Tobias Roland

I'm a London based software engineer, currently taking a few months out of my career to study functional programming. This is my blog.

Scale By The Bay 2019

17 November 2019

My plan for the week behind us was to hunker down in London and study - that got postponed for a week since I found myself travelling to USA with short notice (thanks to Signify Technology!).

What happened?

It was my last day of work, and two hours before my leaving drinks, I was contacted by Signify Technology, a scala specialist recruiter who have their hands in most of the big Scala meetups and conferences in London (if you’re in town, I’d recommend checking out on of the Scala in the City meetups). They told me to pack up my suitcase and grab a plane to The USA because I’d won a ticket to attend the Scale by the Bay conference in San Fransisco!

Cue this facial expression:

Why? Because:

  1. Awesome!
  2. Oh no!

Awesome! because I’ve been glancing longingly at the the schedule of the conference, all the time grimacing over the prohibitively expensive ticket price (even with return flight tickets + airBnB, the main expense would still’ve been the conference ticket). Secondly, this is unbelievably great timing in terms of me being out of a job and along comes a conference on exactly the topic I intend to self study.

Oh no! because at this point in time, there’s only 6 days till I have to be on a plane if I want to make it in time for the conference. Will I get the ESTA approved in time? Will it be approved? How expensive will plane tickets be? Will accomodation be super expensive with this short notice? What happens if the ESTA is denied, can I get a refund for the tickets? Will my laptop arrive in time? Do my family in the US have time to see me with such short notice?

Well, the ESTA was approved within a couple of hours. My AirBnB booking too. Flight tickets were acceptable. Family tells me to stay for a month. The only thing that had me biting my nails was the laptop delivery I was waiting for, and it arrived the evening while I was packing my suitcase for the next morning!

So I arrived late on the tuesday after a 11 hour plane ride, and spent a jet-lagged wednesday walking around in San Fransisco, taking in the city. My step counter says i walked 31 kilometers, which I could feel in my legs too the following day. I tried to capture the iconic tourist photo of Golden Gate Bridge to use as the header image for this blog, but the fog had other ideas:

It did clear up towards the end of the day, and I have to say I’d forgotten how much I actually enjoy San Fransisco - the food options are excellent… and you’re never more than a few stone throws away from excellent cocktail bars, too.

About the conference

For the unfamilar, Scale By The Bay is a big scala/functional conference which is very much “the community’s” conference. It’s been running for a few years (since 2013) and a lot of really interesting talks from the various events are available online at functionalTV. The organizer of the event since its inception, Alexy Khrabrov, was standing outside the building shaking all the attendees hands. His enthusiasm for the event was felt, and the event truly did live up to its stated values:

  • No big company or marketing agenda behind SBTB, ever – only learning.
  • Only the best technical talks, selected on merit

There were three main tracks to follow, Functional, Data and Reactive. Apart from these, there was also an “unconference” track where more impromptu/in-detail talks and demos were held. I unfortunately didn’t make time in my schedule to attend any unconference talks - a mistake I’ll rectify if I attend the conference again next year.

I spent most of my time on the functional track, in the massive impressive auditorium, where I got to see a lot of very good talks on an extremely varied bunch of topics. I could spend an entire blog-post rewriting my frantic markdown notes the 20 or so talks I did attend, but instead I’ll just point out a few highlights that I’m extremely happy I got to see:

Some things I’m glad I got to see

  • ZIO talks in general - it seemed to be the framework the community is currently the most “hyped” about
  • An interesting proposition for how to do documentation better
  • A call to arms for doing more community out-reach and help get more diverse groups of people into the the scala fold (pun not intended)
  • A (surprisingly) fun panel discussion on serverless
  • A great panel discussion on Machine Learning
  • A live coding demo/pair programming demo, partially run by Scala Love podcast host Oli Makhasoeva
  • A presentation on Unison. I attended this talk originally because I’d listened to Runar Bjarnson on the Corecursive podcast and Scale Love Podcast, describing his vision for the language. To be honest, it was the talk I was the most excited about hearing at the conference, and it lived up to my expectations. I would encourage anyone to check out the linked podcast episodes and some talks on the project; the unison website doesn’t quite manage to get across just how interesting a project this is.

In general, the talks were good to excellent in quality, and I particularly enjoyed that the speakers were very varied in terms of experience with public speaking. It wasn’t “just” the big company names that were presenting, there were a fair amount of greener people presenting too. The videos of the talks I watched - and the ones I missed, too - should be up on functionalTV in a few weeks, I might do anther blog post when that happens with some added commentary for some of the talks I really enjoyed.

I would list some negatives to balance this out, but overall there wasn’t anything that impacted my experience of the conference negatively. One or two talks that were a little heavy on the up-front presentation of a company or company’s specific problems, to the point where it detracted a little from the technical content since time was tight and it had to be rushed. If nothing else, those talks have given me some good examples of how to handle presenting for a big crowd and how to handle audience retention - so I still got something from the talks, even when the content didn’t quite engage me.

Everyone, speakers and attendees, were super approachable and friendly. I was also impressed to see that most of the speakers were also conference attendees themselves and hung around to listen to other talks. So I guess, in conclusion, I really thoroughly enjoyed the Scale by the Bay, and I really would consider going back next year.

Most importantly of all, I’ve discovered my new passion in life while here in the states:

… the apple turnover.