Episode 2: Meet, Eat, and Learn!

Description:

On this episode of the podcast Script discusses conferences in general and his recent trip to NCDevCon in particular.  He also has a great interview with Ben Nadel (@BenNadel)  who has a very popular blog on Coldfusion and Angular programming.

Links:

  • NCDevCon– An awesome development conference in North Carolina.
  • BenNadel.com – Ben Nadel’s blog with lots of great coding help as well as a jobs board and pictures of a virtual Who’s Who of the community.

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Transcript:

Welcome to the second episode of the Wake Up with Script Van Winkle podcast!  My name is Script  Van Winkle, but my friends call me… only when they need something.

Now when you are trying to play catch up with the programming world, like I am, one really great way to do that is to attend one of the dozens if not hundreds of programming conferences put on each and every year. But how do you pick one? How do you afford to go? And just what the heck happens at one of these puppies?

By sheer coincidence, would you happen to believe, I just got back from an awesome conference last weekend in North Carolina.  So I might be persuaded to talk about some of what went on there.  And as a treat, I also caught up with Ben Nadel, who runs a pretty popular blog for those who program in ColdFusion or Node.js., so stick around for a sweet interview with him.

Ok.  So Webster’s defines a conference as “a formal meeting in which many people gather in order to talk about ideas or problems related to a particular topic (such as medicine or business) usually for several days.

Now I have no flipping clue why people insist on starting education discourses with a definition from Webster, nor why Emmanuel Lewis is considered such an expert in etymology. Yeah, that’s a real term there Junior Developer, look it up.

So last weekend I attended NCDevCon, an amazing developer conference in Raleigh, NC.  Now in its ninth year, this conference is held on the campus of NC State.  It was started and run by the Triangle Area ColdFusion User Group, but while there is certainly some ColdFusion specific content among its sessions, it covers a lot of other topics including Javascript, Nativescript, Mobile Development, CSS, database, testing, continuous integration….you get the picture. A wide swath of topics.

While conferences vary of course, most start off with a general session. This is where all the attendees gather in one big room, hear some housekeeping announcements and usually a keynote speech.  In the case of NCDevCon this is almost always a talk from their longtime sponsor Adobe.  Usually Adobe is giving a roadmap to the future of one of their products, usually ColdFusion.  This year though, Elisha Dvorak, Adobe’s ColdFusion evangelist, actually started off the talk by discussing microservices.  While not brand new, microservices is kind of the hot buzzword right now.  

Essentially, the microservice architecture is one in which you break up tasks in your application into smaller, logical, completely independent applications or services, which take input via an API (usually through REST protocols), and return data usually through JSON.  These services should be entirely stateless so that given the same input, they should return the same output.  And since they use network protocols in access, they should be completely platform independent, meaning each and every service could be written in an entirely different language and they should still all be able to work together.,Now, if that didn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry. I plan to cover microservices on an upcoming episode, because I do like the concept and am working on learning more about them.

Now Elishia’s talk did of course eventually divert to talking about current and future versions of ColdFusion. Personally, I am cool with that.  Even if you aren’t using CF or work at a company that is still stuck four versions behind, its still cool to see what they have elected to focus on in the future.

Now I did hear a couple of grumpy gusses complaining about the talk being too salesy.  But those same dudes didn’t seem to be complaining much when they were picking up their sweet FREE Adobe water bottles. And they certainly weren’t complaining when they were eating and imbibing at the Adobe sponsored after party. I’m just saying.  Sponsors help make conferences go. If it means you have to listen to a pitch every now and then who cares.  Get over it!  

After the general sessions, the breakout sessions usually begin,. Now a lot of conferences organize them into tracks, meaning that they have the schedule set up so that you can stick with one topic area should you want. For example, they may have a back-end track, a front-end track, and a mobile track.  At NCDevCon this year they didn’t have any definable tracks, but I figure that is because they had such a variety of topics to choose from.

For someone trying to play catch up, a conference like this offers a great opportunity to get schooled across the realm of programming.  Of course we are talking, in this case anyway, about an  hour a topic. It’s hardly enough to time to truly LEARN everything, but it definitely gives you a chance to wrap your arms around it and gives you a starting point for further exploration.

Case in point, there were a handful of sessions on CSS.  I hate CSS! Ok, I don’t hate it. And I do work with it in my projects obviously.  But sometimes when you are trying to nail down a look or a font, or size something to wrap it the right way, it gets flippin’ maddening!

