Conferences are an integral part of the Go community, but the experience of conferences has remained the same even as the value propositions change. In this episode we discuss what conferences generally provide, how value propositions have changed, and what changes conference organizers could make to realign their conference experience to a new set of value propositions.
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|Chapter Number||Chapter Start Time||Chapter Title|
|1||00:00||It's Go Time!|
|2||00:44||Welcoming our guests|
|3||01:46||Does Andy believe in UFOs??|
|4||02:23||A new way of doing conferences|
|5||08:50||Value proposition for the speakers|
|6||12:13||The value proposition for the attendees|
|7||17:45||The hallway track|
|8||22:21||Access to the speaker|
|9||24:23||The enthusiasm lost when presenting virtually|
|10||30:57||Do you even need speakers?|
|11||42:36||Onboarding new conference goers|
|12||46:04||Food at conferences|
|13||54:11||It's time for Unpopular Opinions!|
|15||58:20||Andy's first unpop|
|16||1:00:52||A second unpop from Andy?!|
|17||1:07:09||Andy's third unpop!|
|20||1:13:56||Next time on Go Time|
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Welcome to Go Time. I am your host, Kris Brandow, and today we have a very lovely panel. I am joined by my co-hosts, Angelica Hill, and Ian Lopshire. How are you doing today, Angelica?
I’m doing very well. Thank you. Living my best life.
Excellent. How are you, Ian?
Yeah, fantastic. It’s finally not raining in New York, so a day to celebrate.
Yeah, this weekend was brutal for rain. And we are also joined by a guest… I think you’ve been on the podcast before, but –
Yeah, yeah, once before.
Yeah, we have Andy Walker. How are you doing today, Andy?
Oh, I’m great. I almost feel compelled to say that I’m doing terribly, because everybody else is just like living the dream, apparently… But no, I’m fine. [laughter] Coming to you from my lovely home office.
Yeah. For those of you that aren’t watching the video, it is like a very nice, expensive office, with some nice, yellow paint on the walls…
Yeah. Just ignore – this is drywall. This is why I bumped some furniture up against it; it’s patched, it’s gonna be painted, and the loveliness will be restored.
Is your post then indication of the fact that you want to believe in UFOs?
Well, I mean, it’s – yeah, it’s the famous Mulder’s Office poster from The X Files. Yeah. And then we have my hometown, a lovely map… Yeah.
Nice. And for those of you who don’t know, Andy is a software engineer and Google developer expert in Go, and he’s the author of the upcoming “Go in Action, Second Edition.” He’s also run the mentorship and buddy program at GopherCon.
Great to be here. Alright, so let’s get into the topic. So today we are talking about conferences. And not just conferences in general, but sort of a new idea, a new way of doing conferences. For those listeners who haven’t been out there before, or haven’t been to conferences before, conferences are generally events that get held - you know, large to small, over the world, meant for people in the community to come together, where some people give talks, other people are just attendees to listen, and there are sponsors. So that is the general thing that we are referring to when we say “conference” throughout this podcast, or throughout this episode.
So to start us off, I want to start with an overview of the value proposition that conferences have had for – I’m just gonna say roughly the last 20 years. I don’t really know much before that, but this has certainly been the way it’s been during the 21st century, since around the turn of the century.
So I’m gonna go through kind of my thoughts on this, and then we’re going to have a little panel discussion about it, and then, after that, we’re going to move into this idea I have for a new style of conference, and the things that we could get from that basically shifting to a new value proposition. So with that, let’s get started.
So the way I’ve come to see conferences is that there’s a standard format, where you have kind of two main areas within a conference venue. You have your stages or your theatres, where speakers are giving talks, and you have this dining den/sponsor area, where you have sponsors setup, that are interacting with attendees.
So there are three main parties at most conferences - there are speakers, there are sponsors, and there are attendees. And speakers - so we’ll start here with the value proposition that conferences give for each of those parties. So in the past, speakers have gotten this ability to disseminate information rather widely by getting up on stage and giving a talk to hundreds to thousands of people. They also get the opportunity to interact with their community, and more or less build out their brand. So that, for the past 20 years, has been a big thing that speakers have gotten from conferences.
For sponsors, it’s been twofold. There are some sponsors who get opportunities to meet with candidates, who they can hire and bring on board, so it serves as a hiring opportunity or interview opportunity, and for sponsors who are selling something, it gives them access to an audience that they can talk to directly. So instead of having to go through a sales team, or procurement team, you can talk to developers directly in the case of tech conferences.
And then for attendees, the largest value proposition has been acquiring new knowledge. Before YouTube was a big thing, before Twitch, if you wanted to see the content that a specific speaker was giving, you would have to go to the conference and see them in-person. So it was very important that you a) attended conferences in person, and it was important that you also kind of took that knowledge back to companies. A lot of companies were sending people to conferences to gather information to bring back to share with their co-workers.
And in addition to all of those things that happen at conferences, there were also a few social events, like happy hours, welcome parties, and those sorts of things. So - panel, is there anything that I kind of missed there, anything you guys want to add to that description of the main parties of a conference?
[05:52] No, I mean - yeah, like you say, that’s kind of how it was before the widespread… I mean, I assume we’re gonna get to that, but the widespread sort of dissemination, almost immediately, onto YouTube and various other… Like, I do remember there was a time when you kind of had to find a blog… So if you were really lucky, you would find somebody who was like “Hey, just so you know, I’m going to be attending FooCon, and I’m going to be live-blogging everything”, and then if you were lucky, you would maybe get some links out of that, and some salient information, and whatnot. But yeah, that’s basically right. If you wanted to get in on that stuff, you had to kind of be there. Or at least wait for like a while.
I think a big thing that I think you touched on, that I want to kind of double down on, is the kind of access to individuals… Because I think even now, if you watch a talk on YouTube, if you read a blog, you can’t ask that person a million questions, like “Hey, why did you choose to do it this way? How did you stumble upon this technology? Why do you think it’s great, for XYZ reason?” Whereas I think the big reason I suddenly started going to conferences was - yes, to gain knowledge, yes, to be exposed to new ideas and technologies, but mostly so that once someone got off that stage, I could bombard them with a million questions, and really be able to have that conversation… Because for me - and I’m sure many others whose learning styles are not very keyed in to just reading something, and like “Yeah, I now know it”, I need that back and forth. I think the workshops especially cater to those kind of learning styles, but I think what I loved about conferences, and I think one of those core value propositions is access to those individuals to ask questions, but also access to individuals that you might otherwise not be able to have conversations with. There are quite prestigious individuals in certain communities that will do talks, that will be approachable in a way at conferences that they aren’t in the wild, unless you want to send them a cold email and be like “Hey, can you give me a coffee, please? Mat Ryer, can I come have tea with you?” It really, I think, breaks down some of the - whether conscious or subconscious hierarchies in communities, where everyone really is on an equal playing field, or at least they should feel like they are, which I’m sure we can get into… But I think that is a value proposition of conferences.
Even outside the hierarchy… Like, I grew up in a small town, and when I first started working, I wasn’t in this big community of software engineers. So going to a conference and just meeting people like you is empowering in a way that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else. I don’t know a thousand software engineers… Do you? Right…?
