Nathan Hwang

Devfest 2012

The 2nd annual Devfest concluded… half a week ago, now. It was also my last, but nevermind that (you mean lounging around at student hackathons is NOT a viable post-academia career path??)?

You can already find out the whats and whens and wheres of Devfest, and perhaps the hows and whys if you tie up and interrogate enough ADI Committee members, so that’s not so interesting. What you ought to be interested in are thoughts, probably mine, about the event(s). I mean, that’s why you guys are here, right? For access to poorly filtered mind dumps and rambling incoherent monologues, and that’s before we even narrow it down from the internet at large. It’s either that or cats, so if you’re here for the other thing you should probably go somewhere else.

Overall, the quality definitely lifted from last year, mostly from knowledge gained from all the mistakes made last year. In particular, we got very good audience retention rates for lectures and workshops across the week with the introduction of focused theme nights, and having the Demofest on Saturday was a big win (overlap with Super Bowl: bad). That, and prizes were a nice addition, although it is a bit of a double-edged sword (partly mitigated by a relatively large spread of prizes).

As for mistakes, we of the ADI committee have an entire document dedicated to preserving our mistakes for future generations to squint at and ignore. So instead of musing on those, I’ll talk about some larger, architectural things that are offputting to myself.

First, Devfest is not scalable in it’s current form. In trying to include non-programmers (which we failed at, with notable exceptions) by extending the length out to a week, we get an event that excludes most everyone outside of the “Columbia Bubble“: contrast this with something like Pennapps, which almost consumes more than a weekend but makes it possible for students from across the upper-eastern seaboard to attend (disclaimer, I’ve never been to Pennapps. Sadface). If we want to grow past the impact we’ve been having, then we either need to convert more people to a Devfest-ready audience, or convert to a geographically scalable model (actually, the former is probably much more desirable, in terms of our mission. But I digress).

Second, it turns out that the ADI committee is too large. I used to think that we should fit whatever people we could into our (ADI’s) maw, but now I see firsthand what it means to have communication difficulties scale with the square of the group size. Now, I have nary a clue what many committee members are doing, or if they were even involved with our flagship event, and I would probably leave a person or two out of an enumeration of the committee members off the top of my head. What I would like is a metacortex a la Accelerando (which I’ll review soon) shared across the entire committee, but we know this isn’t going to be possible for a while, so I should get off my ass and make it happen.

It is going to be interesting if we take on new members: we probably hooked a few people’s interest with that Devfest stunt. If we keep the rigid subcommittee structure, we could use some augmentation in the less-populous subcommittees. However, I do have an idea that would put myself in more contact with more people across the committee, which is reorient the entire committee to more of a task-force driven model, where each event gets its own task force drawn out of the committee pool, probably combined with a blind system while playing to people’s strengths. On the other hand, I’m typing this while it’s 4am, so there’s a strong chance this is just crazy talk.

As for the projects, I guess the only one that really held my attention was Sid’s Scheduler (although the seating algorithm by Aditya and Zack was a close second), mostly because it somewhat jibes with my thoughts of how to kickstart my metacortex and make it useful from the start.

Oh, and my own project? I was (and still am) working on a replacement for IRC with regards to ADI: IRC is inherently stateless and persistent-identityless and an inheritor of old command traditions while lacking new ones (twitter tags and mentions come immediately to mind), which means that it’s essentially unusable for a loosely connected group that’s also pretty geographically synchronous (compared to standard companies that guarantee engagement for 8 hours a day). Add in difficult engagement with newbies, and you have a mess. Hence, something that fixed that, while also piling all sorts of smart digests/notifications on top. And when you decide to learn a new technology with it, then that seals it. However, I only got to the status quo of chat services over the span of Devfest, and didn’t end up presenting something boring. I do think this project is important, though, so I’ll probably get it to a version 1 at some point (MVP doesn’t really make sense here, since there are plenty of ready alternatives. They’re just not *perfect*).

But Devfest? It’s the little things: chilled applesauce, refactoring code, teaching someone the basics of python in 5 minutes, throwing k-means at a problem and calling it good.

And as the night is shot through with blue, I swear I’ll never do this again. But I always seem to come back.

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