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GeeCON - the blog

Friday, 27 April 2012

Explaining Local GeeCON Territory

In this post will try to explain to those who have never been to Poznań, or who have never been to GeeCON in Poznań, how to get around.  

The Venue
Traditionally, GeeCON will be held in a multiplex, Multikino 51:

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The cinema is located in the centre of Poznań, in a walking distance from the train station (currently being rebuilt for UEFA Euro 2012, but operational), the bus station, and the Old Town. From the airport you will have to take a cab... and I suggest this is the only route you make this way, as in the middle of the Euro preparation season cars are the slowest means of transport in the city.  

Street View
Last year we had the Google Street View cars (and bikes) photograph the city. You can see the beautiful Old Square here - and it is only a kilometer on foot from the conference! If you look carefully enough, you will see the Google bike reflected in a bookstore window.

You can practise your Poznań moves (the most famous one you can see in this video) with the Street View, but be warned: in the midst of Euro preparations, things are changing very, very fast. You will see that some of the buildings aroung Multikino have new elevations, but you can also see things like this (my bicycle route to work, April 2012):
So, what else is there to visit around Multikino 51?  

To the North...
there is the Old Town. You can walk towards the Old Market through Półwiejska street, and the first thing you see at Półwiejska is Stary Browar (the Old Brewery) - a completely rebuilt authentic brewery turned into a shopping/business/arts centre by Grażyna Kulczyk, the ex-wife of the richest Pole, and world-famous art collector. It consists of three parts: the 'old' Old Brewery (2 entrances from Półwiejska street), the Courtyard, and the 'new' Old Brewery behind the Courtyard. Most shops are open from 10 am to 9 pm, but two 'delicatessen' supermarkets are open from 8 to 10. At the ground floor of the old part there is a very nice bookstore called Bookarest which also has a lot of English-language stuff. Apart from two 'normal' foodcourts, there are a few great restaurants around the courtyard. From the courtyard you also enter the art exhibitions part, and the clubbing part, with possibly the most famous clubbing spot in Poznań called SQ. There also is a hotel, possibly the most snobbish one in Poznań - you may try it, if your company likes you a lot.

Farther North there is the Old Town, go and see for yourself!

A restaurants and hotels post is coming soon and I do not want to spoil it, but one more place I can defenititely recommend for a brunch, late night drinking, or a cool concert, is the Dragon pub and restaurant in Zamkowa street (if you go there, do not miss their courtyard and above).

In front of the Old Brewery you will also find one of the very new Poznań city bike stations. I really recommend seeing the town this way (PS. you can get a fine riding on the pavement, but a) in the center there actually are bicycle paths and b) a lot of people do it and most cops understand). You might need help with hiring one for the first time, I hear the procedure is not intuitional.

To the East...
from Multikino there is the river Warta - a little bit neglected, but still a nice place for a walk. If you want to go there, I recommend choosing the Krakowska street that starts in from of Stary Browar - there is less traffic, and the bicycle path leads to a nice new Saint Roch Bridge. Mind you, nothing gets wasted in Poznań, so the old Roch bridge span got transported over the Chrobry bridge and is now a pretty architectural detail next to the Poznań cathedral. If you cross the Roch bridge, you see the Poznań University of Technology campus. Behind it there is the Malta artificial lake, a good place to go jogging or skiing(!), and there is a great aquapark too.

Before you cross the bridge, if you turn left (I think, they are not set up yet when I am writing this post) you will find KontenerArt, another wonderful place to spend a warm May evening.  

To the West...
there is the bus station, train station, and finally the great barrier: Poznań International Fair with the distinctive (but not that tall) spire.

To the South...
Well, to the South there is Wilda. It is an old part of town, with lots of beautiful but mostly quite squalid buildings. You can have fascinating walks there, but maybe do not do it at night and alone (Satan lives there, minstrels say). I might be too cautious here - I live there and nothing has ever happened, but you hear things. Quite close from Multikino (1 km perhaps?) there is the Wilda Marketsquare, the perfect place to buy fresh vegetables and fruit. There also are plenty of small roadside shrines in Wilda. A celebrity among them is the one with Apple plates... Look for it in front of Spot.