Yeah, yeah. I think those are all great additions. I think, Angelica, you’re foreshadowing a little bit about what we’re gonna dive into here…
I’ve already been taking notes.
Yeah. So I think the kind of thing I want to kind of spell out explicitly as well is that there are these value propositions, and I got into a little bit of them when I talked about these kinds of three main parties… I think we kind of already went over what the value proposition for speakers has been in the past, which is getting access to a large audience of people was tough 10-20 years ago. We did have online interaction; that would be via maybe IRC, or forum posting. We didn’t have big community Slack channels, and we certainly didn’t have video conferencing in the way that we do now. So a lot of it was email-based, IRC-based, or whatever your community had for interaction. And there were still meetups, but that was also your more local community. So if you’re in a big city, that was great. If you’re in a small, rural town, not so great.
For sponsors, as I said, that value proposition was access to individuals for both employment and for selling products to. And then for attendees, I think, Angelica, what you said is very important, that it’s both this getting them knowledge, and also being able to network with people and meet with have people that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
[10:03] Now, I think the important part of this is I think those are still all valuable things. I think we all agree those are valuable things… But technology and time has really shifted that value proposition. Speakers now - like, if you’re someone who really wants to build an audience, it is far easier for you to build a global audience outside of conferences. You can set up a Twitch channel and have a Twitch stream, set up a YouTube channel. You have the technology you need to do the video production and audio production that used to cost a lot more money. But I think even more importantly, there’s tons of tutorials. Like, if you want to start being a Twitch streamer, you can easily do that. There’s lots of tutorials on how to set up OBS, how to actually set up and build the community, and get people to subscribe, and all of this stuff that just didn’t really exist 10 years ago.
For sponsors, I think the biggest thing that’s changed a lot of this is the existence of LinkedIn. Before, if you wanted to find a whole bunch of people to potentially hire, you’d have to go to other job posting forums, where maybe there were candidates there, and maybe you could get some resumes from some recruiting firm… But now there’s literally an entire social network with millions and millions… Or billions? I think there’s just millions and millions of people that you can have easy interactions with, and they have their whole resume and all of their information there for you.
And for attendees, I think the big thing is that most conferences now, unlike a decade ago, and certainly unlike two decades ago, most conferences put all of their talks up online. And they do so relatively quickly. So any of the information that you were gonna get at a conference, now it’s not a company saying “Oh, we’ve got to send you to this conference so you can get it and bring it back for everybody else.” Now it’s “Oh, well, it’ll just be available for anybody to watch in a few weeks or a few months.”
Right. And it’s shifted too towards almost like a synthesis sort of thing, right? I’ve certainly been told in the past - so it’s not so much “What did you see there?”, but it’s “What would you recommend, and what’s your takeaway? What are the most kind of salient bits that you brought back from that?” kind of thing; that’s kind of what you get asked a lot of the time now. So it’s different, it’s shifted.
I thought of another value proposition…
Go for it.
…which - maybe I’m going back, but I think it’s really important to note, because I think it’s something that is not fulfilled by the tutorials, and the Twitch streams, and all this kind of thing online… It’s being exposed to technologies or ideas that you would not have sought out or heard about yourself. I think that’s a big thing, certainly from my experience. So I’ll stumble into a talk that - were it a YouTube link, were it a title I saw on a blog, I probably wouldn’t have delved deeper, but at a conference, I’m like “Okay, I’ve got half an hour free. There’s this talk going on. Ket me wander on in and hear about Go’s implementation to help NASA track satellites.” I’m like “Oh, great.” I’ve learned something that I would never have gone and sought out knowledge about… But now I’ve gone away with maybe a new interest, a new path to follow, a new person to chat to.
So I think exposure to ideas and technologies that you wouldn’t otherwise seek out is a big value proposition for conferences, whether they do that in the most effective manner, and they facilitate those kinds of conversations and deeper dives is TBD, to be talked about in a little while… But I think that is a proposition that conferences do fulfill.
Ian, do you have anything you’d like to add?
I also have thought of another value proposition, but not for the attendee; for kind of the advertisers… I just remember being at a conference and meeting the CEO of a product I actually used, and just like having a drink and talking, and being like “Oh yeah, there’s this one feature that I really need”, and three weeks later there was that feature. For advertisers, you get access to people that actually use your stuff to get feedback. Sure, you could do that digitally, but I don’t think there’s any replacement for a real conversation.
[14:02] No, there’s no substitute. Yeah, as somebody who’s been on that side of the equation, who has been to a conference both as like a participant, an organizer, and on behalf, under the aegis of a sponsor, as it were, the most valuable thing that you can get is that person who is just slightly adversarial. Not like angry, not like they hate your product or anything, but they use it a lot, they know where the warts are, and they have some very specific things that they would like to talk to you about, thank you very much. And they take you outside of that comfort zone a little bit, and kind of send you home being like “Yeah, we do kind of like– we could use some work in that area.” That is actually tremendously valuable. I mean, obviously, it can go the other way sometimes, too… But getting access to that is different than on a mailing list, or like a Reddit, SubReddit or whatever. So I think that’s also one of those valuable things. And it’s about being there.
Yeah, I think that in-person component is a huge part of it, right? It’s a lot easier to read people and understand people when you’re interacting with them face-to-face, versus over text… Or even in a video call it can be a little bit harder to kind of judge someone’s body language where you can really only see their head and upper torso. But that also leads into, I think, one of the things that has definitely caused me to think a lot about the value proposition and the shift as like the big negative, is that we have a pandemic. And the pandemic is certainly less than what it was three years ago, for sure… But now not only do we have these value propositions that have kind of been watered down over time, now it’s also a “I might be risking not only my health, but the health of my friends and family, and potentially colleagues, by doing this traveling, by going to this conference. And perhaps also help continuing the spread of said pandemic.”
Yeah. I mean, even whatever milestones we pass in whatever countries, and like it’s declared to be officially over in one state or another, I do think that at least for the foreseeable future, it’s changed things pretty fundamentally… And so now it’s like “Okay, well, it’s –” Even if we’re not in the midst of a global pandemic, people are certainly looking a little bit more critically at travel. “Do I really need to?” Even if they’re not in full-on pandemic mode, I do think that it has shifted the landscape pretty fundamentally, at least for a while.
Not to mention the cost of travel skyrocketed.
And I think too, for a lot of people, it’s not just like the pandemic pushed people through a change in mindset as well, whereas I think before everybody was just kind of in their emotions and it’s like “Oh, I’m commuting. I’m going to work. I’m doing all of these things.” It’s like “Oh, I can go to this conference and it’s like a little bit of a break from things. I get this kind of disruption from my regular life that’s really nice.” And I think people now are valuing disruptions with their friends and family a lot more than they perhaps did in the past. A lot of people are like “No, I want to be able to spend more time and use my time more well with my friends and family. Spend my money on things I can do with my friends and family.” So I think that also shifted a bit… And in like a positive way, away from the way conferences have kind of posed themselves in the past.
And for others, they’ll be weighing it more choosily, right? They’re like “Okay, well, is this worth it for me to spend a little extra on travel, and to risk getting sick, and all that other stuff?” So yeah…
Yeah. Alright, so I think that’s a pretty good overview of the value propositions that conferences have had historically. I think the big kind of headline I’ve had in my mind around this for a while is “Is it valuable for me or for any attendee to fly to a place to mostly sit in an auditorium with a whole bunch of people, potentially risking my health for a talk I’ll be able to see on YouTube in three weeks?” Not literally three weeks, but roughly three weeks.
