This is a report on my visit to the SoCraTes 2106 which was held on 25 - 28 August 2016 in Soltau, Germany.
At work, I’m currently part of a group that is tasked with Agile Software Engineering techniques: How can we use them, how can we promote them with the other developers, which tools or processes need to be changed etc. So when my company became a sponsor of this year’s SoCraTes and asked who wanted to attend, I happily volunteered.
I’m very new to Software Craftmanship (my first real contact with test driven development was earlier this year; I had never heard of the Softwerkskammer or the SoCraTes before I got asked if I wanted to go there) and so going to SoCraTes was kind of “I don’t know what awaits me, but I bet it’ll be good”.
Spoiler: It was.
my impressions of SoCraTes
- SoCraTes is about learning
So what did I learn?
- OpenSpace/Marketplace is a great format
- I should spend more time learning
- you can actually see the milky way with your plain eye on a normal night in the fields (also: big laser pointer is BIG)
- I don’t fear the monad (but I still don’t really know what it is)
- “Just one round of a quick board game” can take quite a long time and become a great evening
- PowerPoint Karaoke is great
- getting a kudo card ist great (and after that I started giving out cards as well)
- Slackline is as hard as it looks, but training gives progress
- Agile is not only a buzzword, it actually works when done right
- Agile is a mindset
- all the Volleyball at school was good for something!
- all night coding kata is cool!
- all day code retreat is even cooler!
- SoCraTes is about people
and I made good use of it. Normally, I’m not much of a mingler, but on SoCraTes I deliberately looked around to sit at a new table with people I did not know every time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The most I saw of my colleague who came with me to SoCraTes was on the car ride to Soltau.
- SoCraTes is about that vibe
that everybody talked about where everyone felt immediately at home and included. I felt it too, because I knew nobody there and everybody was nice and easy to talk to. Nobody told me what to do at SoCraTes but it was easy to pick up from those around me.
There was a question during the opening if this feeling was special to the SoCraTes or if the vibe is also felt on the SoCraTes spin-offs. I’d pick the latter because I know that vibe from other places, too: I’ve been to a lot of anime conventions (mostly as an organiser or helper) and there it is the same: Lots of people with the same background and interests come together and don’t know each other but you can easily get into conversation with everybody there. A lunch conversation on this topic revealed that it’s the same thing on festivals (eg. Wacken), too.
Admittedly, this feeling was a bit confusing to me: I had the feeling that I was on a convention (which my mind associates with hobby and leisure time) while I was sent there on travel expenses by my company (which clearly means work). But I think I managed quite OK.
- SoCraTes is about passion
to learn and to be good at doing what one does.
I know mostly two reactions when I tell somebody that I like programming, I am working as a programmer and that I also like to code in my free time. Reaction one is “What? Doing your job in your free time? Find something better to do to relax!” while reaction two is “How could you not code at home? It’s cool!”. I think that SoCraTes was populated by category two people being passionate about what they like.
But don’t get me wrong: Not everybody there is a coder, we had testers and QA people as well and I suppose they are just as passionate as the programmers about their job.
Again, this is part of the mix of work and play I mentioned earlier.
- SoCraTes is about eating your own dogfood
and not only talking about inclusion, but living it. They wouldn’t write a book about “learning from books is so last century”, they’d use a current learning method to transfer that message. They think a Marketplace and OpenSpace are the best format to let people learn about what they like, so they do the whole conference in that format (and hold some meta-sessions about improving the format as well).
The whole SoCraTes is based on the observation that the most interesting parts about a conference are the informal talks in the coffee breaks – so the whole conference basically is a gigantic coffee break.
And of course the “basics” like food, accomodation and registration were great as well. (Hotel pre-checkin is something that we would have needed at some of our conventions, too. Great idea!)
It was great.
Will I come again? Very likely! I’ll have to see what next year brings, who of our company will get sent there or if I’ll just go there on my own. But then there’s the lottery… Date and location for 2017 are already set, but they’re not on the homepage yet, so I don’t know if I should share them here.
Finally, one penalty point: There was no Club Mate available! Next year I’ll have to bring some ;-)