That Conference 2015


Chris Berg


My oldest daughter will turn 18 this year. She knows that I sit at my computer most days and portions of the weekend. I suspect at times she has observed me quietly musing over a problem, my brow intent then I rapid-fire keystrokes. That’s my cadence. Recently, my daughter took BASIC and Java for the first time and a sliver of my world emerged for her while she discovered her own problem/design/code cadence.

Up until recently, my daughter followed a music path of voice, opera and art; however, she suddenly made a pivot. My wife and I explored this change with her and there was no modification to her course. She wanted to pursue software and user experience. Later, I said to myself, “Why not?” She can still sing on the side. Many local operas utilize folks who make their living elsewhere. Moreover, who am I to judge, I spent my years in grad school reading philosophical hermeneutics and history. Fast forward to last week when both my daughter and I attended That Conference for the first time.

In general, I believe in principles—usability heuristics, test first, contract first, separation of concerns, and the like. I did not anticipate how integrating children into a conference would fundamentally change my perspective on the purpose of conferencing. In fact, I would go as far to say that by having children in attendance, THAT Conference asserts a “learn first” principle. Everyone attends to learn something new in sharp contrast to “bling”, marketing machinery and attendee stratification most of which subverts the learning process. Humans just learn better when we feel safe, affirmed and are free to play and share.

I fell in love with software for the feeling I get when something works for the first time or I create an experience that just works or maybe it is just the love of learning for it’s own sake. Whatever the case, I saw the same excitement on the faces of adults and kids alike (campers) including my own during That Conference. It’s fun to see what others are doing and more importantly the stories of how they discovered what they know whether it was organizing your game strategy (world, objects, front/back memory buffer) or using mind-maps to strategically respond to people and the problems they encounter in a leadership session. In my case, I let my daughter pick all the sessions and let the horizon unfold before us.

On one level, That Conference brings learning back into focus. It’s for us. On another level, it allows many parents to share their world with language, symbols, surprise and logic. Max Weber argued that the modern world had irrevocably split between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (impersonal society). In this dichotomy, children working on the farm more fully understood the experiences of their parents in contrast to parents leaving home for work in a factory. That Conference chips away at the disintegration we all feel and sometimes try to express but fail.

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