As you can see, there is plenty to do in a 1km radius around the GeeCON venue. The question is: Will you even want to go out?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Q&A - Isabel Drost

It's just three weeks till your favourite cup of java will be served! Yay!

In the meantime, read up on how Isabel Drost, Apache Mahout co-founder and commiter, answered the GeeCON set of questions:

What was your first computer? How old were you? What did you do with it?

First computer was an Amiga 500 that I got when I was 10 years old. As a child I loved playing games with it. But over time the number of games for that type of machine grew less and less. So I decided to start writing my own games. Of course from the first steps with Amiga Basic to a first implementation of a trivial board game it took quite a long time ;)

What will the next revolution be about?

Good question - I think revolutions are hard to predict. At least in the open source world it depends on what problems people find interesting to spend time on: If there is a large enough community driving a project it can build up enough energy to change development.

Are there enough women in IT? Why do you think so?

no comment

Why are you coming to speak at GeeCON?

I was invited by the organisers ;)

What is the most important part of a programmers conference?

Most important for me is to have an interesting mix of experienced speakers and attendees focused on a common area of interest. Bring together developers with various backgrounds to enable them to learn from each other.

What do you want to teach the youngest and bravest developers? What message do you want to send?

Never stop learning: Watch out for new methodologies, tools and projects that make your life easier and avoid re-inventing the wheel. Try to find peers not only to learn from but also to get feedback from, chat with and share experiences with.

Friday, 20 April 2012

girls@geecon vol. 2

Heya all!

We have received a lot of CVs for the Google Grant promotion. We were overwhelmed by how many well qualified and talented women want to attend GeeCON! In fact, there were so many, that we have decided to add additional 2 tickets to the batch. 5 selected girls have already received an e-mail with registration instructions. However, do not lose hope if you haven't received a ticket. If any of the happy winners does not accept their grant (but let's be honest here - why wouldn't they?), it will be passed on to the next candidate

All is not lost though, we were promising another take at the promotion - this time aimed more towards the local community (anyone can take part though, however the offer doesn't include a travel grant this time). Submit your CV and tell us why is it you who should receive one of the extra 2 tickets we'll be offering. Send your application to contest@geecon.org. If you have already sent your CV to the Google grant, you don't have to resubmit it - it'll be taken into account automatically. The deadline for submissions is 27th April.

Thanks for taking part in this. Turn your geek on!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Q&A with Gavin King

GeeCON is less than a month away! I hope you are just as excited as we are. We have a multitude of attractions brewing for y'all, but more on that later. In the meantime we'd like to welcome you to another post in our Q&A series. Our keynote speaker Gavin King, author of Hibernate and Seam framework, has taken turn in answering our questions. Enjoy!

What was your first computer? How old were you? What did you do with it?

A Commodore 64. I was like 10 years old, I guess. I learned to write programs with it, but the stupid tape drive always destroyed my programs before I could really "finish" them. I doubt that there are many 10-year olds learning to program anymore, but when I was 10 it was not uncommon.

What will the next revolution be about?

I guess I don't really believe in revolutions. Science and especially technology almost always advance incrementally, building gradually on work that has been done before. And when true revolutions in understanding (rarely) occur, they are almost never foreseen by anyone.

Are there enough women in IT? Why do you think so?

Enough for what, precisely? Do you mean do I think that talented, committed female programmers are able to pursue successful careers without running into career-frustrating discrimination? Or do you mean "enough women" to meet some kind of ideological agenda?

If the latter, well, I guess I have no preconceived notion of how many female programmers there "should" be. As a libertarian, I have no interest in trying to force society into some ideologically-motivated ideal of perfection. I respect people's own judgements about what is best for them. So I'm happy to let women choose the career paths that most interest them, without trying to shove my own preferences down their throats. Now, I would certainly prefer to work with more women about, but not to the extent that I think it is right to try and cajole or coerce women into career paths that they would not personally choose for themselves.

