SuperHappyDevHouse 2

With my wife out of town for work, I decided to attend SuperHappyDevHouse 2, an all-night gathering of elite coders, their laptops, and about a dozen power strips. The idea is terrific — get people together to work on whatever they want. Maybe some joint projects will come about, maybe some sites will be launched, maybe someone will spill Red Bull on my PowerBook.

A lot of things worked really well at the event. 802.11 is great. Apple Rendevous for instant messenging is great. An irc channel for inappropriate jokes is great, if distracting. Getting a disparate collection of nerds together is great… mostly.

I was looking forward to this event as a reason to finally get started on some projects I had been thinking about for a couple of months. One project in particular, involving music and bittorrent, and RSS, and fun things like that. When I arrived, about an hour after the official starting time, there were around 20 people there, all pretty focused on their screens. I dropped off the Jolt I brought in the kitchen and found a seat on a couch and started coding my app using Java Server Faces for the first time.

About two hours later, I had gotten nowhere and I realized, with much disappointment, that I was doing work. This wasn’t fun at all. I was just as frustrated as I tend to be at work, and I was sacrificing my Saturday night for it. At that point, I ditched Java for Perl and become much happier, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the core problem — I don’t find programming itself to be fun anymore. At least, I think that’s what the problem is. There are other possibilities. Maybe a loud house full of programmers (one of whom said, “Why are you using Java? Java sucks.” and later wanted to start a fight on Python versus Ruby) is not the right environment to pick up a new web app development framework. Maybe now that I’m married and have a house, I’m used to weekends that either involve fixing things or relaxing. Maybe I’m too unfamiliar with my new PowerBook to be productive at this point. Or maybe I just code best in complete isolation.

Whatever the problem was, it certainly wasn’t a problem with SHDH itself. It was actually a great event despite my own lack of productivity. I had fun instant messaging with someone sitting directly across from me. Particularly when she said “lol” and I pointed out that in fact, I could see that she was clearly not laughing out loud.

The other high point was Mark Lentczner’s presentation on his ongoing webapp development project, wheat. It wasn’t a project he had actually built at SuperHappyDevHouse, but it was a great presentation and exchange of ideas.

In fact, if one wanted to do something like SuperHappyDevHouse but without the whole “sit and code for 12 hours” aspect, I think this would be the way to do it. Have everybody bring the projects they’ve already been working on and just have a big demo/discussion fest. Or for people who don’t have projects, maybe give them the option to pick a topic to lead a discussion on, like Ajax or Ruby on Rails.

Eventually, I bailed on SuperHappyDevHouse around 1:30am and headed home after a quick stop at my favorite Bay Area gas station, the Hickey Shell. When I got home, I considered keeping the dream of SHDH alive by staying on the irc channel and teaching myself Objective-C and Cocoa, but I started fading around 4:30am without getting too far.

To summarize:

* Getting nerds together for an all-nighter: good
* Presentations of interesting projects: good
* Dave Weekly pushing Red Bull and Jolt like a crack dealer: good
* irc-based rivalry between groups of nerds in two rooms of the same house: bizarre
* Someone sucking up all the bandwidth: detrimental
* Projecting a live webcam of ourselves on the ceiling of the room we’re in: trippy

2 Comments

  1. July 19, 2005

    Hey, thanks for the awesome review of SHDH 2! Sorry you weren’t very productive. Actually, what seems to happen is that after most of the socializing people leave (about around the time you left), it gets a bit more quiet and it at least looks like people are being more productive. That’s when I’m productive–it’s too exciting to work when there’s so many awesome people around to talk to.

    Some people were productive throughout. Those people definitely know how to focus. One of them was Mark Lentczner, whom I’m glad I got to come and present Wheat. Also, it seemed like people that were working on projects together were more productive.

    As for the lamers that were arguing about languages, there’s a chance it could have been me with a friend, in which case I don’t think either of us were serious… but I understand how that can be a downer. Who wants to hear that?

    My goal is to get closer to a good balance between socializing and productivity, but it might come in the form of phases, since that’s what the pattern is starting to look like.

    Anyway, I don’t even know if I met you, I just found this entry via technorati. 😛

    Hope you come to the next one. Keep an eye on upcoming.org!

  2. klep
    July 19, 2005

    Regarding productivity, I think that having a bunch of nerds together to geek out is valuable in its own right. If I had realized that earlier, I would’ve used that time better by talking to people instead of trying to get stuff done.

    Don’t worry — I wasn’t referring to you arguing about languages. And anyway, I didn’t really mind the comment from whomever it was — it just threw me off a bit. Most of the people I went to school with or work with have a clear distinction between Java as a real programming language and things like Perl and PHP as less serious pursuits. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but it just threw me a bit that Java wasn’t the default choice for most people there. The anti-Ruby bias I just don’t get though 🙂

    Thanks for putting together a fun event!

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