It will be a bit strange to call this blog post a “Trip Report”, bearing in mind that I’m fairly local. Yep, technically I’m living in two homes – St. Petersburg, Russia and Sofia, Bulgaria. So coming to Joker was kinda switching home, but to make it more unified I’ll still call this post a “Trip Report”. A trip report to Joker Conference!
There is one disclaimer I have to make: in this post I do not follow any timeline. Here I just want to share some thoughts and emotions.
So, what is Joker Conference? This is Russia’s biggest Java event, which usually takes place at October/November in St. Petersburg. The city itself is now unofficially considered as a technological hub, accommodating a lot of IT offices and foreign representations. Like Oracle for example, they used to have a big R&D office in it. You may be surprised, but Java ME for example, or the biggest part of lambdas in Java 8 were created in St. Petersburg. Now, for some reasons, there is no more R&D, but some other activities. Still a lot of banks, telecoms, retailers, aerospace etc have some quite big R&D offices in St. Petersburg. The Universities produce a lot of very qualified developers to satisfy the huge needs for that.
So, as a result Joker is a big conference. There are usually about 1500 attendees.
The conference is run by JUGru group, and it is absolutely professionally organised.By professionally I mean that conference organisation is their main job. Joker was the first one guys&gals have made, now there are more than 15 conferences they manage. And they are not only Java oriented.
This was my fourth Joker Conference, and I kind of see its evolution.
For me it all started back in 2015 when it was held in one of the hotels and it was sincerely crowded, but starting from 2016 the conference moved to the Expoforum – a huge expo center near the Pulkovo airport. This venue definitely has opened some new possibilities like convenient transforming auditoriums, big expo and dining area. The venue is really one of the best I’ve seen in my vast “conference junkie” career.
The stage is cool!
And there is a lot of attendees!
The conference has mixed Russian/English set of sessions, so the speakers were also mixed local and foreign. The audience is mainly local. By local I mean Russian/Belorussian/Ukrainian/Kazahk – or in other words Russian–speaking. But the quantity of foreign speakers grows constantly trough the years, and I consider this as a good sign. All the visa barriers are handled gracefully by the JUGru team.
Russian conferences tend to focus on more hardcore topics. Just introduction talks receive the lowest scores. Russians prefer hardcore stuff! Yes, the talk should be hardcore, with a lot of deep dives, algorithms and case studies. If you can describe, for example, why your JVM consumes few bytes (or gigabytes) more than expected, and you know what experimental flag to put in the JVM params to stop it from doing this, describing in implementation details why this actually happens – this will be a cool talk! You may say, oh, isn’t it kinda JVMLS? Not exactly, dissecting Spring Boot or some Micronaut or Microprofile stuff is the expected topic. Not just knowing that the framework/technology can do this or that, but how actually it does it, and what are the corner cases causing unexpected bugs.
Yes, hardcore is highly tolerated! Why am I saying this? Actually I know this from the source. This year I had the honor and privilege to be invited as a member of the program committee. We had a wonderful team of eight – Gleb Smirnov, Victor Polischuk, Andrey Kogun, Oleg Anastasiev, Vladimir Sitnikov, Ivan Krylov, myself and first Valentina then Daria, to select the best possible talks for this conference. So, we were able to preview all the submissions, make rehearsals, make corrections in the talks, sometimes even redo the talks from scratch. Yes, you’ve got me right. On this conference (or actually on all JUGru conferences) the committee actively works with all the submissions and the speakers themselves. If you submit your talk to Joker – be prepared, that in few days someone from the committee will contact you and ask you for a rehearsal.
Many foreign developers find this weird. They usually say: “Hey, hey man, I gave my talks at JavaOne, Devoxx etc. I had my rooms packed. Why should I do a rehearsal?”. But at the end of the day, those who accepted to rehearse usually say: “Damn, that was so much useful! And the feedback you gave me is so valuable! And that was totally for free!”.
As a result – the content is very strong and nicely prepared!
This is one of the key aspects that makes this conference kind of unique – a very intense content preparation. Usually the committee starts its work half a year before the conference, and active rehearsals are made until almost the last day before the conference.
