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Putting it All Together at Gluecon 2019
Director of Engineering
June 06 2019

I attended Gluecon a few weeks ago.

I’ve been going to this conference every couple of years since the early 2010s. It’s not cheap and it’s not hyper focused, but I find it valuable. The main topics are enterprisey–microservices, APIs and new tech, all at scale. The organizer talked about technologies that had been featured over the years, which included docker and twilio. I recall the founder of hashicorp (vagrant, terraform) being interviewed and remember hearing a lot of buzz about lambda in 2015 (AWS had launched it the previous fall). The conference is always a great opportunity to educate myself.

The first, best thing about gluecon is the community. Even with the 3-4 times I’ve attended, I see repeat attendees and speakers. Everyone is friendly and willing to chat. Definitely find time to hang out in the bar after hours. Sit with different people at lunch–I sat with a developer from LinkedIn, people from a computer vision startup and an architect at a big cloud partner and we had a very interesting discussion on the issue of the public cloud vendors sucking oxygen from open source commercial entities. There are plenty of opportunities for the ‘hallway track’ if that’s your speed. I also had the chance this year to connect to some people I’d chatted with online. It’s always great to put a face to a name, and Gluecon has plenty of space to chat in.

Another great thing about Gluecon is how accessible the speakers and organizers are. I was able to chat with one of them right after their presentation, and saw others around the conference. Not all the speakers hang out all the time of course, but many are accessible. The sessions are often small. I saw a great presentation about how to build a highly available API server using nginx and there were maybe 25 people in the room. (I also learned about the origins of the control plane/data plane metaphor that is bandied about so much nowadays.) I was also able to ask one of the organizers some questions about the origins of the conference name. They are quite accessible as well; you see them roaming around and chatting.

Twitter was pretty active when I previously attended (#gluecon) but this year was relatively muted. There were 5-6 really active tweeters and the occasional other insight, but I’m not sure where most of the conversation happened. A few years ago there was a slack but I didn’t hear about it this year. So don’t attend Gluecon for the online conversation (or be better than I was about finding out where it is happening).

One thing to beware of when attending any conference, but especially one forward thinking like Gluecon, is that all the glittery awesomeness that is presented up on stage is good to be aware of, but may not be applicable to your context. Or it may be applicable in certain areas of your company and not others. Or it may be applicable in a year or two, but not now. You need to realize that as a conference attendee you’re getting a cross section view of technology with a focus on whatever the organizer wants (which is to spread new technology knowledge and sell tickets and sponsorships). For instance, I particularly enjoyed a talk on website accessibility and one on quantum computing. Guess which one had lessons worth bringing back to the Culture Foundry team?

Also, I remember watching a couple of presentations and being deflated because the speaker seemed to have it all put together, both from technology and organizational standpoint. It’s very easy to compare the shiny presentation with the current state of your company, but it’s never a good idea to compare your inside with someone else’s outside. Few are going to present on failures and inefficiencies in their company.

However.

The place where you can hear the failures and inefficiencies is, again, at those informal gatherings. I heard some great stories about server farms for the Olympics melting down in the early 2000s at the bar, and got the straight scoop on how another agency did business development on a couch. These kinds of conversations are what make conferences worthwhile to attend.

All in all, if you are looking to keep an eye on large trends in the software world, Gluecon is a conference well worth attending. Hope to see you there next year!

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