[18:12] And I think for a lot of people the answer to that is probably no, but I do think the other part of conferences that has already existed, which is kind of what you brought up, Angelica, of this - I get to interact with all of these people I wouldn’t be able to interact with otherwise. I think that is a thing that is very unique to conference spaces.
I think my own experience at GopherCon this past year, and GopherCon in previous years, and other conferences, has always been this very strong enjoyment of what has in the past been this kind of shadow track of the conference, but more and more conferences are now making like an official track, which has been aptly named the hallway track. And for those of you out there who have not been to a conference, or don’t know what a hallway track is, it’s basically literally people, instead of going to a particular talk, one of the talk tracks, stand in the hallway, or in the sponsor area, or dining den, or wherever, and have chat with each other, and get to know each other, and do more interpersonal interaction, instead of watching the talks. Some people do this for just like an hour of the whole conference, some people spend their entire conference doing this. But I think that when it comes to value propositions, this is the largest that I think conferences can offer in this current era that we’re in, of this interactivity, that you just really can’t get anywhere else. Like, yeah, we do have video calls… Once again, they’re not the same. There was a difference in quality of personal interactions when we had – I’ll just keep using GopherCon, since this is a Go podcast… But GopherCon online, versus GopherCon in-person this last year, right? There was a very large difference in those interactive aspects of things.
So with that, I want to move to the second part of the podcast today, where we talk about this idea I have that I’ve called hallway conf… Which is not a name of an actual conference, but a generic name for a kind of flavor or type of conference. So there are some kind of big features that I’ve been thinking about, that I think – these would help transition us from a regular track-based/talk-based conference into a hallway-based conference. So I’m just gonna go through a couple of these, and then we can talk, and panel, feel free to choose individual things you want to talk about; it doesn’t have to be on this list. But I think the biggest thing, or one of the biggest things is I think instead of having a few large theaters for talks - I think most conferences have like two or three tracks; some are single-track, but it’s usually you have one room you can fit the entire conference in, and then you have some other rooms you can fit roughly a third or half of the conference. So instead of having two or three of those, having a larger number of much, much smaller theaters. And to tack on with that - you know, you’re flying the speakers out; I think what you said, Angelica, is absolutely accurate, that people really want to talk to the speaker. They don’t just want to hear what they have to say. I can hear what they have to say on the YouTube recording. Yeah, I’m at the conference because I want to be able to talk to them and interact with them. And now we have the technology that we can easily pre-record all of the talks. So instead of having the speakers give live talks, have them give pre-recorded talks, and then show those talks in the aforementioned theaters.
And the nice thing about this as well is that now you can schedule a talk to be aired more than once, which means that someone doesn’t have to choose between two live talks they want to see. You can be like “Oh, I want to see all these talks”, and you could figure out a schedule so that you can see the talks that you want to have.
And since we still have the speakers there, this kind of third part of this main change is to have a speaker stand, where speakers would have shifts, or time slots where they would be in this den. Say maybe two-hour blocks, or one-hour blocks, where people who have watched their talks can come and talk to them about their talks, and have these nice little kind of smaller interactive spaces for them. And since we have all the talks recorded, you could also do something where, for attendees, you can put the talks online early, so that people can watch them, and have watched them, and then spend most of their time talking to different speakers about the things that they said in their talks.
[22:20] Having read these notes ahead of time, that’s one of the things that I wanted to call out, that I kind of liked… In particular, because – I haven’t attended conferences before, and one of the things that can be difficult is in fact that access to the speaker, because you’ve got this very short window where either they’re taking questions on stage, or they’ve just kind of stepped down, but like everybody’s filing out, everybody’s gotta pee, and then you’ve also got like this small, dedicated group of people that just kind of like surround them and say a bunch of things that – they try to remember all the things that they wanted to say, but it’s just kind of this den of almost conflicting narratives, and not a lot actually really gets said. And a lot of the time, they’ll say “I’ll be down at the front if anybody has any questions.” But you’ve got like - what, five minutes to do that? And it can be difficult for kind of everybody.
So I like that idea, because there’s much more time to think and to consider, and for everybody to kind of get their word in. And I’m sure to actually make that kind of thing happen you’d want to set up some rules, or whatever.
The one thing that occurs to me is - one of the things that maybe hopefully this could do away with is those kind of like “Look how smart I am” gotcha questions that you sometimes see, right? Where the speakers are like “Does anybody have any questions?” and they’re like “What did you think about the recent paper that seems to–” And it’s just like “Oh, God, not one of these again.” And so then you have to wait for them to finish, and they’re trying to make them uncomfortable or whatever… And we teach speakers to say, “Well, I don’t really know”, or whatever, and you blow them off. But you certainly would want some rules setup just in case you get one of those guys coming into the speaker den… But other than that, I really like the idea of that relaxed atmosphere where – you know, holding court about their talk. I think that’s a really, really good idea.
I have two responses. One is maybe unavoidable, the other is a genuine question. The first is if you have a speaker den, and I assume you put the speakers in there, they sit there… Again, maybe completely unavoidable. I just have this image in my mind of this poor first-time speaker sitting in the speaker den with nobody going to talk to them. And I wonder if that’s unavoidable. Because there are certain speakers that you know, that if you place them in a room, people are gonna flock around them, and they’re going to try and ask a million questions, because they have that access. Whereas there are other speakers who - which I think is another value proposition, is that a lot of conferences do put work in to try and get first-time speakers who aren’t very well known, and really doing a talk at this conference is the first time they’ll be exposed to the wider community, or the community to get to know them… And I wonder, for them, how that would be a format in which they wouldn’t feel left out, or if no one comes and asks them questions that are not as valued. Again, it might be unavoidable, because even when you do on-stage talks, you might not get any questions. I just wonder if the speaker is asked to sit in a room for a period of time - unlike when you’re on a stage and you don’t get any questions, you can kind of like leave - whether that would be… I don’t know, that’s just a thought that came to mind.
[25:52] The second, as someone who’s done talks, both virtually pre-recorded and on-stage, how would you account for the buzz that you get from presenting on a stage? Maybe this is just me, but I know I am far better as a presenter in front of actual human beings. I feed off their emotions, the buzz of the room, the adrenaline, the nerves. Whereas if I’m pre-recorded - this is probably like the 17th time I’ve run through this talk… And yes, there’ll be no uhms, and ahs, and likes, but I probably won’t come across as organic or as excitable, whether you think that’s good or bad, as I would if I was presenting in front of real-life human beings. I think pre-recording is the least enthusiastic, talking in this kind of forum, where we’re all virtual, but I have actual human beings looking at the live on a screen, and then actual bodies in a room. For me, I wonder if the group has thoughts about how to ensure there – there is an enthusiasm, I guess, lost by the presenters presenting to not real human beings.
That’s a very interesting question. I think we’re all probably bringing our own thoughts to what this idea means. To me, to do something this way would be a very different style of conference to begin with. The focus then would not so much be on like the engagement of the actual talk necessarily, but on the engagement with the community. It’s a different style altogether, which is I guess another way of saying that you really don’t want to do away with the traditional conference, because I think that they have a lot of really – there is that kind of theatric and social component combined with them.