Now, if the question is about discrimination, well, I have not personally observed obvious discrimination against female programmers, and I don't myself discriminate on the basis of sex. Nor have I heard a whole lot of stories of discrimination from talented female programmers. Nor have I met a whole lot of women saying they would have loved to have become computer programmers but failed to attain this goal (for whatever reason). But on the other hand, I have certainly not gone out of my way to seek out this kind of empirical evidence. So in the end I simply don't know the answer.

Why are you coming to speak at GeeCON?

Because I'm hoping to find folks who are interested in becoming part of the Ceylon community and getting involved in the evolution of the language and platform.

What is the most important part of a programmers conference?

For me the best bit is being able to form connections with talented people and meet people who are using our technology. Because I work from home, I rarely get a chance to meet other people in my industry.

What do you want to teach the youngest and bravest developers? What message do you want to send?

Don't let yourself get trapped doing something boring that doesn't interest you. There are way more opportunities than you would imagine to do work that is actually fun and actually matters. If you can't find paying work like this easily, then open source is an fantastic outlet for your creativity, and affords career opportunities that you probably don't imagine. The image of the open source developer working for nothing but his (or her, in light of question 3) own personal satisfaction is at least outdated, and probably never apt. On the contrary, open source is the best way to put your skills on display and develop your own personal "brand". If you're any good at what you do, you would be crazy to not take advantage of this.

If you still haven't, please check out the Q&A with Bruce Eckel and Kevlin Henney!

Monday, 16 April 2012

GeeCON creativity contest!

So your private budget may be fumbling to keep up with daily needs, and you might have used up all the employer's conference budget this year. Or you're a student student and after all the expenses you can barely afford a beer, not to mention a conference ticket. Or you might want to try out GeeCON but are not yet sure if it's worth it (it most certainly is!). Whatever the reason - you might not be a lucky owner of a GeeCON ticket yet*.

You might be thinking what's the best way to earn the extra buck to get that ticket. You may have many wild ideas that you want to try! You're smart. You're creative. You know you can do it. But don't go about selling that kidney yet, we have a special contest just for you!

Introducing: the GeeCON creativity contest!

GeeCON creativity contest visualisation ;)
Your brain - your gain! Turn that idea into a ticket.

Show us that you really are the one to get that ticket. Submit an idea. A proposal. A bit of an open source project. An interesting webapp. A piece of code. Cool GeeCON graphics. Even, *sigh*, a poem if you're feeling particularly artsy**!

Show us what a nerd you are and submit to contest@geecon.org whatever you think that is worth our time. The deadline is 25th April 30th April. We're waiting!

[EDIT]: due to popular demand, the deadline has been postponed.

* the contest applies to the happy ticket owners as well, we'll just reimburse your ticket if you win!
** we'd much prefer that your submission had sth. to do with coding, but we don't want to limit anyone!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Talking to Girls in IT

I had the idea of a series of posts based on conversations with other women who do computer-related stuff from the very beginning of my personal blog's existence, but it turned out I needed a little extra push to put the thought into practice. The push finally came in the form of the GeeCON blog (the post will appear in both places). Yesterday I met up with 3 programmer girls (women, actually, we are all close to 30) to discuss women participation in computer science.

My first question was about the decision to study computer science, and the reactions of people around. Here is what the girls said:
  • Eliza (works with Delphi, C# and JS): Well, honestly, first I wanted to study psychology, but it turned out (and quite late!) that I suck at biology. I have always liked maths, so here I am. I would not say that my family had any particular kind of reaction to this field of studies. And I have always liked computer games, my first favourite was Boulder Dash.
  • Ewa (currently works with Rails and JS, but as a small company owner she also has professional experience in ASP, C#, PHP and Java): I felt attracted to computers since I was a kid. It was great pleasure for me to just sit at my mother's computer and copy folders (Eliza says: and you're sure there was no porn involved?) or play Prince of Persia. Both my parents have technical professions (telecommunications and programming), so they were very supportive, only fought a little about which of those two directions was better suited for me. I had not done any programming before going to university, though, unless you count AC Logo.
  • Magda (server-side Java, Android apps, Java web apps): I come from a family with maths traditions; both my parents are maths teachers, so in many ways it was a natural choice. I have always been good with computers. Besides, I like to solve abstract riddles. Programming to me is like playing with building blocks. My family was happy about this choice, mostly because it is a solid education.
(Am I the only one who actually did Basic programming on C64 I got as a First Communion gift?)

