Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Barcamp RDU experience

Lin Sun, Ted Kirby, Joe Bohn at Barcamp RDU 2010. This photo is licensed under CC by Ryan Boyles.

I and a handful of colleagues participated in Barcamp RDU in Raleigh last weekend. The developer unconference was held at the RedHat HQ on North Carolina State University's centennial campus. Barcamp RDU is in it's fifth year at RedHat and it is always a packed day with a capacity crowd of hundreds of passionate developers and techies. I thought it would be a great opportunity for some of our local IBM developers who work on open source to speak about their work. The other tangible benefit is connecting with other developers and discussing their work and perspectives on new technology and software trends.

The afternoon schedule grid at Barcamp RDU 2010. This photo is licensed under CC by Ryan Boyles.

Lin Sun and Joe Bohn pitched topics on OSGi and Apache Aries to discuss the Blueprint container and dependency injection in Java EE development. Their two talks got combined into one during voting and scheduling process. This is how Barcamps work, the audience is the organizer. The talks also shift around the time slots and can end up positioned against other interesting topics. The crowd then gets to decide which sessions to attend. Most sessions end up with the most ardent supporters or curious developers and great discussions are the result. Lin and Joe ended up in the afternoon schedule at 2:30. Lin gave a intro to OSGi and Joe gave a brief intro to Apache Aries. Joe showed some overview slides from IBM architect Ian Robinson presented at OSCON and OSGi DevCon this year, but canned presentations are not the sole focus of Barcamps. In the unconference style, there should be no observers, the audience is a participant, so the focus shifts from the project bits to real problems and solutions. They dubbed it "Standardized Spring" for a solid discussion with a handful of people, including a techie from the Global Technology group of Deutsche Bank, who was another sponsor of the event. There were questions, like "how do you expose a service? how do you inject dependencies?" aimed at gaining insight into benefits of the dynamic capabilities of OSGi. One developer was using Spring; DM 2.0 is the reference implementation for the Blueprint specification, but he was not familiar with that spec. Many people are not familiar with just how involved IBMers are involved with Apache open source projects and we aim to change that. The buzz is found in discovering common ground and new ways of approaching different projects.

Ted, Joe and Lin then attended the Web Frameworks feedback session led by Lincoln Baxter from JBoss. He asked the dozen participants to weigh in on "What are people using to build web applications? What is important to you, and how do you do testing?" These sort of basic discussions help developers connect to learn from current development practices. The answers vary a great deal! Lincoln then showed a demo of the Seam framework for 10-15 minutes.

I attended a talk on developing RESTful web services led by a developer from local firm rPath. This session ended up being a very lively talk about how to build services with REST in your existing application infrastructure, a look at different libraries for handling unstructured data with JSON, XML or Atom, and the pros and cons of developing for and handling service changes for AJAXy or Flex clients. The speaker had a strong preference to use just XML as opposed to Atom. This talk was well attended with about 35 developers. In IBM, we have been active with implementing with REST, and within application infrastructure with WebSphere sMash. The main take away is there is a lack of standards used today in REST dev and there is not strong uptake for JAX-RS as yet.

I pitched a session on mobile technology use of 2D square barcodes called QR Codes. This was geeky talk about barcode usage with smart phones I've been exploring in several projects recently, like this one for IBM at the JAX London conference. I combined my talk with another developer experimenting with QR codes and we had a fantastic session driven almost completely by an audience of 40 curious geeks. I documented the whole set of topics and examples on my personal blog. It's interesting to see how technology like this is popping up and now surging in use within the U.S. - a study suggests there is a 700% increase in barcode scanning with smart phones since 2009. I've seen these square barcodes at events, in magazine ads, on store shelves, on business cards and badges, and scanner tech integrated into numerous iPhone and Android applications.

Other cool talks included things like Using Dropbox for source code control, Linked Data and RDF (Semantic Web is the future!), No SQL, How to rock your User Group (like TriPUG), and addressing usability, accessibility and SEO at the same time. IBM DeveloperWorks was a gold sponsor and provided breakfast bagels and coffee for the whole day. Ian Shields and Bran Ganesan held a session to explain how to get paid for unleashing your brilliance by authoring technical articles for DeveloperWorks. I'd suggest you follow @developerWorks on twitter to see examples of articles as they are published or explore the social network for geeks in the community groups. You're bound to find topics of interest and people to connect with on Cloud, web development, open source, you name it.

The sponsors poster of Barcamp RDU 2010. This photo is licensed under CC by Ryan Boyles.

All in all, the Barcamp was a great success. Joe made the observation that iPhone app dev is still hot in general, and Git is pervasive. Ted said the most fun he had was learning about QR Codes and Location based applications. The funny thing is, he learned all of this from just socializing between sessions, he didn't attend my talk on QR Codes or the other on Location. He was able to attend other talks that overlapped. As I've said before, the problem with Barcamps isn't lack of interesting developer topics, it is the challenge of deciding which talks you have to attend and which you will miss. Regardless the open environment offers a great way to connect to local people behind some really cool projects and technology. The main aim of the intro level discussions are to spark thoughts about innovation in the participants. I explored this more by posting several videos from Barcamp RDU on youtube and documenting the day with photos on Flickr. There was a lively back channel on Twitter with the hashtag #barcamprdu (see the archive).

See you next time,
Ryan Boyles

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