On day 1, the first and last sessions I chose involved CSS. The first was actually a talk on how to convert desktop apps to mobile by Jessica Kennedy.  Jessica, unlike me, is a HUGE fan of CSS!  I sat in amazement as she showed some tricks that she recommends for being able to manage both a desktop and mobile application.  She won me over.   I actually started to get excited about the possibilities. I really need to revisit CSS. It looks like a blast!.

The last CSS talk I saw that day really showed how to press the boundaries of CSS. It was given by Brandon Kennedy, who as it turns out is very happily related to Jessica. Brandon and his chill preso showed what just a few lines of code can do to make sites come alive. Most of it was way over my head, but definitely something I will explore a lot more!  I am looking at CSS in a whole new light. And  I owe the transition of my opinion to the bold style of the animated couple……see what I did there?

Beyond the learning of course is the networking. Whether or not you are looking for future opportunities like I was, you  should always take the time to talk to other attendees. Or, if you are shy like me and don’t know how to start a conversation, just rudely insert yourself in an ongoing one and smile and nod a lot.  They may think you are weird, but keep those ears open and you may just learn something.

Now conferences generally are not cheap.  Most assume you are going to have your employer pony up the dough for it. But more and more companies are running on leaner and leaner budgets these days, so that is not always an option. One of the things I love about NCDevCon is its affordability. Its tickets this year were only $200 bucks, and I believe it was half that for the Early Bird registration.  Now I had to go on my own dime this year and wondered if I would feel I got my money’s worth. I did ten times over!  Well worth the price!

So to bring an end to this seemingly endless diatribe, let me simply say this. If you are trying to keep up with technology, keep pace with the industry, and feel out potential opportunities for future growth….conference it baby!  Find a local one or one in a place you would love to travel to  (like Vegas or something). But take the time and money to go. You will learn a lot, feel more connected to the profession, make new contacts who could be useful resources, and, if it’s anything like NCDevCon, enjoy some really amazing food!.

Now don’t go away….we’ve got a great interview with one cool dude…come up after this.

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PROGENY EVEN HANDLES REST! NO, NOT THAT REST! BUT THIS REST IS FAR MORE USEFULL! JUST CALL THE REST METHOD, PASS IT THE EXACT NUMBER OF MILLISECONDS YOU WANT YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP, AND ITS LIGHTS OUT! EVEN BETTER, YOU CAN PASS THE REST METHOD AN EVENT LISTENER….JUST IMAGINE THE FUN YOU COULD HAVE WITH THAT!

BEST OF ALL, PROGENY CAN BE RUN ASYNCHRONOUSLY. SO PLAN OUT YOUR KIDS’ DAY, EXECUTE THE SCRIPT, AND FORGET ABOUT IT. YOU CAN RELAX BY THE POOL, IN THE YARD, OR AT THE BEACH, SECURE IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT PROGENY AND NODE JS HAVE EVERYTHING UNDER CONTROL.

PROGENY, A NEW MODULE FOR NODE JS. NOW NODE REALLY CAN DO EVERYTHING!

(End Fauxmercial)

(Interview with Ben Nadel)

Script:

I’m walking around NCDevCon here and you are not going to believe who I ran into. We’re talking the man, the myth, the legend, Ben Nadel himself. I’m telling you, if you guys don’t know who Ben Nadel is, welcome to ColdFusion programming because you’ve obviously been doing it for only two days. I’m telling you, if you ever, ever have a problem and you Google it, you are going to end up on Ben’s site. If you haven’t done that, good luck to you there. I guess the first question Ben, welcome by the way.

Ben Nadel:

Thank you, great to meet you, sir.

Script:

The first question I got to say is do you go looking for trouble or does it just find you?

Ben Nadel:

I’ve been very happy to come across a lot of trouble in my daily work. I just try to write about it as best I can and share solutions to the hurdles that I have fallen over and hurt myself on. I’m just a lucky man in that sense.

Script:

How long ago did you start all this?

Ben Nadel:

I’ve been blogging since 2006. It just started out as something … I don’t even remember how I started. I was just excited to learn. I love learning. It’s like I get up in the morning and I’m excited to learn. I’m excited when I get to try new things at work. I’m excited when things are difficult because it means something new to learn, something new to write about. It sort of just took a life of its own at some point and it became … Sometimes it’s a passion and sometimes it feels like a job. I get up in the morning and I do it. I just try to keep the momentum going. It’s been 10 years now, 2016.

Script:

I’ve always said for all the work you saved every programmer out there owes you two, three drinks, me included.

Ben Nadel:

I appreciate that. I’m still shocked when people say that. When people come up to me and they’re like, “I want to thank you. I read your website.” I’m blown away. I’m still surprised anytime anyone even noticed who I am.

Script:

That’s absolutely awesome. We know that for many years you were working on ColdFusion, but tell everyone what you’re working with now.