When asked about other studies possibilities they had considered, Ewa said she had thought about Polish studies for a while, but since you were only allowed to apply for 3 places, she left this idea behind. Magda graduated from both maths and computer science. At first she was interested in applied mathematics, but is now happy with the programmer job.

Eliza says she would not like her own child to study computer science, “because it is boring”. We disagree (completely!), but then admit that it is a job that is hard to talk about with people who do something else.

Then we discussed the females to males ratio at school and at work. The funny thing here is that in Polish ratio and attitude are the same word (stosunek), so the first thing Eliza answered was “we like them”. :)

Here are the numbers the girls gave me:
  • Eliza: 20-10 at secondary school (extended English class), 14-48 at university (my year, so you may recognize the number from a previous GeeCON post), 4-22 at work.
  • Ewa: 11-20 at school (science class), 14-48, 3-3 at current work (the project manager wants to hire girls, partly because it is a fashion-oriented project, and the boys have problems identifying with the product; the sweet Easter bunny that the girls put on th project website was heavily mocked).
  • Magda: 1/3 of girls at school (“but the girls did better”), she doesn't remember the numbers for uni because every class you had was with different people, 3-10 at work.
Then I asked the girls about whether they felt they were treated on the same terms as the boys while at university. I heard no hardcore stories, here is what they mentioned:
  • Magda: the ladies in the faculty office were always nicer for boys, especially those good-looking ones.
  • Ewa: there was this one professor who only talked to guys, even though I was the one who did most of the project, and he addressed us as "gentlemen".
Ewa mentioned another thing here: the professors -> students line was ok, but the same thing could not always be said about male students -> female professors. We had guys enrolling for a class lead by an attractive girl just because of the way she looked, completely dismissing her intellect.

Then I asked the same question, but this time about professional life.
  • Ewa mentioned business meetings in which the prospective partners only talked to guys, but she says it might be more of a personal presentation matter.
  • Eliza told us a recent story in which her colleague was having huge difficulties with a task, so she decided to help him and managed to find the solution in Google. When her boss heard about it, he told her “oh, so you just got lucky”.
  • Magda says she sometimes hears that she does certain (programming) things differently because she is a woman. “I am really angry about, what does it matter that I am a girl?”
My next question was about the number of girls in computer science. Is it natural? Is it that girls just do not want to do it, or are not skilled to do it, or is it something else? The general conclusion we came to is this: it makes no sense to force girls to do programming, but there is a lot of space left for encouragement. There is nothing wrong with the sheer fact that there are more men in computer science than women, but the current proportion does not reflect the real skills. It is a cultural thing: from early on we are told that “boys do better in sciences, and girls do better in arts”, or even that “boys are intelligent, but lazy, while girls are hardworking and mediocre”.

Stereotypes work both ways. We hear that “only ugly girls go to technical universities”, “girls in academic IT classes are there to find a husband easily”, but also that “if you choose technical studies, guys will pinch your bottom all the time”.

Ewa said she was at an official party some time ago, when the ACTA protests were at their peak. She was introduced to a Polish minister together with her brother-in-law, both as computer specialists, with stress on the fact that she is a programmer. The minister asked the guy about his opinion about ACTA, and when the guy said “I don't know, I haven't read it”, he dropped the subject, leaving Ewa with her plenty opinions unexpressed.

