ConFoo: A Most Excellent Web Techno Conference!

by Joey deVilla on March 5, 2012

Shopify and ConFoo logos

A few of my coworkers from Shopify and I spent most of last week at ConFoo, the annual “web techno conference” in Montreal. With 600 attendees from Canada, the United States and Europe, 100 of whom were speakers, it may very well be the largest web and mobile developer conference in the area (eastern Canada and northeastern U.S.) that takes place this time of year.

David Underwood presenting at "Mo' Money, Less Problems with ActiveMerchant"

Shopify’s David Underwood talks about ActiveMerchant, the open source payment gateway module that powers Shopify.

We presented at two sessions: Ruby as She is Spoke on Thursday and Mo’ Money, Less Problems with ActiveMerchant on Friday, attended a number of interesting presentations, mingled with developers who came to the conference from far and wide and had a great time while doing so.

Joey deVilla holding up "Feature" and "Bug" cards in front of his laptop.

Playing the “feature or bug?” game at the Back Alleys of Ruby Session.

Confoo’s organizers don’t lack for ambition. The conference schedule featured 10 simultaneous tracks with 20 broad topics covering languages like Java, JavaScript, PHP, Python and Ruby, as well as topics ranging from Accessibility to the cloud, to data persistence to project management/agile to security to social netowrking to systems administration to testing.

Fred Harper in a ninja balaclava and wielding daggers, striking a ninja pose at the Make Web Not War ninja photo booth.

Microsoft’s Frederic Harper strikes his best “code ninja” pose at Make Web Not War’s ninja photo booth.

In addition to the sessions were a handful of booths where some local development shops were doing recruiting and the Make Web Not War Lounge sponsored by Microsoft and friends. The Microsofties had an Xbox and Kinect set up so that people who wanted to take a break could play Fruit Ninja, as well as a photo booth where you could strike your best ninja pose. Also present were ExoPC, who were showing off their touch applications on a tabletop touchscreen.

Lunch at Confoo in the big main room.

Lunch at ConFoo. Better conference food than the usual, especially for a developer conference.

ConFoo has been held at the Hilton Bonaventure since its inception, and it’s a good, solid conference venue. Located right downtown, a stone’s throw from the central train station, a short walk from Montreal’s “main drag” of Ste-Catherine street and a quick cab ride away from all manner of interesting neighborhoods, from Old Montreal to the Latin Quarter to Chinatown to Mont-Royal and more. The place was more than able to accommodate all 600 of us in ten tracks, and still leave plenty of room in which to hang out. The Hilton’s rooms were quite good, and the food was also better than your typical conference fare, especially developer conference fare.

YouPorn slide: "YP first launched Aug 2006 / 1 million daily visitors Apr 2007 / 100,000 uploads Dec 2007 / 100 million daily pageviews Feb 2008 / Acquired by Manwin Apr 2011"

A slide from Eric Pickup’s keynote on how ManWin rebuilt YouPorn.

The opening day’s keynote presentation took place at the end of the day rather than the beginning, and it was a fascinating one. Eric Pickup from Manwin talked about his most recent project: an ambitious effort to re-code their flagship website, YouPorn [here’s a link to YouPorn’s Wikipedia entry], from the ground up, in a matter of months, without the users even noticing.

Joey deVilla's MacBook Pro displaying Ruby code. A pint glass of Rickard's Red is beside it.

My natural habitat: working on Ruby demos in a bar, with a nice dark beer.

The conference wifi was quite good, allowing many of us to stay in touch with work, as well as make last-minute tweaks to our presentations.

The ConFoo cocktail party.

The ConFoo cocktail party.

The ConFoo cocktail party took place Thursday evening, and it was a great way for all 600 attendees as well as interested non-attendees to get together, share ideas over drinks and just plain network.

The Hilton Bonaventure's rooftop outdoor pool in winter, with steam rising from the water.

The Hilton Bonaventure’s heated rooftop pool at night. If you attend ConFoo, bring a bathing suit!

The rooftop outdoor heated pool was one of the most interesting diversions offered by the hotel. Even though it was –4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit) outside and snow was falling, the pool was maintained at a constant 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). It was great for either exercising and socializing with our fellow attendees.

Joey deVilla playing accordion onstage with the pirates at Le Cabaret du Roy.

Jamming with the pirates at Le Cabaret du Roy.

The closing party took place at Le Cabaret du Roy, a restaurant with a 17th-century pirate theme serving rustic food – old-school brown bread, pemmican, ox cheeks, deer ribs and duck legs – with entertainment in the form of gambling and jigs and reels sung by the waitstaff and entertainers. They invited me onstage to join them on accordion for a couple of jigs and reels including that classic, What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?

A PHP stuffed elephant by the outdoor rooftop pool at the Hilton Bonaventure

Even the PHP mascot checked out the pool!

Would I attend next year’s ConFoo? Most definitely. There’s usually not much in the way of conferences around that time of year (late February/early March), and conferences that combine high-stuff/low-fluff technical depth with a broad range of topics and platforms are especially rare these days. The speakers they invite are great, the people who attend are a bright, enthusiastic international crowd, and the conference’s size is large enough to make it interesting, yet small enough that it feels more like a temporary community than just a random meetup. Put that all together and set it in a lively city like Montreal, with its culture, nightlife and oh-so-many things to do, and you’ve got a must-attend conference. I’m looking forward to attending ConFoo 2013, and you can bet that I’ll submit talks when their call for presentations come out later this year!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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