But if you are talking about doing something different, then I think a lot of things are going to be different, and things are going to shift. Conceivably, the in-person interaction then might be more important. And you could also conceivably mix it up a little bit and do certain portions of it live, or do it live if you wanted to… That’s something I think you could probably iron out as you begin to develop it. But I do think that by and large, if we’re talking about something that’s very different, a very different style, then both the feedback and the value-add, and everything’s going to be different. So it’s just going to be a different style.
Yeah. I did think about this a little bit, and I think that much like what you say, Andy, you can do like a hybrid approach here, where you could - I mean, if finance is allowing - set up a system where maybe the first day of the conference you have these live talks, where certain speakers who really want to give a live talk can give a live talk, and there’s a select number of attendees who will be able to join. Obviously, if you have smaller theaters, that restricts the number of people that can actually attend those live talks, which could actually be a good thing, so it could induce that kind of exclusivity factor. But you could do it that way so that people that really do want to give a live talk could still give a live talk, not in front of a 2000-person audience, but maybe in front of a 200-person audience, which still gives quite a big buzz.
And then you could also do something maybe where one of the theaters is set up as a live talk, and you have “Okay, well this is the one space where we do the live talks”, and they’re recorded, so then they can be represented in the other theaters, on the other days of the conference. So you could definitely add in elements of the old style of conference, or I guess the current style of conference, so that you can still have that kind of good level of interactivity, for like you being up on the stage and seeing all of the speakers.
Because I agree with you - when I gave a virtual talk, it was quite a bit different than kind of being up on stage, looking at a whole bunch of people… But I also think the way that GopherCon did it in 2020 was absolutely brilliant, because it was like “Yeah, our talks are pre-recorded”, but then we were in the Discord, chatting with everybody watching our talk, which was a different type of buzz, but still very exciting. And I think you could also replicate that sort of thing in-person. It just probably takes a little bit more thought and development there.
[30:10] Same thing with what you mentioned around speakers who might wind up no one ever coming up and talking to them, which would definitely be maybe devastating for a first-time speaker, and you could do things where you pair speakers together for a bit… Or - this is like a very nascent idea, so I think there’s definitely other ways you could do this, where it’s like you will definitely draw people in. But this is also about the selection committee selecting talks. You want to make sure you’re gonna select talks that people will want to engage with the speaker on at the conference, right? So it’s like another additional parameter you need to consider when you’re putting together the schedule for the conference, of like “Okay, well, we have this speaker. Is this speaker going to have people that are actually going to want to come up and ask them questions, or interact with them?”
So as I was actually thinking through this conference-rethought experiment a little bit more, it kind of made me ask a kind of baseline question, like “Do you even need speakers? Do you need talks at a conference?” Could you not just have like workshops, and then maybe you have - which I know a lot of literary conferences do; in a past life, when I was in Academia, we did these, where you had rooms where you have like subject matter experts, and you would sit in a circle and you would discuss a concept or a question. And yeah, you had some individuals within the room who were especially knowledgeable in that area, had specific ideas that they could facilitate the conversation, but it really was everyone on the same level, both like physically and mentally, that we are just having a discussion about a topic, very similar to Go Time, where we come in, we all have different skill sets, we all have different opinions etc. about a specific topic… And it’s just an open discussion. And you would still have that expertise, you would still probably learn, because you would have specific SMEs, subject matter experts that will be almost assigned to those rooms… But you don’t even need talks, in my personal opinion. But please, what does the rest of the group think?
I have some thoughts on that…
I mean, so some of this – I mean, I would like to think that part of the germ for this idea was this discussion that Kris and I had at GopherCon about some of the different things that we would like to experiment with, hallway track being one of them. My personal - and forgive me if I’m jumping ahead here; it’s maybe a couple bullet points ahead for the hack space…
Yeah, it’s fine.
So the first hack day that I went to at GopherCon - it was a combination of factors for me, but one of them was I had just finished my official duties, I wasn’t running around, things were much more open… And there was also a hack day we had one year where there was a workshop on doing your first contribution to Go. And that was one of the best conference moments I think I’ve ever had, because it was part hackday kind of exercise, part workshop, like signing the various different agreements, spinning up your Gerrit account, and all that stuff… And actually doing – walking as many people as possible through doing like a Go contribution. And I just, I’ve always wanted to have something where it was just that, or as much as possible of that, but with kind of a social focus.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about that in particular, and the concept of the hack track, if you want to call it that, where you’ve got a space where it’s very much dedicated to like code, and contributing, but structured just enough, in such a way that it focuses on the participants first. Because I guess - you want to talk about that value-add for me, a conference is always about taking something home, right? What did they take home with them?
[34:21] And in a lot of the traditional conferences, it’s been you see a talk, and that talk just blows your mind. Or my favorite are the ones when a link comes up on a slide, and then you see all these laptops opening up, as people go to that GitHub site right now. That’s how excited they are about that kind of thing. And they’re going to take that home with them, they’re going to open it… They’re gonna have a set of tabs that they’re taking home from the conference, things that they want to research.
And that’s kind of the take-home from a more traditional kind of talk… Whereas from this sort of thing that I think we’re talking about, the take-home is like “I can do this. I’m comfortable to commit things”, or “I feel like that’s not so hard.” Or “I’m feeling more involved in this community, I’m feeling more involved in this project that I like.” And we can maybe talk about some of the specifics of what that would look in my vision, but I do envision having a dedicated space where you can host things that are – anything from “This is my cool project that maybe you don’t know about”, and I’m kind of holding an open kind of feedback sort of bug fixing thing, to “We are the maintainers of this large and popular project, and we have ahead of time marked some issues for first-time contributors, and we’re going to set you up with a draft PR right away.” And it doesn’t matter if you finish it, it doesn’t matter any of this. This is all about kind of getting you in there, and maybe if you don’t feel like continuing it, or you can’t continue it, we can pull from that PR later, or something like that… Or just close it down. Or ideally, maybe it becomes a full PR. That kind of thing, that kind of space I think is potentially very valuable if you structure it right.
Yeah. Ian, were you gonna – you have something you want to say, I think.
I think we’ve pretty much covered it, actually… But I do think this format of more smaller rooms just opens up a conference for all kinds of different formats of content. You don’t have to have just hack, you don’t have to have just content matter experts. You can have all of that, right? I can imagine a world where there’s four sessions of “Hey, we’re gonna talk about how a Capture the Flag works” and then there’s an ongoing Capture the Flag the whole week, and at the end, you announce who got in, that sort of stuff. It just opens up so much fun, cool programming that you could do.
Right. Like this flow, really. Almost like a retreat, in a way; just kind of a different situation.
Yeah. I think it would also be really interesting to - of course there would be a lot of planning that goes into this, but make sure that everything is structured, so that if you have, say, a four-day conference, that on any of those days, people can jump into doing these things.