Back to the subject of the female-male ratio. We agreed that parities are nonsense here. Also, none of us would like to actually switch the proportions :) But more good girls in IT would be awesome! We all support girl-inclusion initiatives as long as they are healthy and do not exclude guys (but, let us face it, we are quite far away from that).

GeeCON audience, 2010. See what I am talking about? ;)
 Finally we tried to find aspects of IT work when we (or “most women”) actually perform different then men.

It seems that most girls do have better communication skills than most men, so having a few girls on the team usually has a positive effect on it. We have more patience in explaining stuff, also to non-IT people. We do not hate writing documentation so much! :) But sometimes this kind of task is not appreciated enough (in our opinion). It might be easier for us to admit we do not (yet!) know something. I am afraid this is not a good thing, with women starting sentences with “I think that” and men with “I am sure that“... We are not aware of any serious coding differences.

An anecdote (?) to finish with is as follows. A guy we know says he will not hire women, because he does not know how to talk to them. He says: “If I tell a guy he should do something differently, he says OK. If I say the same thing to a girl, she locks herself in the bathroom and cries all day”. Even when you ignore the fact that he would have to hire a girl to actually notice something like that - first, none of us cries for reasons like this (I cried in the bathroom at work twice in my life, both times after serious sexist remarks unrelated to my work). Second - my experience is this: a lot of people will say “OK”, but remember it and wait for an occasion to fight back just a little bit.

I will end this cheerful post with a quote from Magda:
I have chosen this profession because I like it. There are moments, though, when my frustration level reaches unknown heights! I do not understand girls who want to prove they are better then boys. Life is not about proving things to other people.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Q&A with Bruce Eckel

Welcome to the Q&A with Bruce Eckel, the author of computer programming books and articles, best known to the Java world for his wonderful Thinking in Java.

Bruce has kindly answered our questions and the answers are rather extensive. So head back to your kitchen and get a nice warm cup of coffee or a yerba mate if that's your fancy. Just remember to let the water cool off a bit after boiling, or the brewage will be on its bitter side. No, that was way too hot, now you've ruined it! There, that's more like it! Now grab that gourd of yours, sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful infusion while reading what Bruce had to say on what we've asked him.

What was your first computer? How old were you? What did you do with it?

The first computer I programmed was an HP minicomputer owned by my high school district. We never saw it, but programmed it using a teletype with a 110 Baud telephone acoustic coupler. We programmed in BASIC and saved our programs on punch tape. I was a freshman or sophomore in high school.

The first computer I worked on was an IBM 360 at Pomona College. I had some kind of undergraduate work/study job where I took punch cards and fed them into the computer, and sometimes changed the disk packs. The first computer I was paid to work on was an Apple II in the San Luis Obispo environmental lab (which monitored water quality). I programmed the computer (in BASIC, again) to create reports. That was a summer job while I was getting my master's degree.

The first computer I ever owned was a Kaypro II (a CP/M machine) when I had my first programming job out of school. I programmed it using Turbo Pascal, which was still faster than most of the compilers we use today (since it did everything in memory). I also connected wires to the parallel port and controlled things like LEDs and stepper motors, which eventually led to my first (self-published) book, "Computer Interfacing with Pascal & C."

What will the next revolution be about?

It could very well be a revolution in the way we organize ourselves. That's what I'm hoping and working for. Nanobots could be amazing as well, for health care and lots of other possibilities. Someone could have an energy breakthrough any day which would change the way the world works. I'm also hoping for a revolution in education, so we stop teaching people how to be robots (because we have REAL robots now) and instead teach them how to create new things for the robots to build. I'd like to see a revolution in consciousness but I don't know how or when that would happen. I suspect that one will surprise us.

Are there enough women in IT? Why do you think so?

Our culture seems to unconsciously conspire to keep women out of engineering professions. When I was going to school I saw women leaving engineering because professors were such throwback idiots that they would actually say that women didn't belong there. Our educational systems are based on medieval power structures that have marginal benefits and discourage more people than they encourage. Indeed, they are structured around the scarcity and expense of books, which is completely upside down now. As a result, they spend more time controlling access to learning than actually teaching. We need to re-invent the way education works so that we stop wasting the bulk of human potential.

