Playgrounds Conference Melbourne 2017

Today was the first day of the first Playgrounds conference held in Melbourne. It’s a conference dedicated to Swift and Apple developers, of which I am neither, and I don’t own an iAnything, so you might be wondering why I was there.

The main reason is that I just wanted to help out. I think we don’t have nearly enough tech conferences in Australia, and if I can help contribute in any way to getting one off the ground, I’m all for it. The other reason is that it’s probably a good idea to keep an eye out on what else is going on in the industry. I think the founder felt the same (about conferences in Aust). From what he said, he has been to a bunch of conferences, and every time, he felt sad that there wasn’t something like that in Australia. Eventually, he decided to get it done himself, and took a huge gamble using his own money to start this conference. So he works full time, and manage to organise this conference (along with help from some other people). That’s some pretty commendable passion. I really hope he managed to break even on ticket sales.

I have to say, the talks were a good mix of low-level and medium-level tech talks. The organiser did say that he tried to space them out so that it’s not one heavy-hitting talk after another, in order to give the attendees a bit of breathing space, and overall, I think it worked really well.

One of the talks I really enjoyed was Wendy Lu from Pinterest, who talked about their last major refactor. If you squint really hard, you can see their “burn down” chart (which she used to show just how difficult it can be to refactor code – in case you can’t see it, rather than the line trending downwards to show progress, it took a 90 degree turn upwards).

There was also a talk on path finding, which was the talk I was most interested in hearing, given my interest in gaming. I thought it was going to be a really complex subject, but the speaker explained the algorithm they use really well, and it was really easy to follow along. I actually really impressed by the path finding algorithm, and never even considered some of the things you’d have to deal with when multiple objects are moving at the same time. I will vow to yell blame myself more often when I take a sub-optimal path in Dota 2.

Matt Gallagher also gave a great talk on achieving high performance with Swift, which I’m pretty amazed that I managed to understand (I think going to Peter Lawrey’s talk, and attending the vJUG 24 conf also helped a lot with that). Even though it was Swift based, I think a lot of the same principles carry across to Java.

That’s one thing I did notice about the conference. As someone who is pretty much purely a Java developer, I was able to follow along with all of the talks today, and I don’t consider myself a hardcore developer (it helped once I figured out that protocols are pretty much interfaces from Java, with some differences). I’ve seen a few Swift snippets of code on Stack Overflow and reddit, but never used the language myself.

All the talks were recorded and will be available on after the conference.

I think the best part about tech conferences is the feeling that you’re surrounded by people like you. Other than at PAX, I have never seen such a concentration of geeky T-shirts before. Walking around and listening to people talk was really nice. Obviously there were people who worked together, or knew each other from other conferences, but I noticed a lot of people just jumping into a conversation and being welcomed. I was a bit wary about approaching people who were standing by themselves at first, but I saw other people doing it, so I might give it a shot if I’m ever at another conference. I didn’t have any problems doing it while enforcing at PAX, but it feels like people are more open to chatting to you when you’re wearing an official volunteer shirt, compared to some random.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself today. Got to help set up, listen to some awesome talks, and meet new people (yep, even someone as introverted as me was able to meet new people).

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