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Heroku’s Waza Conference: Art and Technique

Heroku's Waza

Waza is the Japanese word for art and technique. After attending Heroku's second ever developer conference, I can vouch that it is appropriately named.

Immediately upon walking into the conference, there were people playing traditional Japanese music. They made sure that their signature purple was a large theme (by even bringing their own carpets to lay down) and lanterns were hung everywhere. Even the coffee they served from Blue Bottle Coffee was thoughtfully crafted one cup at a time – Heroku thought long and hard about the craftsmanship that went into each of the elements of their conference.

The conference kicked off with a Japanese drum performance and evolved into a woman painting Kanji for Waza onto a large tarp that was then raised into the air. And that was just the start.

A Developer Gathering

Waza was a four track conference – Bonsai, Bamboo, Blossom and Garden. The first 3 were talks, and the last was an Arduino track. Before everyone broke off from the main hall (the Bonsai track), the first talk (besides the opening remarks) was a talk on Stables and Volatiles by Michael Lopp. This was a fascinating talk on something I had witnessed about types of engineers, but had never pin-pointed the differences.

Stables & Volatiles

In his talk he brought up two groups of engineers: Stables and Volatiles. Stables are calm, reliable, predictable and create process. Volatiles, on the other hand, have issues with authority, are not very reliable, are infatuated by risk, and are strategy definers. Bad news: they hate each other. More bad news: both are needed in order to create a great company.

It was really interesting for him to show the differences in companies that rid their workplace of volatiles, and on the other hand what happens when a Volatile ends up trying to create without any Stables. If you want to read more about Michael's ideas on this subject, he has a writeup here. He left us on one final thought before he left the stage: Do you or do you not want flying toasters? I swear it made sense at the time.

Aaron Patterson & Jessica Dillon

After grabbing lunch, Aaron Patterson was next up in the Bonsai track. Aaron's talk was called Unfactoring, and it detailed steps on calmly and collectively getting yourself out of a meta-programming nightmare. He also told us about his 10 new startups he's creating, including "Technical Co-founding as a Service." I saw no reason why this shouldn't go well.

Some other notable talks I saw were Rune Madsen's talk on heavily mixing code to determine your design outcomes, Steve Klabinik's talk on relating how what we've learned from philosophy has played a direct role on Object Oriented Programming (done on an overhead projector no less), Jacob Kalplan-Moss's talk relating his experience with creating Django and cultivating the ecosystem around it, as well as Yukihiro Matsumoto's talk on Ruby 2.0 (and getting to meet him wasn't bad either).

A Day of Craft and Code

A unique thing about this conference was bringing in crafts. When I first heard about this I was skeptical, but after hearing Oren Teich's opening remarks on collaboration and the spirit of craftsmanship, I was willing to give it a go. Having a creative outlet was a great way to meet other like-minded developers, and working with your hands to produce something tangible was a nice way to break up the day. What's a technical conference without Arduino hacking and book binding anyway?

Waza Quilting

All in all I'd call this conference a smashing success. Thanks to Heroku and all of the sponsors that made it happen. If you're a developer considering going to this conference, let me be the first to encourage you to attend. Feel free to comment or tweet at me with any questions about the conference or any thoughts you had!