Ben Nadel:

We have teams that are more specialized doing what I do, but because I’ve been with my company for so long, I have a lot of tribal and historical knowledge. I can jump around and help fix bugs, help work on database bottlenecks, help work on code. I work in ColdFusion. I work in Angular 1.x primarily. I try to jump over and do a little React with the teams that do React. I work with MySQL. I do a little bit of Redis, a little bit of MongoDB. Just a little bit all over the place.

Script:

Showing off again, aren’t you?

Ben Nadel:

No, trust me. If you saw me doing any of these things, it would not be showing off. I can show off maybe in ColdFusion and some Javascript. Everything else is like just trying to not make it break.

Script:

One of the other things about your blog, I just hit you up for this, is you have been taking photos of people at conferences over the years. How did that all get started?

Ben Nadel:

You know what it is too is I am by nature a very shy person. The photos also help push me out of my own comfort zone. I feel like I got to psyche myself up to talk to people. I got to psyche myself up to ask for a photo at this point even all these years later. Part of it is how I try to grow as a person and part of it is, the fun part of it is community building. It’s just great. I love doing it.

Script:

You’re not even going to admit that it’s really about hit counts? I ain’t going to tell you how many times I’ve refreshed that screen just trying to get an idea of who’s who in the community.

Ben Nadel:

I will not fight any collateral benefit that comes from it, sir, absolutely not.

Script:

Just so you know, for all the listeners out there, if you want to see what I look like, I just got a great picture with him, which he’s already agreed he’s going to leave up as the primary picture for the next three weeks. Maybe, maybe not, we’ll see how that one works out. The other thing that you have on your blog, which is awesome, totally awesome, is the jobs board. I may or may not have gotten a few interviews that way. I refuse to talk about that, but I’m just going to ask how did that come about?

Ben Nadel:

I was charging I think like $199 at some point. I think I started charging $99. I got to a point in my life where I wanted to start giving back more, consciously, so I started to donate a portion of each job post to Kiva, which is a crowd-source loan site. That almost became more interesting to me than the job posts themselves. I finally just lowered the price to whatever covers the Kiva loan. I think now a job posting’s like $29. That just covers the $25, plus the processing fee to Kiva. It’s just exciting for me to be able to help the community in whatever tiny way I can, and then funnel that back into kind of a greater sense of the common good.

Script:

Has anybody ever thanked you for getting them a job that way?

Ben Nadel:

Yeah, a couple times. I almost sort of think it’s never helping, but I have a couple of times in person, people have said thank you. A couple of people have emailed me and said they’ve gotten it. It’s a low traffic. It doesn’t have a lot of posts typically, but occasionally it gets lucky. I feel really good about that actually.

Script:

I for one, absolutely thank you. I appreciate that. Ben, it was a pleasure to meet you. If you guys haven’t checked out his blog, it’s BenNadel.com. Believe me, you’ve probably found it by Googling it, but just check it out. Hang in there. Follow him on Twitter too and see the great adventures of his dog. What’s the dog’s name?

Ben Nadel:

Lucy.

Script:

Dog’s Lucy, vacation out in nice exotic places I see.

Ben Nadel:

Any opportunity to take the dog to the beach makes me happy. Chris, it’s wonderful to meet you. I really appreciate the opportunity to sit down and talk.

Script:

Thanks a lot, Ben. Take care.

So that wraps episode 2 of Wake Up! With Script Van Winkle. I want to personally thank Ben Nadel for taking the time to sit down and talk with the weird unknown dude shoving an iPhone in his face.  Seriously though I had wanted to meet Ben for a long time and he did not disappoint.  As you could hear a truly down to earth guy with positive attitude and pretty good programming chops to boot.

And thanks to the organizers of NCDevCon for graciously taking my money…….and giving me an experience back worth so much more.  The organizers and volunteers here are the best!  And, in case I didn’t mention it, all of the talks will be online shortly. So if you were there and missed a few sessions or couldn’t make the event at all, it’s all there for you to check out! Just visit NCDevCon.com.

Now, this was kind of a special episode. I’m going to get more into technical things in the next few episodes. So if you’ve got questions or topics you would like me to cover, drop me a line at  script@scriptvanwinkle.com or find me on Twitter @ScriptVanWinkle.  You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, Google Play,  or on Stitcher. You can comment on this episode, see blog posts and find more info at ScriptVanWinkle.com.

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.

2 Comments

  1. Just listened to both episodes. Had a blast doing so. Thanks for recording these. I hope you make many more. I would be interested in hearing your perspective in depth on the biggest changes in programming over the years.

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