Plone Conference: A great experience

I went to the Plone Conf 2012 in October. This was my first Plone conference, although I’ve been working on Plone since 2006. The conference was from Wednesday 10 to Friday 12 October in Arnhem in the Netherlands. I also stayed for the coding sprint on the 13th and 14th.

TL;DR: The conference was awesome. I had an incredible time, learned a lot and came back energised and enthusiastic about contributing to Plone and the community.

Organisation

The conference was organised by Four Digits in Arnhem. They did a spectacular job, pulling together the venue, program, accommodation and support services.

Since the Rhine runs through Arnhem, Four Digits organised the Plone Boat, a WW2 subhunter converted into a floating hotel. If we had not already booked, I’d have liked to stay there. Apparently, the bar never closed...

I must also mention the guide: Apart from the printed and online guides, Four Digits used the Guidebook app to provide conference-goers with information and planning. This works really well, laying out all the talks with times and allowing you to plan your attendance. Really well thought out.

The city

Arnhem is a city of about 150,000 people, with a compact city center and some very good entertainment, bars and restaurants. We stayed close to the city center, and everything was within walking distance. Interesting architecture and winding streets make for a charming experience.

The venue

The venue could not be better. The Musis Sacrum is a concert and conference venue in the center of Arnhem, close to the hotels, river and restaurant area. An assortment of halls of different sizes meant that four talks could be scheduled at once. A nice touch was the hangout room for in between talks, with coffee and tea available.

The talks

I really enjoyed most of the talks I attended. There were some demos of products, talks about certain aspects of Plone, and some very frank talks about the future and the community.

One talk that stood out for me was the one by Paul Roeland about getting Plone running on a Raspberry Pi or allwinner stick computer. The presentation itself was great, but what got me was that this was a real use-case: Running Plone as an intranet in environments where the power is very unreliable, battery power is a reality, and police raids are a regular occurrence. In this case, having an intranet running on a machine that takes almost no power and can be easily hidden is a real win.

Open spaces and lightning talks

I found the open spaces in the afternoons interesting. Anyone could book one of the lecture halls and start a discussion around something that interests them or that they want to get done. This also led into creating topics for the sprints over the weekend. It’s a really good system to get traction for sprints and providing direction for projects.

The lightning talks were interesting and great fun. Short and sweet, each centered around a small aspect of Plone. Each speaker had about 5 minutes to talk and a few minutes to answer questions. Very informative and concentrated.

Conclusion

I was never very involved in the Plone community, just in the little parts I worked on. This conference has changed my attitude towards that: Seeing the level of care and thought that goes into shaping Plone as a community and project, I am inspired to help making Plone even better. I’ve realised that there are many aspects of Plone that I don’t quite get, and having met some of the people I’m much less afraid of embarrassing myself on the mailing lists...

I’m also ready for the next conference. Brasil, here I come!

A journal

The rest of this post is basically a ‘What I did this past week’ journal, so you can stop reading now.

I travelled with Roché Compaan from Upfront Systems. We coordinated early on, so we had the same flights and stayed in the same hotel, literally 50 meters from the train station in Arnhem.

It’s an easy flight from South Africa. No time difference, so the flight left at 10pm on Monday and we we landed just after 9 on Tuesday. After a bit of confusion with the trains, we managed to get to Arnhem about half an hour later than originally planned. I don’t know why, but it always seems to take at least one wayward trip before I start understanding a country’s transport system.

On arriving at the hotel, we found that Roché’s booking had magically disappeared, but they had an open room up the road in another part of the hotel. As we were getting this organised, some french Plone guys walked in. Roché knew most of them, including Godefroid Chapelle, from previous conferences and online.

Next up: Connectivity. We would have Wifi at the conference and hotel, but I was a bit paranoid about being permanently connected, so we set off to find an Aldi store to get a wifi sim card. I usually travel with 2 phones, so that I can keep my SA number alive while having cheaper internet overseas. This turned out to be a good choice, since the internet connection in my room was broken, which would have been a big problem if I did not have a backup.

That done, we cleaned up and rested a bit before trying to find dinner. We went with the Frenchmen to a nice eatery about a hundred meters from the hotel, had a nice dinner with some beer and wine, and retired for the night.

The next 3 days went by in a blur. We would have breakfast, go to the Musis Sacrum just before 9, have a full day of talks and discussions, and then head out to dinner at about 6pm, directly from there. We managed to sample a lot of beers and some wine, and had some really good meals. Of course, the company was excellent. Not only did I meet many new people, but I saw some old friends, particularly Jean Jordaan and Arno Blumer, both overseas but still involved in Plone.

The sprints worked in much the same way, except that we had to organise our own lunch. For the sprints, I teamed up with Chris Shenton, working on plone.act acceptance tests and some acceptance tests for plone.app.theming, where Martin Aspeli wrote some test cases that we then implemented. We had fun together and I learned a lot about the Plone testing setup. Totally worth it.

Since we had a flight back on Monday morning, we had to catch a train at just after 6 am. When we got to the train station at ten to 6, we realised why we heard warnings about coins: None of the ticket offices were open, and the automated ticket machines only accepted coins and debit cards, so we could not buy tickets. Luckily, the manager at our hotel was already up, so she switched my Euro notes for coins, enough for us to get tickets. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and we were back home at 11pm on Monday evening. It did take a few days to catch up with email and tasks.