Why are you coming to speak at GeeCON?

I like Poland -- there is a lot of creative energy there. When I travel to speak, I've started to create more experiences than just the conference. This time I will be visiting a number of companies in Poland, looking for new and innovative ways that they have structured their organizations, since that's what I've been researching for www.Reinventing-Business.com. I'm also trying to do more at the conference itself, because I find participating in a conference more fulfilling than attending sessions. This trip I'm going to Berlin for the first time and hope to visit a company or two in the day that I'm there.

What is the most important part of a programmers conference?

I hold open-spaces events, like the Java Posse Roundup that just happened last week. If people are going to travel for a conference, it should be for more than to just listen to lectures which, these days, you can often get a better experience watching on YouTube. What makes the traveling worthwhile is discussions with other people. In an open-spaces conference (we're planning to have one right after GeeCON) the only thing you do is have discussions with other people. That's the best part of a conference.

What do you want to teach the youngest and bravest developers? What message do you want to send?

Start your own business. Sure, it requires additional effort to figure out all the business stuff, but you've learned to program a computer -- this is not hard by comparison. And your possibilities are tremendously better than working for some soul-crushing big corporate hierarchy. Even if your business fails, you'll learn so much by doing it that you'll be much more valuable as an employee because you'll understand the issues of the company you work for. And if you succeed, you might create something that changes the world.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


As mentioned in last Saturday's post, we are very pleased to announce a Google Travel and Conference Grant. We have joined forces with Google for the 3rd time this year, and their very generous offer includes a free ticket and reimbursement of travelling expenses of up to 1000 EUR for the 3 chosen women (refer to the grant link above for details). Those folks sure do know how to not be evil!

So, gals and lasses of the ITverse, polish up your résumé and hit the link to post it on the Google's form. We will be sifting through those with them and choose the best applicants! Do not fret though if you won't qualify - we will be posting about the 2nd part of the offer soon after announcing the winners - we have a small grant of our own too and we will not hesitate to use it!

Girls @ geecon conference logo

This is just the first of our promotions. There is no doubt that there is an outrageous shortage of women in our field of expertise. However the GeeCON team will host unisex contests as well for all those pesky males out there murmuring under their noses about sexes inequality and unfair treatment.

But for now: girls, go turn your geek on!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Q&A with Kevlin Henney

Photo of Kevlin Henney - GeeCON 2012 speaker
In a series of posts to come we will be releasing a Q&A with our speakers. This very first one features Kevlin Henney - the author of our closing keynote "Cool Code". So, without further ado, the Q&A.

What was your first computer? How old were you? What did you do with it?

The first computer I owned was a Sinclair ZX81. I was 13. I programmed it!

What will the next revolution be about?

What, the revolution where we change the global finance system and upset the corporate hegemony because of global dissatisfaction with it? Or the revolution where we change the global finance system and upset the corporate hegemony because modern computing and information structures redefine many of the assumed constants and limits of economics and human communication?

Are there enough women in IT? Why do you think so?

No. IT has an unhealthy and distorted gender imbalance. This is down to a mix of many factors, ranging from institutionalised assumptions and inertia to cultural perceptions and history. None of these factors is innate and they are changeable, but change takes time and work.

Why are you coming to speak at GeeCON?

First, I was invited. Second, I accepted! I haven't been before and it sounded like an event I wanted to attend. Initially it didn't look as if I would be able to make it. I managed, however, to rearrange a couple of things to make it possible.

What is the most important part of a programmers conference?

Not the speakers or the talks: the conversations in the corridors and spaces, some of which may be triggered by talks, but most of which are a by-product of getting a large group of motivated people together and giving them moments and places to share.

What do you want to teach the youngest and bravest developers? What message do you want to send?

Do it because it's fun. Make sure you don't lose sight of that.

We'll be asking the same 6 questions to a bunch of featured speakers. Stay tuned for a next batch of answers!