as:
- Slides containing general stock photos or inexpressive figures instead of the main context for the talking point (in case your mind wanders for a second, it gets increasingly challenging to follow)
- Lack of key messages or a general ‘arc’ of the talk
- Talking too much in generics instead of specifics – most of us are not enterprise architects/consultants solving organizational challenges in front of a whiteboard. We’re down in the trenches, trying to make a difference as an IC or team lead.
- Not having a clean terminology. Fortunately, some talks were solely focused on applying proper terminology to our field. 🙂
I know that this was not some scientific conference where researchers were presenting their rigorously prepared papers – these talks were meant for a much wider audience. But that’s why I expected more from some speakers.
Highlights – my 3 personal favorites
I was taking notes throughout the talks, so here are my 3 favorite ones.
- “Beyond the Buzzword – A psychologist’s thoughts on psychological safety” by Joseph Pelrine.
An unexpected, underrated surprise on my end. Something that’s not directly related to software engineering, yet, we’re experiencing it day to day.
When it comes to psychological safety at the workplace, the devil is in the details – the subtle emotional cues and interactions (“bids”) between team members.
- “Lessons learned teaching tech leaders for 10+ years” by Patrick Kua
I just had to attend this one now that I’m working as a tech lead! 😅 As it turned out during a quick poll at the beginning of the talk, about 80% of the audience was composed of leads, managers and executives!
Loved the arc of the talk, condensing years of leadership experience, reflecting on what changed throughout and what hasn’t, and can definitely relate to the philosophy of leading through example.
- “Orchestration vs Choreography, A Guide To Composing Your Monolith” by Ian Thomas
We’ve had multiple really solid talks on microservices, I’d like to call this one out. Actually the last talk during the conference! Some very solid slides, a good primer on interaction patterns (orchestration vs. choreography), several nice examples and a general approach of caution around all the complex systems we are building. 🙂
It was definitely worth going to Craft Conf 2023! I’m still planning to spend some time reviewing the slides and watching some missed but interesting talks.
Loved the social aspect of the conference – just talking to strangers during lunch (there was a considerable amount of folks from abroad like Germany, Poland, Netherlands etc.), hanging out at some company booth, chatting with ex-coworkers and generally enjoying the presence of like-minded engineers.
See you next year at Craft!