May !!Con 2016 - Brooklyn, New York
My first programming conference experience, and definitely my favorite of the year (Maybe ever??). This was a very general joy-of-programming conference with an amazing speaker list that included academics, NASA coders, game developers, UNIX geeks, and so many more. I loved the fast pace of the 10-minute talks, and the humor of most of the presenters. Julia Evans (@b0rk) did a talk on neural networks that inspired my tackling of installing my own neural network as docoumented here. I also loved how inclusive and diverse both the audience and the speaker list were. There were a lot of women who spoke on a dizzying array of programming topics, and it was intensely inspiring to have that many role models all in one place to listen to and get inspired by. While there was a line for the ladies’ bathroom, there were selfies and highfives from the women in line who were celebrating that rare condition at the programming conference.
I would fight a bear with a spoon for tickets in 2017.
July PyGotham 2016 - New York, New York
This was a much different experience, but I also learned a lot and got very inspired. There were more talks on neural networks (Introduction to Neural Networks with Tensorflow by Mike Craig, Writing Neural Networks from Scratch with apparent real-life hero Eric Schles) and a talk about procedurally generating music (The Sound of Data, Gabriel Levine), which was fascinating. It was interesting hearing people talk about tools I’ve looked at and worked with, like PyGame. I had the most positive social experiences at smaller, more casual meetings. PyGotham hosted some “Birds of a Feather” meetups that were loosely moderated chats, and talking with other newbie coders about how they were self-teaching and their experiences and backgrounds was encouraging. Looking back over the talks schedule to refresh my memory, I can’t believe how MUCH there was to listen to! Multitrack conferences seem overwhelming to me, both at the time and in retrospect. There’s just so much to absorb, plus the ever-attractive hallway track where all the good social stuff happens. Still, I would absolutely return for next year’s, though I might consider heading to PyCon just to change it up!
September Animation Nights New York 2016 - New York, New York
I attended a single panel talk (Voiceover Acting in Animation and Games) through this organization, which I gather is much larger and less of a conference than the other entries here. It’s also not a programming conference, and was much more focused on how to become a voice actor. I was hoping for more discussion of how to use voice acting in games, and I did enjoy hearing from indie developer Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games, but as I said, the conversation was more about how it feels to be a voice actor and how to succeed as a voice actor.
November Handmade Con 2016 - Seattle, Washington
This casual game-development focused con centered around the efforts of Casey Muratori and his live-coded game dev project, Handmade Hero, ended up being my least favorite con this year. The conference attracted a lot of interesting and high-level game developers. I enjoyed Chris Butcher of Bungie’s talk about Asset Systems and Scalability, and I always enjoy talks that discuss old-school methods and how much things have changed, so I got a good dose of that on day one about Compression from Fabian Giesen and Jeff Roberts of RAD GameTools and another the second day from Chris Green, John Miles, Sean Barrett, and Chris Hecker, who discussed the History of Software Texture Mapping in Games. I got to meet developers from all over the country, and it was really interesting hearing from everyone I chatted with about their unique projects and paths into game development. It was fun being in Seattle and connecting with devs who are practically my neighbors in Brooklyn.
There were probably three reasons I didn’t enjoy this conference much. For one, I’m interested in game development, but only as a means to an end. This conference felt geared to amateur and professional game developers, and a lot of the content either flew over my head or did not feel revelant to my programming learning. Secondly, I was not prepared for the format and did not like it very much. In retrospect, watching some of the videos made during the 2015 conference would have helped orient me to the 90-minute conversational style of the talks, but I’m a visual person and I like slide decks or at least a whiteboard. While they had set up projectors and a drawing app on a touch screen, none of the presentations that I attended made much use of those visual aides. Finally, this was by far the most diversity challenged conference I attended all year. I did not feel unwelcome, but I did constantly notice being one of only a few women, which made me a uncomfortable. Every speaker was white, and the only female presenter did (the only) non-programming talk. For this reason in particular, I would not consider attending Handmade Con in 2017 unless the speaker list was more diverse.
I went to some great conferences, and always left them feeling inspired. Some of my best experiences were the organic social ones that happen at these kinds of things if you’re really lucky. I think overall that more committment to the social stuff around the talks (before and after networking, fairs, meals, etc.), and maybe more time spent in the “hallway track” of larger multi-track conferences would serve me well in 2017. It’s been wonderful attend many excellent talks in 2016 that were so accessible from my new home in New York; that’s been a real value-add to my move from Maine. Now on to the next year!