By the way, there was even special time slot for direct interaction with the program committee.
Another thing I’ve seen only on Joker are the discussion zones. Every speaker, after giving his talk, is usually invited to answer questions about his talk or continue the discussion. This usually lasts for an hour.
In case of Dr. Venkat Subramaniam and Josh Long those discussion zones have lasted up to three hours. People had so many questions, and they both were answering them all that time!
This year’s conference continues its growth not only in terms of quantity of attendees, but also in terms of activities. There were two additional stages set in the expo area, so that the companies a the booths are able to present some quickes at the breaks.
The booths were also full cool stuff.
Btw, unlike other conferences, it’s not easy to win a prize at these booths. To do this, you have to solve several weird programming problems, most of which are like puzzlers.
There were also so called experts areas set, where every attendee was able to ask the strangest questions about certain technology to the coolest programmers and solve their concrete issue! .. Or ask them to sign a book!
Everything was done to keep everybody busy till the late night (literally) the day one ended up with several cool BoFs. Together with Shelaev, Pangin and Chuyko we have hosted one of them regarding moving to Java 11.. And it was pretty cool! We had a very good discussion, with a lot of interaction, … and we were forcibly stopped, since this could have run all night long! I’m not totally sure whether the Java 11 was considered as a game changer, but one day we will have to migrate to it. The main discussion about it was, as expected, should we pay starting from now???
The activities at the conference hadn’t been strictly about knowledge but fun too, like a big exhibition of retro computers and games everyone could try playing.
As always the greatest part on each conference is meeting great people! I’m definitely happy I could meet Sebastien Blanc.
So much great to meet Gerrit Grunwald! I think the last time we have met was in SFO in 2015!
Together with the coolest Tagir Valeev watching Andrey Pangin’s talk.
With the so cool JBaruch (as a JFrog)!
It was great to meet with Ivan Uglyanslki from Novosibirsk!
A great honor for we was to meet in person Robert Scholte – one of the maven creators! It was also great to discuss the future of maven with him!
And we all had a lot of fun!
I liked a lot talking to John McClean not only about Functional programming but about Irish music as well.
— Benjamin Nothdurft (@DataDuke) October 20, 2018
This is the most OMG picture I’ve ever taken:
It was very interesting to talk with foreign speakers not just about the technology, but also about Russia. The most of the speakers are for the first time in the country, and it is very delightful to hear that they like the town of St. Petersburg a lot! Some of them have said: “They show us different thing on the TV..”
And by the way (yes, yet another by the way), on this conference I was not only part of the committee, but also a speaker. I gave a talk about Microprofile.io based on the tutorial we have done together with Ivan St. Ivanov from our BGJUG. My session was scheduled as last of the day one. Surprisingly the room for 700 people was almost packed! Never thought so many people would like to dedicate their time on Friday evening for the ” bloody enterprise”.
I would like to say huge thanks everybody for coming! I hope this will be useful for your next projects! I liked the phrase several people have said – “Oh, this microprofile is like the light in the tunnel for the enterprise! This is great! It is so cool the technology is evolving so fast! And the community is there to help!”
At the end of the second day, as a final nontechnical keynote we all have listened to a very both interesting and strange talk about people’s digital mental health by famous in Russia Dr. Kurpatov.
Actually there were a lot of take-aways for me from this talk. I still keep training my personal multithreading, but at the same time I train the concentration on a particular important task I have to finish on time with great responsibility.
And the last but lot least thing I should mention – just before the conference, the previous day the world’s greatest java speaker Dr. Venkat Subramaniam gave his wonderful two (technically almost three) hours jug session. I was very happy to meet him after he came to jPrime to Bulgaria earlier this year. It was absolutely great to have his book signed for me! I’m feeling blessed now!
As expected, it was fully packed on this event!
Just to mention that this event took place at the Oracle office in St. Petersburg. Like every other building there it looks like a palace!
So, Joker was great! As always great! Getting more and more great!
Thank you Alexey!
And thanks to the team! It was huge honor and pleasure to be part of this event! Hope to see you next year!
And St. Petersburg is just amazing in autumn…
See you soon, beautiful home!