My Last-Minute Panel Appearance at Jobspring Toronto’s “Tech in Motion” Meetup

[p] beard pile - AccordionGuy

Yours Truly before the panel discussion began.

The tech recruiting and placement company Jobspring Partners have been around for a while in several cities in the U.S., but they’re still pretty new in Toronto, having been here for only six months or so. They’ve managed to make their presence felt in that short time, from buying rounds of beer at the monthly Rails Pub Nite gatherings to holding the Toronto chapter of the Tech in Motion meetups. Their most recent Tech in Motion had over a hundred sign-ups, and from the look of it, most of them actually showed up.

My original plan was to simply attend Wednesday’s Tech In Motion, do a little networking, catch up with friends, and watch the panel debate open- vs. closed-source technologies and languages. While cracking open a can of ice-cold Pilsner, Jobspring marketing specialist Rebecca Banks approached me and asked if I would like to stand in one of the panelists who wasn’t able to make it. This is the sort of thing that I was born to do, and from the sound of it, it worked out well:

Kevin Cearns played the role of panel moderator. He’s been in IT for a long time, and currently runs Cand.IO, which provides open source infrastructure and platform services:

kevin cearns

My co-panelists were Bitmaker Labs instructor Rob Gilsonwho played the role of Ruby/Rails champion:

rob gilson

Representing Team Python was David Wolever, technical cofounder of Akindi and PyCon Canada organizer:

david wolever

Bruce Johnson, principal consultant at ObjectSharp, and one of my go-to guys when I was at Microsoft, and .NET guy:

bruce johnson

My role was to play the bridge, having worked in both the open source world and at Microsoft.

I think it worked out really well, as the panel provided a variety of perspectives, from the t-shirt-and-jeans world of startups to the corporate suit-and-tie life, and everything in-between. Each of us championed our primary language, which was Ruby for Rob, Python for David, C# for Bruce, and at the moment for me is Objective-C. The one language we all agreed on, because it’s downright unavoidable, was JavaScript, in spite of all its quirks. I reminded the audience that Brendan Eich had barely a couple of weeks to throw JavaScript together, and for all the frustration it can bring, I stand in awe at the brilliance at many parts of its design, and how well it’s performs despite being held together with duct tape and bailing wire. I was also only too happy to make sure that Bruce wasn’t alone in waving the Microsoft flag — for all the “tough love” I give the company, they’ve got a lot of good stuff.

Judging from the Twitter feedback, the audience seemed to like us:


Photo by Remy Samanski. Click to see at full size.

techinmotion 2

Photo by Nitharsen Karunabalasundram. Click to see at full size.

That last tweet might seem a little cryptic. I told the audience a condensed version of the “Sausage Party” app, a tale that I will eventually tell on this blog. Let’s just say that it’s the only time I’ve ever been frog-marched into a meeting with a greatly displeased Fortune 50 CTO.

The feedback on the Meetup page for the event was also positive. Shalmaa Sultan wrote:

I think it was really a very good debate. It was like a wrap of the past, the current and the future vision of programming languages. It also gave us a little window on how to plan your career for the future.

That might have been in reference to my advice to the audience to treat their skills portfolio like an investment portfolio. Invest in “sure things” — the skills that you know will make you money, but also invest about 10% in the “longshots” — those technologies that you find interesting but don’t promise an immediate return because they’re still too new or too weird. Once upon a time, JavaScript and mobile development were longshots.

Darryl Marcelline wrote:

…the format was not only interesting, but effective. They abandoned the boring guru/acolyte format.

I admit to a fair bit of cynicism about a recruiter-driven event, but the results were impressive. The sheer contentiousness of the commercial vs. open-source technologies involved forced the speakers to be on their toes, and their responses were much better that what I’m used to seeing at similar events. There was even good-natured conflict and the omnipresent horror of reemergent Javascript technologies, lurking like a zombie in the shadows.

It was a rare learning experience in the Toronto tech meetup scene. This was the highlight of a year of speaker-driven meetups for me.

I glad you liked it, Darryl, and I worked at keeping it from getting boring.

Finally, I have to quote Michael Keara:

It was well worth it for me. Great context info for big questions about technology options. I enjoyed all the speakers but I especially enjoyed Joey DeVilla’s one liners such as “Cobol programmers are so old they don’t even buy green bananas.” Priceless!

I have not yet received any angry emails or tweets from COBOL die-hards, but the day is young…

I’d like to thank the folks at Jobspring for holding the event and for taking a leap of faith and putting me on the panel at the last minute, my co-panelists for being their fantastic selves, and the audience for being so attentive and kind. If you ever need me again to do this sort of thing, just let me know!

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