So, with Sergio, Adam, Jarod and Jason in tow, we arrived at DigiPen. They sit in an industrial complex area, and are next to the offices of Nintendo.
We weren't the first people there, but it wasn't full either, so we kind of mingled (or in a geek sort of way, just stood there). One of the first things I noticed was how many people's faces I recognized, but whose names I didn't know. I guess this proves all those blog 'glamour' shots pay off (though I completely misidentified Jeremy Miller (more on this in a minute), though in my defense, that other guy sure looked a lot like him).
The room filled up fairly quickly. As it happened, we were sitting directly in front of Brad Wilson. I was tempted to turn around and offer my hand and say "Hi, I'm blow-hard, know-it-all asshole just trying to be a dick guy" (alt.net mailing list reference), but I was committed to laying low.
While waiting for the formalities to begin, I thought I spotted Jeremy and asked Sergio to introduce us, except it wasn't Jeremy. Sergio looked around and found him and introduced us. After some vague pleasantries, Jeremy asked me (paraphrasing) "So when are the fireworks?" For whatever reason, I didn't get what the hell he was talking about till he added "between you and Bellware." I just looked at him oddly. Why would I want to get into an argument with Scott for no reason? If it happened 'organically' (not necessarily equivalent to 'while plastered'), fine, but that's something that would be much more fun if/when planned.
The format of the conference was 'Open Spaces' and the facilitator was Steven 'Doc' List. If you want more information, you can click on the links to find out what open spaces is all about. If it seems to you that there is a bit of a 'kumbaya' factor involved, well, there is. "Whoever comes are the right people." Right, what is this, a Barack Obama rally ("we are the change we've been waiting for!!!!")?
But, the format really does work, and work well, at least that is my take from this gathering. Doc did a very good job in laying out the principles, setting the right tone, being flippant when required, etc. If you were to pick on thing from the open space format to define it, it would be (for me) that the participants choose the content of the conference. No pre-defined sessions.
The way it worked here is that a pad of colored-paper was put out on a table, and when the process was signalled to start, anyone could announce a topic that they wanted to host (people had to be polite and do it in turns, of course). You then posted it on a board which had all of the time-slots and all of the available rooms. If the number of announced topics turned out to be greater than the number of total available slots, then the participants negotiated amongst themselves which topics could be combined or dropped or what have you. People were encouraged to go to the board and initial which topics they were interested in, which would help with the negotiation process.
If you've ever dreamt of an ideal 'town-hall' style democracy, you would have wept tears of joy. Processes like that can only work in limited fashion and in limited places, but it worked well here.
Although, at the time, I had a moment or two of trepidation. Just before Doc signaled the beginning of the process, Bellware (jokingly) announced he had written up a few topics on the flight in (though he had a topic already written out) and when the signal was given, he leapt quickly into the center of the room (where topics were to be announced...and over a table, IIRC, nimble little bastard) and announced his first proposed topic as......(paraphrasing) "Auto-mocking containers are a design smell".
And my heart sank for a second. Really? That's your topic? That's what we are going to be having sessions about this weekend? Geek minutiae?
I needn't have worried. Bellware never had a separate session on the topic (he had a separate BDD session which I attended (more on that later) during which he explained his idea by pointing to a region of code, and I think made an effective point), and the range of topics was mind-boggling. Well, I mean, it was a tech conference, so no one brought up 'The Will to Power' or anything, but the range included topics you might think of as 'alt.net' and others that were much more generic. Or, more specific to different areas.
As the topic selection period came to a close, I felt a little twinge to introduce the topic "Is Alt.NET elitist?" or some such thing but didn't. In retrospect, I was glad I didn't (not that I don't think it isn't elitist). It didn't 'fit' the event, and there will always be a time and place for that sort of discussion elsewhere.
At the end of the session, in order to introduce the concept of the 'fishbowl', Doc introduced a discussion about polyglot programming. I think this is an insanely stupid idea (yes, let's make it even more difficult to achieve business results through geekdom, but I digress), but that's a much longer discussion, so I'll just leave the snide remark here.
The rest of the evening (for me, anyway) involved dinner at a Mexican restaurant by the hotel that wasn't entirely prepared for 50 nerds showing up unannounced. I gave my standard anti-unit testing/mocking diatribe at one point. Jeff Brown was there, and was either unconvinced, unimpressed, or both. No matter, it's something that takes more than an hour to explain. Food and company was good.
Since I was staying off-site, decided against hitting the hotel lobby for drinks and made my way home till the next day, the first full day of sessions.