I think one of the things that I dislike a little bit about current conferences is how rigid their structure is. It’s like, well, you have one day that’s like the workshop day, and then we have two days that are the talk days, and then one day that’s like the community day, the hack day, or whatever… And it’s like “Oh, well, if you just want to spend your whole conference doing the hack stuff - well, sorry, you can’t do that.” Or “If you started your conference doing one thing, but you want to switch to doing another thing - well, sorry; you missed the onboarding part of that.” With workshops, where it’s like “Oh, well, this is like a whole day affair”, so if you wanted to step into one, you have to pick the one that you really want to do.
[38:01] And I think, to what you’re saying, Ian, the more smaller spaces means that there’s more opportunities for people to actually explore, and figure out what thing they want to do, and actually experiment a little bit more with really low negative consequences. Because for a lot of people, I think the majority of people that go to conferences, it’s their first time attending a conference. So it’s like “Oh, it’s your first time”, then you should be able to go out there and sample and choose all the different things you can do, and then figure out “Oh, this is the one that I actually want to spend the rest of my time doing.” Or get halfway through and be like “Oh, actually, I’ve been doing this thing, but I just talked to this person in happy hour, and that other thing over there sounds like it’s more fun. I’m gonna go try doing that thing.” I think that could add another dimension of value-add, another good value proposition for attendees.
Right. And I think you’ve hit on something there that’s really important… And this is something that when I first was asked to do like the mentorship, kind of GopherBuddy thing for GopherCon, that was one of the things that weighed pretty heavily on my mind, because I really, really wanted to focus on what I really don’t want to see in conferences. And there’s always a mix, right? But there’s always this significant group of people, and some of them might be – it’s their first time going to any kind of conference. Or like they’re new to programming; they’ve kind of transitioned jobs, and not only is that their first conference, but they’re just kind of wondering what this is all about, right? And what I really don’t want to see is this sea of people who are just kind of looking back and forth… Like, they want to talk to somebody, but they don’t know anybody, or they can’t…
So one of the instructions that I would give to the people who participated in my program was like “First of all, here’s your special like thing to wear, that marks you as approachable, and we’re going to tell people about that”, but more than that, be on the lookout for that. Be on the lookout for somebody who’s looking around, they want to talk to somebody, they want to participate… Maybe they’re standing outside of a circle of people that are talking, and they’re kind of listening in… And engage them. Make sure you’re looking for that if you’re in that circle, and open it up to them. That can mean a tremendous difference for basically the rest of somebody’s whole career. So like you’re saying, lowering that barrier to entry, and more importantly, lowering that expectation of commitment, I guess, is really important.
I think that one of the things that kind of struck me about when I first started thinking about this idea - and I think we might have talked about this at GopherCon, Andy - is that because of the talks, and how they’re structured, and how the day is kind of packed with talks, and there’s only these really tiny little slices of time, outside of like the welcome party and happy hour, the actual amount of time you have to get comfortable with talking to other people or where other people can just talk to other people is very compressed. So if you’re like a prominent member of the community, there are people that you’re going to go talk to who you’re there because you get to see them, right? I spent a lot of time talking to you, Andy, at the conference, but that’s because I only get to see you once a year. So it’s like “Oh, I’m gonna spend my time talking to Andy.” Or with Bill Kennedy, or with these other people.
So I think the lack of extra time to do these interactions makes it a lot harder for newer people to go up and talk to those people. Because as soon as you get in a conversation with them, you’re like “Oh, these are just normal people. They’re not like any different from anybody else, so I can actually just have a conversation with them.” But it looks intimidating when there’s like ten of them standing together and you’re like “Oh crap, there’s those 10 people. I am nothing compared to them. They did all of this stuff for Go, or for whatever, and they’re in some deep conversation. What can I contribute to that?” And then you just don’t enter it in that conversation.
[42:08] Yeah, exactly. And a lot of the time, it’s lunch; we’re talking about lunch. Or whatever. Yeah, it’s important to have your ambassadors too, but if you can structure it correctly, then there’s more time for people to kind of like settle in and start to feel more comfortable, especially first-time attendees to these kinds of things. So yeah, I think that’s really important.
I think there’s a lot to be said about people who are more seasoned conference-goers, or are just more seasoned in the specific community that the conference is focused on, being really empathetic and being deliberate about trying to bring new members in In the same way that if you have a new – you know, one of your friends has a new girlfriend, and she’s coming into the group. You would be cognizant of that person coming into a new space that they might not be super-comfortable in, and you’d make extra effort to make them feel welcome, to make them feel secure, as you would with like a new team member joining your software engineering team. You would put extra effort in to make sure you’re not just talking to the seasoned team members who you’ve got an existing relationship with, you would put in that extra effort to bring that new engineer in, onboard them, make them feel comfortable, and leave space for them to give ideas. I think it should be the same at conferences, where these more seasoned engineers and individuals should be thinking through as there are these opportunities to socialize, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t spend the whole lunch break talking to this person that is also a very seasoned individual, and therefore maybe perceived as not very approachable, because we’re in this deep conversation”, and really taking those opportunities to be deliberate and go up to people who you haven’t seen around, who look like they might be lost or new, and just going up as someone who might be known in the community and saying like “Hi. How are you? I just did a talk. How was your conference experience?” And really opening it up. I feel like putting the onus on individuals who are new to go into groups - I think you should absolutely encourage them to do so, but I think the bar is higher than if you are someone who is comfortable in this space, and it is a space you feel comfortable in; going up to people who may be less comfortable I think may be more effective.
So I think that - and correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is one of the things that Kris was maybe even trying to get at with this… It’s certainly one of the things that I’ve been thinking about with this… It’s like, from the ambassadorial I guess perspective, I’m thinking of it more in terms of like a traditional conference… But it could be such that if you structure it in a more kind of relaxed way, like we’re talking about here - and of course, it is very nascent, but it’s an idea… You might kind of remove that barrier, or even the need to have your head on a swivel and to be looking for people if like a lot of the focus is on dedicated interactive spaces. And I think that is - of course, it’s very different, and you have to structure things in a certain way. But I think you can conceivably overcome some of that by just having this different sort of event.
Yeah. And just by virtue of kind of the hallway conf - as we’re calling it; I’m just gonna keep calling it that - being very focused on all these many rooms, and all these different opportunities to interact, because there’s naturally going to be more flow of people, I assume, as I’m envisioning it in my brain, between talks, between sessions, you’re going to have more people able to interact, and able to kind of catch someone going into another room, or being like “Hey, I see you’re going into this room. What’s going on in this room?” And I think just by virtue of having more flow between events, sessions etc. you’re going to be able to have more spaces of that nature to interact.
[46:01] Yeah. So there are like a couple other topics that I had in this… There’s one that I think – we have like six or so minutes before I have to jump into Unpopular Opinions… So there’s just one that I think is like the craziest one, because I think logistically, conference organizers will be like “Oh, this sounds like it will be a very challenging thing to do. I don’t know if I want to do that.” So I don’t think people really understand how much it costs to feed people at conferences. The prices – even for like a can of Coke, you’re talking like $10+. It is extremely expensive to feed people at conferences, and it’s one of the biggest things. When you have a conference and it has good food, just know that a significant portion of the price you paid in that ticket went to that food.
