Friday, January 6, 2012

Best Hacker Conferences in 2012?

One of my goals for 2012 is to break out of my little corner of the world and attend a couple of developer conferences.  There are two primary benefits of doing this: 1) learning about a technology that is interesting (and hopefully valuable!) and 2) networking with other developers.  But given the plethora of conferences out there, and the inherent cost in attending, which ones provide the best opportunities to derive these benefits?  Read on.

There are several dimensions that can be used to compare and contrast the various conference options.

Specific vs. General
Lots of conferences focus on one specific technology, like a programming language, framework or platform.  This is 101 stuff. Interested in Ruby? Check out the RubyConf and/or RailsConf.  Python? PyCon. Facebook's F8 event would benefit those working with (or wanting to work with) FB's toolset/APIs for integrating with their platform.  While I am sure there is value in these conferences, I am more interested in conferences that are more general, focusing on a cluster of technologies that share some common thread, but may not be otherwise related.  A couple that come to mind are the OSCON put on by O'Reilly, that focuses on open source technologies and the ApacheCon that revolves around Apache technologies.  The topic list for the 2012 OSCON looks interesting and has some focus on things that are hot right now including "The Startup Stack" and a track on "Open Source on Mobile Devices".  In my opinion the most interesting things going on within Apache right now include all the tools related to handling the Big Data problem with Hadoop and the litany of supporting projects like Pig, Cassandra etc.

Big Company Conferences
These are pretty simple.  Are you an Apple fan boy...uh... I mean... hacker? See you at the WWDC.  Microsoft?  Maybe they'll do the BUILD conference again in 2012.  One BigCoConf that would be a bit more general is GoogleIO.  If I end up going to a BCC, it would likely be this one... not because I use many of Google's developer tools, but mainly for the atmosphere/networking opportunities.  While not perfect, Google just seems to have done a lot of things right in terms of developing a culture that is hacker friendly, plus they focus some on newer/interesting tech like HTML5 and mobile dev; not to mention the toys they've passed out in previous years have been cool at the time.

Trending Technologies
In terms of learning about an interesting technology that also is valuable, it is worth looking at tools/areas that are fairly new, but have the critical mass to and sufficient press to be trending upward.  A few that come to mind include Big Data solutions (Hadoop related tech), NoSQL databases (mongodb, couchbase, etc), and newer frameworks like node.js.  I've been seeing my own interest in document/JSON oriented data stores (NoSQL) ticking up over the past year and have been considering doing a deep dive on mongodb;  hitting the 10gen event in ATL could be a good fit with my goals here.

Conferences cost money.  They also have an opportunity cost for the time they require.  So we need to pick the ones that provide value by A) discussing interesting/valuable stuff and B) good networking opportunities.  Currently I am leaning toward OSCON and GoogleIO for my top two picks as well as strongly considering the MongoDB event in Atlanta.

I am sure that there are some conference ideas that I've missed here (Business of Software anyone?) What did I miss?  What hacker-friendly conferences do you want to attend in 2012?  Maybe I'll see you there!

 Join the discussion on Best Hacker Conferences in 2012 at Hacker News.

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