QCon London: The Best One Yet

March 18th, 2009  |  Published in concurrency, conferences, erlang, functional, functional programming, RPC, standards  |  9 Comments  |  Bookmark on Pinboard.in

QCon is always very, very good, but QCon London 2009 last week was the best one yet. Highlights:

  • Ola Bini‘s “Emerging Languages in the Enterprise” track on Wednesday had some great talks, especially Rich Hickey’s Clojure talk. Ola’s deep knowledge and love of programming languages made him the perfect host for this track, and he put together a brilliant lineup.
  • Speaking of Rich, I consider myself very lucky to have gotten to meet and spend a fair amount of time with him. He’s very bright, talented, knowledgeable, and experienced, and both of his talks were outstanding.
  • I introduced Rich to Joe Armstrong at the conference party Wednesday evening and they spent the next few hours talking at length about functional programming, their respective languages, VM implementation issues, concurrency issues, etc. Ola jumped in as well. They also continued the conversation the next day. I just sat back, listened, and learned.
  • Getting to spend time again with Joe was excellent. He always has incredibly useful analyses and opinions to express, and in general is fun to be around and easy to learn from.
  • I also finally got to meet Ulf Wiger, Erlang developer extraordinaire, in person. He’s a laid back guy, quite well-informed and a deep thinker who can cover a wide variety of topics in amazingly useful detail. His talk on multicore programming in Erlang covered cutting edge Erlang development and presented some very difficult concurrency issues.
  • Ulf’s talk, as well as Rich’s second talk, which was on persistent data structures and managed references, were part of Francesco Cesarini‘s “Functional and Concurrent Programming Languages Applied” track on Thursday. I met Francesco, who like Ulf is one of the world’s top Erlang developers, at QCon London last year. He assembled a great track for this conference, with Rich’s and Ulf’s back-to-back talks being way more than enough to sober up any developer who thinks that multicore is not an issue and that today’s methods for dealing with concurrency will continue to work just fine. Best of luck with that!
  • Sir Tony Hoare‘s talk about the null reference being his “billion dollar mistake” was great because of all the detail he recounted from some of the early days of computing. He was both informative and entertaining. I was also impressed with Ulf during this talk, whom Professor Sir Hoare invited to come up to the front and present what turned out to be a pretty convincing argument in favor of the null reference.
  • Paul Downey‘s talk on the downsides of standardization was by far the most humorous talk I heard, perfect to close out the track, but it also presented a number of hard-won useful lessons about the perils of standardization efforts.

As with all QCon conferences, there were a bunch of interesting tracks running in parallel, and unfortunately I still haven’t figured out how to be in multiple places at once. I had to miss Michael Nygard‘s talk, for example, because my own talk got moved to the same time slot as his.

My talk (PDF) covered the history of RPC, why it got to be the way it was, and why the forces that created it really aren’t all that viable anymore.

The final conference panel was by far the most inventive panel I’ve ever been on. Modeled after the British game show “It’s a Bullseye!” and hosted by none other than Jim Webber, it had contestants from the audience throwing darts to become eligible for a prize. Once a contestant became eligible, Jim would ask the panel — Michael Nygard, Ian Robinson, Martin Fowler, and me — to answer a question submitted by conference attendees either earlier during the conference or live via Twitter. Based on our answers, audience members held up either a green card if they liked the answers or a red one if they didn’t, and if the majority was green, the contestant would win a book. The questions were hard! We had only two minutes each to answer, which for some questions seemed like an eternity but for most was way too short. Anyway, it was great fun, and given how many there were in the audience after three grueling conference days and how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves, it worked very, very well.

If you have any interest at all in leading edge software and computing topics being presented by the world’s most knowledgeable speakers in a fun atmosphere, go to QCon. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.


  1. anonymous says:

    March 18th, 2009 at 3:52 am (#)

    any idea when/where the videos will be up ?

  2. steve says:

    March 18th, 2009 at 2:34 pm (#)

    @anonymous: no, sorry, I have no idea when the videos will appear. I know the slides are all there already on the website, but I would imagine all the video could take awhile to process.

  3. Ulf Wiger says:

    March 18th, 2009 at 2:43 pm (#)

    Actually, Sir Tony Hoare wasn’t pointing at me, but I thought he did. But since I had spent so much energy during his talk trying to figure out how I could possibly defend null references (how can you refuse a living deity?), I figured I might as well present my case…

    Glad you liked it. (:

    A pleasure to meet you too, finally. And I enjoyed your talk very much.


  4. steve says:

    March 18th, 2009 at 6:03 pm (#)

    @Ulf: thanks! Hopefully it was the last RPC presentation I’ll ever have to give.

  5. Mark Little says:

    March 19th, 2009 at 4:05 am (#)

    Hi Steve. Looks like a good presentation. But you know RPC isn’t dead: like most things it just needs to be used a lot less in many situations and users need to understand the trade-offs they’re getting into (which is something the majority of RPC users didn’t know or care about in the past).

    I still have a sh*t load of VHS tapes and probably will for a long time to come, but DVD/Blueray are the wave of the future. Would I buy new VHS tapes? It depends on the situation but I wouldn’t rule it out. It still has some benefits over DVD (it’s quick, still pretty universal, not region locked, and easier/cheaper to record.)


  6. Linda Kim says:

    March 19th, 2009 at 9:59 am (#)

    Hi, Steve.

    It is nice to read your blog about QCon London. I should say then I was present at your last RPC presentation in history!
    I also liked Ulf’s defence on Null reference.

  7. Mark Little says:

    March 19th, 2009 at 10:47 am (#)

    BTW, the program was Bullseye ;-)


  8. steve says:

    March 19th, 2009 at 11:23 am (#)

    @Mark: Hi, how are things? I don’t recall ever saying in my slides or in anything else I’ve written that RPC is dead — rather, given my continuous focus on things related to “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and the Technology Adoption Life Cycle curve, I know few things like this simply just roll over and die quickly. Like I said yesterday in my comment on Stefan’s blog, I’m well aware that it won’t be easy to get the industry over the effects of the long history of language-first distributed systems development.

  9. Blogposts about QCon London 2009 | JAOO Community Blog says:

    March 30th, 2009 at 7:44 am (#)

    […] Steve Vinoski: http://steve.vinoski.net/blog/2009/03/18/qcon-london-the-best-one-yet/ […]