One of the things I had is - well, you’re having a conference that’s in a space; you’re in a community, and those communities usually have tons of restaurants. And so the thing I thought was, well, instead of doing food at the venue itself, why don’t we lean on the community of restaurants that is in the surrounding area, and have people go there for their food. And I think there’s two main things that make this possible where it likely wouldn’t have been possible before. I think the first is that with this style of conference, you don’t have to have a dedicated lunch block. Like, when you have planned talks, it’s like “Okay, here are all of our talks, and here’s the window for lunch.” And if you have 2,000 people, that’s when all 2000 people are going to be eating. And I think it would be largely unkind to dump 2,000 people into a community of restaurants for like a one-hour block. It would probably be logistically challenging for them. But with this style of conference, you can have, say, a four or five-hour window where you could say, “This is the lunch block window where you can go and you can get lunch.”
And of course, there’s still the challenge of logistics with those restaurants, of like, okay, well, how do you coordinate payment for the food, and for what people are buying, and all of that? And I think this also would have been difficult in the past, although you could have given people a special ticket, or something, that they give and then it subtracts the money from their bill, or whatnot. But one of the things I was thinking, which would probably require a partnership with Stripe or something, is that you can get very, very restricted use credit cards issued for people. So could you issue every attendee a credit card that, say, a four-day conference there is this five-hour block of time on each day when you can spend, I don’t know, like 60 bucks at a restaurant to go get your lunch. And it’s only at these specific restaurants, and if your bill’s more, you have to cover that yourself, and all of this, so that it’s like “Oh, well, now we don’t need anything special necessarily set up with the restaurant. We can just warn them. They can have signage and everything set aside to be like “Hey, attending GopherCon? We’re a place where you can come and eat, and have food.”
I think like this idea would obviously require a huge amount of logistics, and a huge amount of effort, but I think that would be another really interesting thing you could add to a conference, of like now it’s not just you’re in a conference venue. Now it’s like you’re actually getting to experience the community and the ecosystem outside of just maybe that one happy hour, or that welcome party.
Yeah. I mean, again, what you’re talking about is logistically, potentially very difficult, but at the same time, that is certainly something that - I mean, giving credit where it’s due, it’s certainly hard to find venues a lot of the time that are even close to… I remember I attended a conference in Disney World one time, in Orlando, and I was just like “This is so weird. I have to have this little thing, and I have to eat…” So I get to choose either I’m going to eat at the restaurant with the pirate name, or the restaurant with the goofy name… And it’s still just the same stuff. And I was like “Is there any place–” I remember asking somebody, “Is there any place to eat around here?” They’re like “No. Go somewhere. Are you kidding?”
[50:01] And so that is kind of hard, right? And it would certainly require a lot of planning. But I do think that as long as you’re talking about doing things differently, then if you can make that happen, that’s very cool, and very kind of like community involvement kind of situation. Because I do think that in a lot of conferences you do kind of feel like you’re in this little moon landing world, and every time I have left a conference in recent memory to go to – it’s like “Oh, here’s the best sushi place, or the best deep dish place, or whatever; it’s been like, “Oh, I’m having a little adventure”, and like you don’t see very many people. And if you can find the right space to make that happen, I think that would potentially be very rewarding. Because then it feels a little bit special too, to be able to go out to dinner and kind of continue your conversation there. But it’s gonna be hard to find.
And I think too a big blocker of that in the past has been that time constraint, right? If you get one hour for lunch… So if you’re trying to travel somewhere, even if it’s just a 10 or a 15-minute walk away, that eats into half of the lunchtime that you have. So once again, the structure of the conference makes it so that the only option you kind of have is to do something that is very close to the venue itself. Ian, Angelica, do you have thoughts on this?
My one thought is I’ve had enough bad conference food that as a conference goer, this sounds amazing.
I only have two quick thoughts. One was making sure that all dietary requirements are met by the establishments we’re partnering with. Secondarily was a call for the environment, that we not have physical plastic cards, and we make them virtual and perhaps an Apple wallet or an Android wallet… I don’t have an Android device, but an Android device-based card thing…
Yeah, and – I mean, you can conceive of it actually being better in terms of dietary restrictions, because then it’s kind of like going out to dinner now. You have a friend in your group who’s like “I’m sorry, I can’t have that.” And then you’re like “Oh, yeah, okay, well, we’ll just ask, and if they don’t, we’ll go somewhere else.” I think there is just as much onus on pretty much your average restaurant in this day and age to be prepared to tell people what is and what is not both vegan, halal, kosher… Really any dietary restriction. So like some of that I do think kind of like you’ll be alright with, for the most part, unless you’re going to like Bob’s House of Meat, or whatever. And then, that’s just not considerate to your friends.
Anything to avoid what happened to me and Chris at one point, where I was just walking around, searching for something to eat for the whole entire lunch hour, until I gave up and just took like three crackers and was like “Okay, I know I can eat these.”
No…! [laughs] That’s terrible.
So I love this idea. And plus one to Ian - conference food, they try their best. Their budget is crazy to get anything good, so I love the idea of actual restaurants and establishments being on the menu.
Right. Ambitious. But as long as we’re wishing… [laughs]
I mean, if you’re gonna plan something new and build something new, you shoot further – maybe you land somewhere in between or something, but you try really hard to… And that also could shift, like maybe it changes the cities you go to, or the venue is that you’re looking at, to be like “Well is this venue located somewhere where we can actually get out more?” Also, if it ultimately starts reducing the cost of tickets, that means you could maybe go to a slightly more expensive city, that has a more closer area where you could have people spread out, than another venue where you have to be like paying for the food and whatnot. So also this opens up huge changes in the types of venues you can have. Right now you don’t need to have necessarily a “conference venue.” You could do this maybe at a college, or something like that, that has a lot of spaces that can fit people, and you can kind of have people roaming and moving through.
And with that, it’s time for Unpopular Opinions.
Alright, so Angelica, do you have an unpopular opinion? Because I know you’ve gotta go, so I’m just putting you on the spot.
Snap. I can think of one right off the top of my head… It’s gonna be just like spur of the moment…
Those are the best unpopular opinions.
Okay. My unpopular opinion is that we should – which might not be unpopular… We should move away from flex seating at offices, and instead move towards being given a room for the entire day, so you can have your meetings in peace, or work in peace. Because why do we have all these flex desks that no one is sitting at, and there is an entire floor flex seating that simply has three individuals who all go off to rooms to be on their own for most of the day anyway?
Right. And you can’t even have a picture of your cat. Or you have to take it home with you. [laughs]
I was this close to drawing some stuff on the back of this wall to be a little bit more, like, happy… But I’m gonna be honest and say I did draw something. I did draw like a bouquet of flowers… But it just looked like a load of squiggles behind me when I actually sat down, so I quickly erased it.
Do you run into the issue where someone has a room booked for like three months, even if they’re not gonna use it?
I used to run into that all the time. They just perpetually keep it booked as their office, and…
Yes, it’s very annoying. I also run into the thing which I do, which I think’s good… But I will book a room for the entire day, and then the company has now implemented some kind of logic where the room will reject meetings that are over two hours. So what I do strategically is I book like 18 half an hour meetings that all have slightly different names, and then I add my colleagues who are in on my plan as optional. It doesn’t reject those. Because it will reject meetings that are with just one person, but not with multiple people… So my team is in on it.
Malicious compliance at its finest.
