Selfconf: Empowering Group Learning for Software Engineers

Did you ever attend a talk – in a conference, a local meetup or simply listening to an interesting podcast on your commute to work – and felt so inspired, that you couldn’t wait to get back to work and try it out?

It rarely happens, but I’ve listened to some great talks over the years that definitely helped me radically improve my skills, even if they only planted a seed at the time. They taught me a new language or a new paradigm. They presented new ways to utilize existing tools. They raised a critical observation that made me think again about everything I felt at that time. They inspired me to push harder, to grow.

I knew I wasn’t the only one on the team who had had this experience, so I messaged our engineering room at Slack asking “What were the best talks that made you X10 better as an engineer, or served a higher purpose for you?” The proposals were gathered in this shared document.

Obviously, many of the talks were around topics that matter most to us at Forter, as our Decision as a Service requires unique attention to Low Latency, Streaming and High Availability (we wrote about some of these patterns before).

I took the role of the curator to build a schedule for our “Self Conference” (hence the name SelfConf) based on our own engineers’ recommendations and votes, and set the date, with the following schedule:

08:45 – 09:15: Food & gathering
09:15 – 10:10: Runaway complexity in Big Data systems… and a plan to stop it by Nathan Marz
10:10 – 10:15: HTTP2 in 5 Minutes by Ben Maraney
10:15 – 10:25: Break
10:25 – 11:20: SQL vs NoSQL: Battle of the Backends
11:20 – 11:25: The query which is the peak of my career / Shlomi Noach
11:25 – 12:20: Transducers (Clojure) by Rich Hickey
12:20 – 12:30: Break: order food for lunch
12:30 – 13:25: How NOT to Measure Latency by Gil Tene
13:25 – 13:30: WAT
13:30 – 14:10: Achieving Rapid Response Times in Large Online Services by Jeff Dean
14:15 – 15:00: Enjoy lunch together

Every full talk (i.e. longer than an Ignite talk) was followed by 10-15 minutes of discussion. It started with 2-3 minutes from the person who recommended the talk, explaining why she/he did so. Then we opened it to everyone else who wanted to share their thoughts on it. In terms of budget, we kept it small, fun and tasty: $100 for 18 people, mostly for some fresh fruits and snacks to start the day.

The responses from that day were incredible; people are still talking about some of the concepts they took away from it and how we can apply them at Forter. They were happy about the opportunity to learn from each other, to get to know the people who sit next to them a little better, and to understand their opinions on these topics.

Other formats worth checking out

If you’re looking for more concepts to try and experiment with in your organization, you’d probably find the following worth your time as well:

Your turn

I’d love to take this opportunity to learn from you — how do you empower group learning in your company? Share your story with me via Twitter.