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My First Experience Of ApacheCon by Stephen Downie

Published on Thursday, May 25, 2017 by sharan

Let me start with a small introduction of myself. My name is Stephen Downie and I have been working in the world of IT for only 2 months. Tom Barber, an ASF member and committer, recently got in touch and offered me the opportunity to retrain. I have previously worked for the last 20 years in retail and if I’m being honest hated 90% of my time at work, so I thought why not. I knew Tom was very knowledgeable and I had always been very envious of his Facebook posts, it seemed like every week he was working on a new project in different countries all over the world from India to Europe to the US. As part of the offer he said he would like to take me to Miami to a conference called ApacheCon….How could I say no? I had never heard of ApacheCon prior to this and in my naivety assumed it was something to do with helicopters (like I said I have zero experience in IT). The weeks passed and Tom was sending more and more documentation through, the thoughts that I was massively out of my depth started growing.

Anyway, 13th May arrived and our flight was leaving the UK at 10:20am so we set off to the airport. Excited, nervous, anxious were just a few of the emotions I was experiencing at this stage. Check in went smoothly and we were off. We landed mid afternoon Miami time and made our way to the apartment. To make the most of our time away Tom had booked tickets for us to see a baseball game (I guess it’s a must when in the States), we went to the beach and explored Miami. My new life/career in IT had started and it was amazing, but work had yet to start….What would it be like?

Tuesday 16th arrived and alarms were set early. We drove to the Intercontinental Hotel, the venue for ApacheCon 2017. The building was huge and I felt very out of place walking through the large automatic doors and stepping on to the escalators. As we approached the first floor I was suddenly at work. Tom was doing a talk on OODT so had to join a different line for registration so I was, for the first time on my own. I joined the back of the line and slowly edged forwards. I was listening to the conversation, it all sounded very foreign to me but what did strike me was that people of all nationalities all seemed to be old friends. Closer to the front on the line I edged. I registered and received my badge and a free t-shirt (very nice it was too). I wandered around looking for Tom who was already chatting to a group of people so I took it upon myself to have a chat to some people at the sponsor stands and get myself some swag. It all seemed very interesting but mostly went over my head. The thing that was striking me was everyone seemed so friendly and welcoming (very different from the career I had come from where no one seemed to have time for anyone other than themselves).

The previous evening we had gone through the schedule planner and made an itinerary for me of talks that would be interesting/useful to attend. I would start my day in the Versailles Ballroom to watch the opening Keynotes. Again it struck me that so many people knew each other and were catching up on what had been a year since they last met. The speakers were great and had really got me in the mood for what was to come. I have to mention Sandra Matz’s talk on Digital Psychometrics and the Future Effect on Technology . She was both captivating and funny and also the British accent helped me feel at home. The Apply Magic Sauce app was very interesting, it reckons I’m 31… who doesn’t want a few years knocked off their age? It was then a coffee break. I had only been there a few hours and already there was free nibbles and drinks. I grabbed a meat patty and a bottle of Orange and then went to the Alhambra Room to check that Tom was set up for his talk, OODT 2.0: The Future of Distributed Data Management. The room wasn’t packed but a good 15-20 people turned up and listened to Tom talk about the use of OODT with his work at NASA. I listened and tried to make sense of it but once again it was slightly over my head. After Tom had finished we split up and I was attending a talk on my own (scared!!) I made my way to Biscayne Room to watch Peyman Mohajerian give a talk on Continuous Applications with Apache Spark 2.0. I got my notebook out and tried to make notes of the bits I thought were useful but also so I could quiz Tom about them later. I noticed a lot of people taking photos of the slides so I got involved and did the same (was I getting the hang of it?) The talk was interesting from what I could take from it but once again I’m not sure I really understood what was going on (there seems to be an occurring theme here).

It was lunch, I needed to eat, my brain felt overloaded with so much information so we headed out and found a restaurant to eat at. In case you were wondering I ate calamari for the first time, it was lovely (a week of firsts continuing). When we returned to the venue, next up for me was Leveraging Docker for Hadoop Build Automation and Big Data Stack Provisioning with Evan Ye in the Balmoral Room. For the first time during this talk I could relate to some of what he was talking about as Tom has introduced me to these bits of software with Spicule, the company I’m now working for. It was quite high level and I soon got lost but it felt good. After the talk I went to find Tom as I wanted to ask him some questions about what I had just heard. I found him in the corridor. He asked how my first day was going, I didn’t really know other than my mind felt like it was melting but I had something I could actually ask him and he had the answers!! I was then supposed to be going back to the Alhambra room for a talk on comparison of Spark SQL with Hive.

Later Tom suggested I went with him to the Brickell Room which was part of ApacheCon (everything I had attended was the Big Data side of it so far) . Bob Paulin was giving a talk on user groups ( something I had attended in my short time in IT) The way he spoke and engaged the attendees was amazing and something I could relate too as I enjoy public speaking and engaging an audience. After the talk he came and sat at the table with myself and Tom. I thanked him for delivering a talk that I could relate to. Tom explained that I had zero experience of Apache and IT in general. I told him what talks I had attended so far and he laughed and said “So he’s thrown you into the deep end then”. I don’t know if he realised but that is when my experience changed as I then realised that I was never likely to have understood much of what I had heard (Tom later explained he didn’t expect me to but that the main reason I was here was to get a better understanding of the environment as a whole). The day finished with the Podling Shark Tank which was a fun way to bring the day to an end. I thought then it was home time but before that we had beer to drink and food to eat and people to chat to. The thing I took from my first day was there was a varying level of expertise and knowledge but that the one thing everyone had in common was their love for Apache software. When I got back to the apartment I was shattered, opened a beer and fell asleep on the sofa!

Day 2 went pretty much the same way, a lot of techie talks and then coffee then more techie talks and then food but it was when I attended the talk in Brickell Room with Sharan Foga on Committed to The Apache Way, that things started to make a lot of sense to me. As the week had gone on I was feeling like a bit of an intruder in the midst of all these IT geniuses with their talk about coding and programming but as Sharan started I realised that the ASF was so much more than this and that one of their most important sayings was it’s about “Community over Code”. This helped everything make sense and finally I could see that I could have a place within the Apache Foundation. Her talk was so enlightening to me, that evening Tom and I spent hours talking about the ASF and not just technology, about what it takes to be a committer, how to gain the trust and other ways to be involved with the foundation (perhaps I had found my place?).

Day 3 seemed very sedate compared to the first two days as a lot of people had left early for flights. We attended a few interesting talks throughout the day and spent time recapping what my experience had been like. My head was fried and I’m sure i didn’t make a great deal of sense which is why I wanted to write this blog to try and get my thoughts and experiences out there in the hope that it may inspire other people to get involved too. In the last talk we attended with Tim Allison on Evaluating Text Extraction: Apache Tika’s New Tika-Eval Module Tom thought it would be a good idea to volunteer me to write a UI for the software which is something I will certainly be keen to try (maybe I would be a coder after all).

I’d like to say a massive thanks to all that were involved in make ApacheCon 2017 an amazing event and I hope that I will be able to attend the next one. Thanks!