I’ve now said this on Go Time, so I feel like I’m not gonna be able to do this anymore… But that is the – for anyone who sees slightly different-named meetings, they are all different meetings that I require.
Just like 1, 2, 3…
No, essentially it’s like block. It’s like “Block planning session.” Right now it’s “Block planning session prep.” “Architectural run-through.” They have to sound real.
That’s totally believable. I would fall for that.
Now you’re the jerk if you question it, right? So no, you’re protected.
Yeah. And I can see people writing scripts to just automate this, too… [laughs] And I guess the real thing here is like what you described is like offices. Like, we should just go back to having offices. Even if it’s just like – you don’t have to have individual offices for everybody; you can have like two or three-person offices, but just… Offices.
I need to be able to kick my heels up and have a bottle of scotch positioned strategically behind me. I don’t even drink scotch… But just have it back there in a decanter, being like “What can I do for you?” Steeple your fingers over your desk, you know… I need it.
Because no one’s gonna be taking meetings on their flex desks. For those of you who have met me in person, I speak very loudly. I will be disrupting that entire floor. So really, it’s not for me; it’s for others.
[57:55] I feel like the spicy version of your take is “Open offices are terrible. Let’s get rid of them.”
“Give me my pot of privacy if you’re gonna make me come into the office.”
I feel like that’s not unpopular anymore. I feel like most of us don’t like…
I thought you were going to ask Andy first, so I was gonna start thinking about it then…
I came ready to swing, if you do want to go with me. [laughs]
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Andy, you can go next.
“Syntax highlighting sucks, and we shouldn’t use it.” That’s my unpopular opinion. Now, I will be much more clear than that. I will say that I don’t believe that you should have no kind of like indication of things. I mean, if I share, does it come up in the recording? Oh, no, okay. I won’t do that. Maybe we can post a picture of it, like what I do… I have just basically black and white, and some bold and some metallics here and there. But for the most part, none. So yeah. And I feel like it has made me – I think maybe I read some like wonky think piece on it about six or seven years ago, and then I just gave it a try… And I actually do think it has made me a better programmer.
I will say, I use syntax highlighting, but I have no idea what those colors mean.
Exactly! Froot Loops.
Like, I can tell if it’s wrong, but I have no idea what those colors mean.
Yeah. I mean, I’m the kind of nerd that makes his own syntax highlighting themes… I’ve got a couple now that I’ve made. The first one I did was like solarized, but with most of the syntax highlighting removed. Just the background colors. And then the other one I did is this more ambitious kind of like project where I’m trying to make like the scientifically-based color scheme… I talked to optometrists and ophthalmologists about it, and like what would be best etc. It’s still a work in progress. And I’ve seen some other interesting projects like this too, but it’s basically just high contrast, and I use bold and italics. But also, when something is wrong, then it’s red. Then there’s like the red squiggles, and whatnot. So the important kind of bits, it’s mostly – and I highlight things in blocks, too. So when I don’t have to use the squiggles, I’ll just use like a background red kind of color… And to me, that’s like the sweet spot. So I do want to see very clearly when something is wrong, or when it’s a warning, but I don’t need my methods to be purple, and my strings to be another color… Especially because it often changes from language to language, or even theme to theme, they’ll have different levels of coloring. At some point - like, you go to view somebody else’s screen, and it’s just this meaningless Froot Loops sea… So yeah.
I have been in situations where something is a color, and I don’t know what it means, but it feels wrong, and I’m looking through my code and I don’t know why it’s this wrong thing… But then it’s like “Oh, because this is a closure, or this is a function variable.”
Oh, and as a related unpopular opinion maybe, I don’t know - I absolutely loathe cursive italics. I cannot stand them. There’s so many programming fonts where it’s like your comments are like in cursive, and I’m like “Get that out of here.” [laughs]
I can’t believe that exists…
Oh, you will find it. Go look for coding fonts, you will see, I swear. It’s the thing.
Oh, God… Yeah, I think for the whole syntax highlighting - I’ve known a few people in the past. I mean, notably, Rob Pike is anti syntax highlighting… But I’ve known other people too where I went and looked at their screen, and it’s like “Oh, you have very, very light syntax–” or like “You have grayscale syntax highlighting.” And I think the interesting thing is programmers are like “No, you need it. It’s so important!” And I’m just like, we don’t syntax-highlight the prose we write… And now there are tools that actually will go and syntax-highlight different grammatical objects within a sentence, and looking at that is just really annoying, because that’s very distracting when you’re trying to consume the information, and it’s just like “Oh, all of your verbs are yellow, and all of your adjectives…”
[01:01:54.22] And it’s useful when you’re going through the editing process, and you’re like “Okay, show me all of the useless words that I. Get rid of all of those reallys, and the verys, and all of that. Show me those in a nasty color, so I can just delete them. But I remember - this happened a few days ago, just like looking at it; I was like “This prose looks terrible, and I would not want to be actively writing with this.” But it’s like, “We do it all the time with code.” And natural languages are ambiguous as hell, so it would be very nice to have syntax highlighting words. Code is very, very unambiguous, and very well-structured, too. You can kind of look at it and be like “Oh, that’s what these – I can see the parts of the code.”
Right. Yeah. So the way I’ve been focusing on it is I’ll use bold for like the func keyword… It really acts as kind of a landmark, so that I can kind of go through it real quick… Strings I have, they’re kind of like lighter… And then I think I add a dash of color to like print verbs, and stuff like that, because that’s something you kind of want to see. Oh yeah, there’s the templated part, right? But other than that, very little. Yeah.
Yeah. I feel like we might have – a lot of people have added syntax highlighting to also get around having their code be too dense, and having their code not be well structured. So it’s like, if you have that syntax highlighting, it’s easier to kind of pick things apart; You can let your code get a lot more messy before it’s like “What is going on here?” Where if you turn that off, and you’re just like “Oh no, this amount of complexity is just unbearable.”
How do you feel about the code mini-maps that some editors have in the top right?
So for me – so a lot of the time with the mini-maps, they’re basically just really, really tiny CSS-generated… It’s basically the same colors, and everything. I think those actually become more meaningful the less colors you have. So for example, when I have mine set up so that I only – the only color stuff that I see is like diffs. And so if I have the mini-map on, I can see the diffs. I don’t usually use the mini map, because I’ve tried to set up my highlighting scheme such that my landmarks are in bold, and that’s basically it. I just kind of scroll up and down and I see them. I think that they can be very useful for people who have a very visual kind of memory. I think it’s a useful tool. I think it’s kind of cool. But I think if you look at one of those with syntax highlighting all the way on, it can be just as inscrutable as the rest of the code.
Yeah. I feel like it’s probably going to wind up being pretty unpopular, because I think anytime anybody says “Be gone with syntax highlighting!” a lot of people start getting very, very annoyed.
And that’s fine. Yeah. But I will say this - I’m not saying color has no place in the modern IDE, but I think that if you use less syntax highlighting… My prediction is that as language servers become more capable, we’re going to start to see more enhanced like annotations. It would be nice, for example, to see a little hint or something that “Hey, just from code analysis, this escapes to the heap”, that kind of thing. Or I love having colored highlights where my test coverage isn’t; that kind of thing. And that’s where I think we should really hang on to it for dear life. But the thing is, you start adding that on top of all of this other code highlighting, then it just becomes even busier and even busier. But if you take most of that away, then what you gain back can be all this, metadata-type stuff.
