Reminiscences from Code Europe 2016

I recently attended Code Europe in Warsaw, which was announced as the biggest free programming conference in Poland. As it was first edition, I really didn’t know what to expect, but the agenda was interesting, the lecturers were well known and there wasn’t any entrance fee, so I decided to visit Warsaw.

City and Venue

Warsaw welcomed me with horrible weather – it was, as always in this time of the year, a few degrees colder than in my home city in Poland. Going through familiar streets reminded me times when I was working in Warsaw at my first serious iOS job as a developer in a bank. I have mixed feelings about this city – the architecture is a mix of ugly soviet buildings and glass skyscrapers, there is horrible traffic and huge distances between districts. On the other hand, Warsaw has strong programming scene, great communication with all of Europe, many high level martial arts schools and I have a lot of friends there. This was the other reason for visiting the Polish capital – even if the Code Europe proves to be a dud, I will have spent a nice evening over a beer with good ol’ friends.

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The conference was hold at PGE Narodowy, the Polish National Stadium. This place was perfect in terms of location, close to city centre and train station, with perfect public communication and a huge car park.

Yet I believe that what was important were the talks, rather than the venue. Here are my favourite ones:

Talks

Computational Behaviour Modelling for the Internet of Things

I am always sceptical when it comes to the term “Internet of Things” and forecasts about the future of technology. It is very often a mix of naive predictions, wishful thinking, tasseography and neomania. This talk was different: rational, sceptical and data based. Fahim Kawsar, from Nokia Bell Labs, presented algorithmic challenges in modelling human behaviour to design user-centred connected services. This includes, for example, the adoption of wearables, which are currently just fancy toys but have huge potential, particularly in the medical area. However, collecting and analysing medical data has one big obstacle, namely low computing power. On the other hand, sending data and performing computation on cloud raises security issues and drains device battery. Fahim also gave some interesting insight about smart houses (why they are not so popular in consumer market) and modelling user behaviour for smartphone battery optimisation.

Introduction to Functional Reactive Programming

Eliasz Sawicki gave a nice introduction to FRP. The first part of the talk was focused on demonstrating the concept of functional reactive programming, in terms of what lies behind it, what are the benefits, and how it differs from the imperative approach (I really liked the comparison of reactive programming to operations on an excel worksheet!). The second part of talk gave closer look to FRP with the specific framework –  ReactiveSwift. Although this talk was on a topic that is greatly discussed in the web, I really enjoyed it: it was well prepared, concise and humorous.

On the Road to Digital Communication Between the Government and Citizens

This talk was initially to be given by Anna Streżyńska, Polish Minister of Digitization. I must admit that this was the name that encouraged me to visit Code Europe. Unfortunately, she could not attend and was replaced by another expert from the Ministry. At first sight this talk wasn’t impressive – it was about collecting and aggregating data from user queries on government sites. This is a standard procedure on commercial websites and applications, for example Google Analytics and other similar tools improve services provided to users. Unfortunately, with government sites things are different – I must say that user experience is usually horrible, which is an effect of central planning. The presented approach was completely different, with the user put in the first place. Rebuilding sites based on data of users’ searches is in my opinion a great first step – and I’m crossing fingers for these changes. Easy access to public information, possibility of clear communication with government officials and transparency are more important to me than another killer app on my iPhone.

Minor Drawbacks

The overall impressions about Code Europe were really good; however, there were a few things that could have been done better. Firstly, there were six parallel streams – the idea was great, because of the wide choice of talks, yet the talks started and finished at different times, reducing the possibility to switch between streams. I believe that fixed hours and the same talk duration for all streams would have worked better. Secondly, in some rooms the screens were placed very low, which made them almost invisible. And finally, there was no catering service. I hope that these little inconveniences will be overcome in next edition of conference.

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The presentation is almost invisible :(

Summary

Code Europe in Warsaw was a really nice conference. The standard of the talks was high, the location was perfect and what is more – the entrance was free. There were some minor drawbacks, but as this was the first edition it’s surely understandable. Thanks for organising and see you next year!