Iowa Code Camp in Review

Posted on October 31, 2012

This past weekend I attended the Iowa Code Camp for the first time. ICC is a semiannual tech conference that’s open to everyone and free to attend. This one was held in Des Moines on Saturday; last spring it was in Cedar Rapids. About 200 people from Iowa and beyond attended.

The event was at the DMACC campus in West Des Moines. It’s a really nice building, with a large atrium, wifi, large whiteboards, cool science exhibits in the hallways, and each room features a large mural and bio of a famous scientist or industrialist.

Talks were divided into 8 rooms of 5 sessions each. Many of the talks revolved around the .NET stack, but Javascript and the web, usability, microcontrollers, and even Scala were represented. There were plenty (if not most) that were language agnostic, or could be applied to other languages.

Because of the variety of topics, and no pressure to stick to a specific “track”, I took the opportunity to expand my horizons and check out stuff that piqued my interest.

  • Apropos to the soon-to-be-released Windows 8, there were a few sessions about developing apps for the new OS. I decided to check out Matt Milner’s talk on creating Win8 apps using web technologies, since most of my background is in the web. This was right in my wheelhouse, and Matt carefully explained how web technologies such as CSS and Javascript integrate with the Windows stack and can use the WinRT and other APIs. He made it look pretty simple, and made me excited about trying it myself.
  • Next, I attended Lee Brandt’s talk about building a single-page web application using KnockoutJS. I had heard of KnockoutJS, and played around with backbone.js without great success, so I was interested in seeing more MVC / MVVM frameworks. Lee’s example app included other useful JS libraries I hadn’t heard of (SammyJS, MomentJS). The bulk of the talk was about the front-end implementation (JS) of the app.
  • After lunch, I went outside my knowledge bubble to hear Mitchel Sellers talk about .NET Gadgeteer. Small electronic projects are another thing that I’ve never had the time to pursue, so it was nice to learn one way to get started in this hobby. Mitchel introduced the toolkit, which is based on the .NET Micro Framework (also compatible with Arduino!) and readily-available hardware, and showed the design view in Visual Studio for quick assembly on the software side. He walked through a mini arcade cabinet project that he built, showing off some of the code behind a falling block game, and a bluetooth-enabled motorized rover.
  • After that, I went to Ralph Bunker’s talk on OCR in Javascript. This one excited me because of the underlying problem: performing OCR in the browser for crossword puzzles. Ralph did not disappoint, as he walked through his experience in researching and working out possible solutions, up to his current solution of using touch events to collect the handwriting, Javascript to normalize and store the data, and sending it to a server to build a neural net using a borrowed Java app. This talk was one of those hidden gems tucked away in a room at the far end of the hall.
  • Finally, I saw Cory House’s talk on writing clean code. I’m already an avid fan of Code Complete by Steve McConnell, but I was interested in brushing up on my knowledge. The biggest thing I learned from the talk was the Clean Code-style of programming, which seems to emphasize the reduction of vertical length by breaking up code and moving it into functions — almost to the extreme. It’s something I’ll have to think about some more, and maybe pick up the book.

There were many other talks that I would have liked to see, but that’s the way it goes. One day is good; multi-day conferences tend to wear me out. Each talk lasted for about an hour, which gives speakers enough time to include meaty substance.

All in all, the speakers were great. Many came from the experience angle: “Let me some you what I learned recently”. There was a wealth of technical and personal experience available to learn from. It was also nice to see some “graybeards” giving another angle instead of just young startup folks.

ICC offers a good package, and it’s hard to beat the price. If you’re in the area, it’s a great way to spend a day learning something cool and meeting other techies. Or you could give a talk — it would be great to hear from more Scala, Ruby, Python, and PHP developers.

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