Monday, April 2, 2012

Why Erlang people need the Erlang Factory events

Disclaimer: I am writing this blog article on my way home from SFO. The reduced air pressure in the passenger cabin might have affected the contents of this article.

I spent all three days of Erlang Factory SF Bay 2012, with two more days to cope with the jet lag. This was my third consecutive time to participate in the event as an invited speaker.

One of the most impressive things about this conference is that Francesco Cesarini, the leader of this event and CTO of the hosting company Erlang Solutions, carefully treats all delegates (which stands for the participants) equally with kindness and hospitality. Francesco's principles are well understood by all the other Erlang Solutions staff members as well.

I think Erlang Factory provides integrated feelings of satisfaction to all the delegated by letting them exchange the serious but friendly discussions. This is not something you can find over teleconferences or any forms of distant communication either synchronous or asynchronous. Erlang Factory is not a decision-making event; it is about sharing ideas and hanging out with each other, supporting both mental and emotional needs of the delegates.

Erlang Factory conference accepts a large number of versatile topics including:

  • Distributed databases
  • Case studies in production systems
  • Detailed debugging into the library and the host operating systems
  • Crash courses for programming and testing the language system, and
  • Official announcements from Ericsson's OTP Team, who owns the final responsibility of managing and directing the language system's future.

An opportunity to discuss various complex issues with the speakers and the audiences is itself rare and precious, especially when the issues share the same core interests: Erlang/OTP.

Erlang Factory also accepts non-mainstream topics as a talk proposal. In the past three years, I talked about RPC over SSH, Mersenne Twister implementation with the NIFs, and in this year 2012 it was about IPv6 readiness and programming tips of the language system. Those are not necessarily the mainstream topics in the Erlang/OTP community, though I find quite a few problem reports on the online discussion places, such as in the erlang-questions mailing list.

My style of talk at the Erlang Factory is nothing extraordinary:

  • First I analyze the problem and define the detailed problem domain to solve;
  • then I write some example code to solve them and put them on the Web including GitHub and the other sharing places before finalizing the talk so that I could make it better with the wisdoms of others;
  • I also experiment and evaluate the results while I'm finalizing the code and the presentation materials;
  • Then at the Erlang Factory talks I discuss the conclusions found and propose the unresolved issues which may become another interesting talk topic.
The important points are sticking to the facts, no exaggeration, distinguishing assumptions from the facts, and listening to what the audiences ask and comment. Actually this is the same procedure I will take for the ACM Erlang Workshops, but for the Erlang Factory I try to make the presentation including more practical aspects and open questions.

I usually assign three months as a part-time project for an Erlang Factory presentation. The toughest part is to decide what to talk about. It's actually Francesco who suggested me to give a talk about IPv6 for this year 2012. I had some experience dealt with the technical issues of IPv6, so I decided to take the suggestion. The important point is that what you are going to talk is negotiable with the Erlang Factory staff.

This year 2012's events of Erlang Factory SF Bay Area were very intense, both in formal and casual senses. I've got an impression that it has become a truly international-class conference, while retaining the casual and friendly style of the past conferences.

I believe people go for conferences and events to meet people and share the feelings. It's a sort of festival, or Matsuri in Japanese, though also with the practical exchange of ideas. I strongly suggest all the Erlang/OTP enthusiasts to participate in this superb Matsuri.