Yeah, yeah. You know, I think I agree with you on that. Syntax highlighting is – and I’ve been studying typography as of late, which has also made it really obnoxious to read some books. I’m just like “Your line spacing is all out of whack.”
I’m like “This is probably something I’m going to somewhat regret one day when I just can’t read something…” So just like - this is painful. But there’s so much about the way that you do, especially typesetting, that has to do with invisible space; the whitespace, and how it’s shaped, and how it’s formed, and all of this, that makes something inherently more readable. And I feel we generally use syntax highlighting to do that work, whereas we could also probably do that work with other typography if more people understood typography.
[01:06:10.09] Yeah. And size, and spacing… I mean, spacing maybe not. I do think we are relatively behooved to a grid-based monospace kind of layout… Although not necessarily; I have seen some fonts make that work. But on the other hand, you can certainly get away with – you can get a lot out of like bold, and Italic, and underlining, and stuff like that. So yeah, I definitely – you will find me a surprising closet typography nerd. Like, it’s bad.
Yeah. I think that’s the interesting thing, too… Even talking about like the typography of a page - it’s like, you might have elements that are the ‘letting’ as I call it, or the line spacing is different for say a block quote or something, but it still is divisible enough that it flows on the page as a whole… And I think we could do that with code as well.
Well, we do already. I mean, so a lot of the modal stuff that you see in, say, Visual Studio Code - it’s very… Like, that’s one of the reasons I moved away from Vim. If you want a third unpopular opinion, it’s that I stopped using Vim after 30 years, or whatever… But the main reason I stopped was because I started to recognize that there is only so much information density that you can get out of a rigid grid of characters, and that having advanced typography, having float, having that kind of subtle background and/or foreground kind of information conveyance was far more valuable now. Because I use Vim now and I want to see a function definition. Like, I can set up my plugin to do it, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get a nice little pop-up. But even still, it’s ugly as sin. The whole screen shifts, if you don’t even have that, it’s - no. So yeah…
Yeah, I think that’s an advancement we should make in terminal technology as well, because there’s no reason why – why should it be possible for Vim to be just as elegant as VS Code, or any of these other graphical GUI-based editors? It’s just…
Well, and if you want, there’s – for those nerds of you in the audience, there have been attempts. We’re still kind of in their early days. There have certainly been some abortive attempts. Onivim is one of them. I have no idea how well they’re doing, but that was one of their attempts to kind of use Neovim as almost like a term-serve kind of backend situation, but like still – yeah, we still… To my knowledge, there’s still not a really good synthesis between Vim and say VS Code. And don’t give me that stuff about the VS Code Vim mode. I mean, I know it’s gotten better, but no.
Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing, too… It’s like, we should be at a place where you can take Neovim and just put a GUI in front of it. But it’s –
I mean, that’s what it’s designed for, right? And yet we’re still not really there. I don’t know… It’s weird.
It’s taking a while… Alright, Ian, do you have an unpopular opinion?
I do today. I think paper notes are better than digital notes.
And let me tell you why. I almost never go back and look at my digital notes. I know they’re searchable, and all of that… I just don’t. And I never go back and look at my paper notes either. But when I write something down, it takes the time to focus on it, and I remember it. And when I type it or I copy and paste it, that never happens. So I’ve just kind of stopped – like, sure, I’ll write down important things that I need to know verbatim in digital notes. But for like reminders, or just notes, or things I want to remember, paper all the way.
I’ve gotta be honest, I’m there with you. I desperately want to be able to be a good digital note-taker. What’s that really popular one that’s kind of coming down now, that new kind of Evernote thing? It seems like every other month –
Yes. Or like – no, no, no. There’s a new one after Notion. I don’t remember. I saw Filippo bookmark a bunch of stuff on it… And every time he bookmarks something, I always do it, too. But like – oh, God, I can’t remember. It doesn’t really matter. But anyway, it seems like every month there’s a new “This will change your life”, and I have like really bad ADD, and like I can barely even attempt a bullet journal. So I’m always – every time they come up, I’m like “Yes!!” And then I get into it and I look up like a couple of videos of like the guru of that particular app, and they’re like “Here’s how I do my day”, and it’s like, “I start with the journal entry”, and I’m like “Nope. It’s not gonna happen.”
[01:10:25.26] And yet, you can see – this is like the various different scribbles that I was taking during today, and there is some kind of… I feel like there is some connection between that tangible aspect of like writing, and then the navigation map that you form in your head. It just is better.
I have made liberal use of like stickies before, to such degree that my Mac desktop just becomes this absolute mess… But then I just do the digital analog of tearing them down and throwing them away. That’s as close as I get.
For some reason, deleting a digital note feels way worse than just throwing away a notebook for me.
It does. It does.
Like, I don’t know why; they’re not any more useful. But it feels wrong.
Yeah… I mean, I think I agree with you. I definitely – I mean, you’ve seen my apartment, Ian. I have notebooks literally everywhere. So I’m definitely a big fan of writing things down by hand… Because yeah, typing – I think they’ve actually done studies around this, where it’s like, writing by hand actually does do something different when it comes to your brain, and the retaining of information, than typing. Because in some ways – like, you can usually type as fast as you can think, so you don’t have to slow down your thinking process. Whereas when you write by hand, you slow way, way, way down… Unless you’re one of those people that can do really shorthand chicken scratch notes that just –
Oh, bless them. Court reporters.
Yeah, I just cannot do that. But I do think – I’ve been thinking about this a lot, since I’m trying to build my own research system out, since I’m trying to really get into writing… And the thing I’ve kind of realized is that there’s all these gurus and whatnot that say all of these things about, “Oh, this is how I put together my system” and all of this. It’s like, “Yeah, but you went through the process of learning how to put together that system.” That’s the thing that each individual needs to do for themselves. You need to go through all of the pain.
One of my friends said this really great quote… I don’t really remember where it came from; I think it’s like a Southern thing… But it goes, “The lantern of experience only illuminates the path for the holder”, which I was like –
Uff, that’s profound as hell.
Yeah. I was like “That is very profound!” Yes, that makes complete sense to me. And I think a lot of people, especially influencers or creators, can sometimes forget that. And they can forget, “Oh, I might be telling other people how I use this, but there’s a whole lot of information behind why I use this in the way that I use it.” But yeah, that’s to say, Ian, I agree with you that taking notes by hand is far better than digital notes. Even though I do want to convert them to digital later so I can search them if I need to… But the initial notes by hand are pretty good.
Alright, so I think that’s it. Do either of you have any one last thing you want to say before we end the episode?
No, just be sure to check out – keep your eye on Manning publications, “Go in Action. Second Edition”, working on it right now. It’s gonna be great.
A little book plug there…
Well, Andy, thank you very much for joining us for this episode. It was a lot of fun.
Thank you. My pleasure.
And Ian, Angelica - even though she’s not here - thank you for joining me as well in co-hosting.
Yeah. And I don’t know, there might be a follow-up episode. We might turn this into a little mini-series, because there definitely far more that we can talk about the wonderfulness of hallway conf. But for now, thank you for listening, and tune in next time.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