OSCON and Write the Docs Adventuring

So I may have slipped up on the whole write one blog post a month minimum promise I made to myself, but I'll make up for it, I swear.

So this last month I have been in the US for a slew of conferences, mostly OSCON and Write the Docs and I thought might as well write a blog about that. Let's get cracking.


My fabulous new OSCON Speaker Pants!

My fabulous new OSCON Speaker Pants!

If you've ever read any of my other posts about OSCON I think it will be obvious that I really enjoy OSCON, and for good reason. It is a crazy ecletic mix of tech, community, clever people, and parties.
This year it moved from Portland (my favourite US city) to Austin, now I had never been to Austin before so I was kinda looking forward to the move.
After spending a week in Austin I still consider Portland to be a nicer place but Austin is pretty darn snazzy, in the spirit of overanalysing everything for future argumentative goals let's break down the Austin OSCON vs the Portland OSCON:

Public Transport

Sorry Austin, Portland crushes you like an egg here, a tiny teensy pathetic weakling egg. Your public transport options are shameful, Hobart should not have better public transport than you! Now while you don't control Uber and Lyft pulling out that only made EVERYTHING worse. If I were in charge of OSCON I would have to be reconsidering going back to Austin on the public transport alone.

Conference Centre Layout

Again the point goes to Portland. The ACC is actually nice and large and had plenty of space for OSCON but the design of the building is a big square you move along the outside of. This meant you had to walk rather long distances with no easy way to cut through the middle. The OCC on the other hand (or at least the part OSCON uses) is roughly a horse shoe shape with paths through the middle. The practical upshot of all this is it took less time moving between rooms in the OCC compared to the ACC.

Conference Centre Food

Ok Austin wins this one, while conference food is still conference food the Austin lunches were just that cut above what the OCC ever provided. The Mexican lunch food and speaker lounge breakfasts were the biggest differences. I am a firm believer in that one of the things that makes OSCON a good conference is that the majority of the attendees can sit down and eat lunch together, the ACC did a better job of this than the OCC.

Err lunch..?

Err lunch..?


Another point to Portland, I like the cold and the occasional drop of rain, Austin on the other hand was mostly muggy and warm (it doesn't deserve the moniker hot because the roads didn't start melting). This one is far more subjective than the rest though so eh...


Hands down Austin, and this one wasn't even a challenge, the ACC wifi held up like a champ never faltering the whole time I was there, something I could never say about the OCC. I would guess this has something to do with ACC also being where they host the abhorrent looking SXSW.

After parties

I'd say this one was a draw, some were better at Austin and others at Portland. Austin probably has nicer bars, in that the staff was a little bit more attentive and the layouts just a bit bigger, but on the other hand Portland has better drinks.

The Content

The talks were probably the single largest difference between the years gone past and this year and that has nothing to do with Austin (at least I don't think it does). Changing the conference from five days to four meant there were less talks than in the past.
From my perspective (which is both biased and probably wrong) the talks that got dropped were what I would call the nerd talks, those silly weird talks that realistically have nothing to do with the core of OSCON (open source and the world surrounding that). These talks were ones that argued maybe we shouldn't teach programming in schools, or how to make a computer for $9. Most of the talks I submitted to OSCON were these sort of talks. Sadly without these useless talks, OSCON feel a little less awesome this year compared to the past. A bit more dull, and lacking that little bit of weird that I really like about OSCON.

With that said, I will still keep submitting nerd talks and I encourage others to do as well, they still have a place and I am pretty sure the talk commitee will come back around to seeing it my way. Other than the lack of nerd talks the talks this year were their regular solid and entertaining selves.

Write the Docs

Snazzy looking badge

Snazzy looking badge

So the other conference I went to was Write the Docs NA, a conference for technical writers (the so-called documentarians, a term I find silly simply because you don't actually need to give everything a name, let alone a silly one). Now I am not a technical writer, I write technical books but the skillset required for that is quite a bit different from one who writes documentation meant to be used constantly by thousands.
Nonetheless their program committee accepted mine and Paris' talk on what we called Interactive Documentation Environments, basically live coding environments that support textual markup and supporting notes, we made the argument that these sort of tools are the future of technical writing.

Now if you are interested in the talk the video of it is here and the slides here (as an aside we made the slides in Deckset which is a pretty damn awesome tool, kinda like reveal.js but not ugly), based on the comments on twitter and in the fleshscape it was well received but I want to talk about the rest of the conference and not my part in it.

Write the docs is easily one the best run small conferences I have ever attended, a single track with an adjacent unconference, and long transitions gave it quite a personal feeling. The talks were all really high quality and felt like they had been rehearsed to within a bee's dick of perfection. There were minimal uses of shibboleths so I always felt like I was in the same group as those around me. The conference had a venue tour, a bingo card, and helpful little posters strewn about the place to make it easier to participate and to feel like you belong.

Marvellous stuff

The venue itself was interesting and I am still in two minds about it, The Crystal Ballroom is primarily a dance and theatre hall, this resulted in two interesting properties:

  • the acoustics really worked great when the speaker was talking
  • the room echoed a lot when everyone was speaking

This meant that while talks were on it was a lovely audible experience, but during speaker changeover and during breaks the room got loud and loud fast.
The other strange thing was the floating dance floor which was a very unique experience for a conference, did make walking around the venue a lot more interesting than a normal floor.

Slightly weird venue aside, the conference truly was excellent and the community and organisers almost scarily friendly, I will definiately try to come back next year.

Righty-oh so that is my quick roundup of the two conferences I've been at this month, I'll try and blog more reguarly, I am working on a few posts I hope to have finished up soon and will post them when I get them done but I do own Battleborn and haven't had any chance to play it while traveling so that will probably take priority.