Last weekend (August 1st and 2nd 2009) I went into London to attend the Alt.NET UK Conference or more specifically two separate but related days. This was my first ever Alt.NET conference and I absolutely loved it. It was exciting to be around so many enthusiastic and smart individuals discussing software development with an open mind and a desire to help those around them. No elitism, no stuffiness, just developers doing what they do best – talking about (and doing) development. It reminded me of my all time favourite conference SPA (Software Practice Advancement from the BCS). If any Alt.NET folks stumble upon this post, then I would highly recommend they take a look at the work of SPA and check out a previous post I did on some of the smart stuff they do in their events. SPA has pretty much perfected the balance between scheduled sessions and “on the fly” sessions, plus they do some great work with wikis and general capture of outputs from workshops plus an emphasis on the “bits between the sessions”, which are generously long to encourage discussion (2 hour lunches, 30minutes between sessions) plus more (new folks are buddies up with old timers and encouraged to meet up to discuss how the conference is going).

But I digress. Lets get back to the weekend. The weekend was split into two:

  • Alt.Net UK Conference The climax of the conference weekend! Share and learn in an Open Space environment.

The conference applied the concepts of self-organisation of Open Space Technology including the Four Principles and The One Law.

The Four Principles

  1. Whoever comes is the right people: this alerts the participants that attendees of a session class as "right" simply because they care to attend
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: this tells the attendees to pay attention to events of the moment, instead of worrying about what could possibly happen
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time: clarifies the lack of any given schedule or structure and emphasises creativity and innovation
  4. When it's over, it's over: encourages the participants not to waste time, but to move on to something else when the fruitful discussion ends

The One Law

The "Law of Two Feet": If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet. Go to some other place where you may learn and contribute. (I’ve always been a fan of this one!)

One of the most impressive parts of each day is watching the agenda for a four track conference (8 sessions on Saturday, 16 on Sunday) created “on the fly” – and then work (mostly). In simple terms every attendee can propose a topic, then as a group the popularity of each topic is agreed and a schedule arrived at. All in around 30minutes. Well done to the organisers for making this smooth.

Day two morning and the agenda starts to get populated:

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The agenda part complete. LOTS more sessions were proposed.

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The session proposals complete, attendees now indicated which they would like to attend by scribbling on the post-its.

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And once all that is done, you get to attend the sessions.

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In terms of sessions, I attended quite a variety and learnt something in every one. Highlights were:

  1. Fluent NHibernate and LINQ to NHibernate on Saturday : Slightly frustrating 2 hours spent entirely on setup – but I learnt a lot just getting the simple demo working, not to mention slipping in a play with http://github.com
  2. On Sunday a discussion about “The future, 5 years out”: This went in lots of different directions, but I found myself thinking “Wow – no one in this room is old enough to have used a 4GL and realise that previously we used to write a lot less code”. Good discussion all round.
  3. Advanced REST: Which gave me an opportunity to pose a question which has bothered me “If something can be naturally thought of as an operation, how and why would you represent it as a resource”. Good chat around that.

All in all, I thoroughly recommended you try and make any future conferences and a big “Hi” to anyone I spoke to who has stumbled upon this post and a special thanks to the organisers @serialseb, @adean, @ICooper, @Ben_Hall and @MichellFlynne.

P.S. Looks like I left an impression:

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