WeAreDevelopers 2023 Berlin Conference

06 Aug 2023 – Warsaw

July 27-28 I was in Berlin for WeAreDevelopers World Congress conference. This was my first time with WeAreDevelopers and I don’t even know how I stumbled upon this event. But after the pandemic I welcome the conference season with open arms, I like Berlin, I like traveling to Berlin (5-6 hours on a direct and comfortable train, with restaurant wagon and a generally relaxing ride) and I liked last-years lineup, with so many tracks and speakers that I was pretty sure I’m going to find something interesting for me this year.

The conference happened at Berlin CityCube, close to Westkreuz – probably the west-most part of Berlin I’ve ever been to. It’s also the largest conference I’ve ever been to, with around 12000 attendees. It was also very profesionally organized, with arrow signs and conference maps spread throughout, food trucks and something around a dozen stages with talks happening simultaneously and always on time (very difficult thing to keep at a conference, this one I know from own experience as organizer).

First talk I attended was the opening keynote by Tim Berners-Lee. It was well prepared, not very well delivered and with a very interesting but early technology shown, the Solid Project. Solid is (yet another) attempt at de-centralizing web and restoring “data sovereignity” (I love the term), with a wider approach than previous “run your own file cloud” or “run your own microblog”. I’m always rooting for such initiatives, from Indie Web through Mastodon, so I’m going to watch Solid Project closely and planning to run a pod soon.

Second talk I went to was “We (don’t) need software architect”, but unfortunately there were more attendes than space available, and standing right outside the room meant I couldn’t even hear the speaker – because everything around in the exhibition hall was louder. Guess I (don’t) need to attend this talk. I’m going to watch the recording. I’m very interested that Zeiss, company I know for very traditional engineering in optics industry, branched to software engineering.

Third talk, one I had really high hopes for due to professional reasons, was “Designing gRPC APIs - The things they don’t tell you”. I don’t have a lot of experience with gRPC, yet at work there is a discussion about possibly using gRPC. And this talk delivered, meeting and exceeding my already high hopes! There was no bashing – author, Bastian Eicher, is a practicioner for years – but there was a zero-sugarcoating presentation of what might surprise when building a gRPC API, especially a developer coming from more dynamic and developer-friendly approaches like REST or GraphQL, and how to prepare and work with those surprises. Great content, great delivery. Perfect talk and something I’m going to bring up at work.

Next on my list, “How to learn new subject areas quickly” lightning talk (10 minutes) contained basic stuff and truisms (like “interest in the subject improves speed of learning”) mixed with some deep papers (on neurogenesis and neuroplasticity), which made it a pretty weird but interesting approach. I feel this talk could be vastly improved with just better focusing.

While walking past Main Stage I stumbled upon Angie Jones’ talk about Web5, which seems like yet another attempt at building de-centralized web (I don’t know if any of them succeed but I love the topic got so popular!), unfortunately the word “blockchain” was thrown into the mix. I’m still going to watch the recording of the whole thing.

Then I met a guy in a t-shirt that made be, both a hacker and a Wacken attending metalhead, drool and ask where to buy it. Hacken Open Air t-shirt at GetDigital.de

“30 Years of Rip and Tear: Doom’s development story” by John Romero was a talk even better than I expected. Besides the history lesson that I know already – I still play classic Doom with new WADs, still being created by the community – John has shown some early versions of Doom (as early as “tech demo stage”) ran in Dosbox. It’s always awesome to be reminded that every great software was progressively made and started with not-great early iterations. Even the best game in history made by probably the best game engine developer in history.

That was all for the first day of the conference for me, as I used the opportunity to meet with some people both from work and outside work who live in Berlin. Again, after three years of pandemic it’s great to meet people in person again.

I haven’t slept too well, so I’ve missed two talks I planned to begin friday with: “The Future of Cloud is WebAssembly” by Matt Butcher and “Is your backend a hodgepodge of queues, event stores and cron jobs? Durable Execution to the Rescue.” by Maxim Fateev, I’m going to watch recordings and hopefully update this post.

The day still started great. I met John Romero near the cloakroom, for the first time in my life, and despite being start-struck (OG Doom made a huge influcence on who I am, including my interest in programming from young age, not to mention as gamer up to this day) I managed to have a short chat and a photo together. I don’t think a conference could ever give me a better experience and I’m still fangirling inside as I write this over a week after.

“Throwing off the burdens of scale in engineering” with Stripe CTO, John Singleton, was a fireside chat (I’m not a fan, I prefer a prepared talk with a main thesis and progression of driving it through) and about scaling teams, not scaling product. But fortunately it quickly turned into talking about scaling product and development, so that’s a big plus for me. It was also pretty Shopify-esque in observations and approaches, which explains why those two companies work so closely. “Small product teams move fast” cannot be more true in every instance I observed, and “our mission is to abstract out real-world (payments) complexity for small and large businesses” is exactly like Shopify’s approach to ecommerce. Good one!

“The future of development is not local nor remote” had a really promising abstract but in the end turned out to be about building a Dockerfile with copying dotfiles. Not a disappointment, it was still well prepared and delivered, just a bit more on the basic level than I hoped for.

“Using WebAssembly to run, extend, and secure your application” by Niels Tanis was my second favourite talk of the conference (alongside gRPC one). After the intro slides speaker went all-in with WASM memory and isolation architecture, control-flow integrity, WASI with its security model including Component proposed extension with its own security considerations (how to compartmentalize when single component is compromised), and all integrated and ran within .NET stack. Awesome stuff and hopefully recording will be available, as I want to show that to developers at work, not limited to the team that develops Shopify Functions stack.

And that was all, I had to leave before closing talk by Joel Spolsky to catch a train back home, as I wanted to spend the next night in my own bed. It was a great conference and I’m recommending it to fellow developers ever since!