Serverless in a Conference?

I just spent the last few days in Austin for a conference on Serverless computing. If you don’t know, Serverless is the horrific marketing term for Functions as a Service. It’s basically a way to run code in the cloud where the server and runtime is managed for you’re only charged for the time the code runs. Frankly, it’s the promise of the cloud finally realized. You may be thinking to yourself “Do we really need a conference on this?” Well, 425 people seemed to think so. The attendance seemed a bit small for a conference, at South Florida Code Camp we get 1,200 attendees, but with the size of the venue it seemed to be the right number.

My interaction with the conference was hampered by a cold I caught the day before I left. (A big thanks to my seven year old daughter for passing it on to me.) If you’re keeping score at home this is the second conference this month that I was sick at this month (for more on that story listen to Away From The Keyboard episode 64). With the crappy head cold I was limited to the conference center and my hotel room. So I missed out on one of the biggest benefits of a conference, interaction with others. I was able to have some good conversations with the Azure Functions team, the Serverless Framework team, the AWS Lambda team, and a few of the attendees but It was nowhere near the amount of interaction I typically would have at a conference. *Sigh* Life goes on.

Austin…it's not Miami. #serverlessconf

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The conference was located in Austin, a fine city even though it’s in Texas, and held at the Zach theater. I really dug the theater. It had an artsy, eclectic vibe thing going on which is super cool for a tech conference. If you’re in the area they’re going to have a production of Elephant & Piggie coming up that may bring the house down. Take the kids.

The conference could have taken the cheap way out and ordered sandwiches for lunch but unlike some Microsoft conferences they really went the extra mile and brought the flavor of Austin to mealtimes. Lunch featured a wonderful beef brisket and grilled chicken on the first day and a taco/fajita bar on day two. But the highlight might just have been the gourmet cake doughnuts. If they just threw these plain or chocolate frosted rings of perfection on a table it would have been enough but they went further. You got to choose a drizzle of chocolate, caramel, or vanilla then you could have topped it with candy, fruit , or cookies. And for good measure it was decorated with edible glitter. It was freaking amazing. But as good as the doughnuts were the churros and sopapilla the next day were just the opposite. They were, well, horrible.

But enough about food, this was a conference on Serverless. For the record, I’ve been using Serverless for about nine months in mainly AWS but I’ve used Serverless in Azure as well. I would have liked to see deeper content. It felt like half of the presentations had more of a marketing message to it. Not that’s a bad thing, but I had four days of marketing presentations at AWS Re:Invent last year and my tolerance for marketing-based cloud presentations is pretty low at this point. There were a few case study presentations but they fell a flat. The biggest issue I have with case study presentations is that the presenters are almost always way too close to their problems and don’t generalize it enough for the audience. In most cases your problems aren’t my problems. If you want me to care about your problems there needs to be an exchange of money involved.

What I would have liked to seen is two different tracks, one for Serverless n00bs and another for experienced Serverless devs. And if you really want to get ambitious have another track for startups and executives that way we can put them in a corner so us devs can discuss building real systems as opposed to imaginary ones. (boom)

So this just happened. #serverlessconf

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There were some excellent talks that were worth the price of admission. Yochay Kiriaty’s presentation on “Applied Serverless Design Patterns” validated some of the architecture decisions that I’ve made over the past few months. I think I would have enjoyed it more if he didn’t specifically focus on one cloud vendor but I get it, Microsoft pays his bills. Lynn Langit’s “Serverless SQL Queries” was eye opening not just because the technology is amazeballs but you can tell right off the bat that she’s an expert in the field. When those two things combine just put down the phone and keep your eyes on the stage.

Will it blend? AWS Server Edition. #serverlessconf

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In the end, I guess the question is “Was the conference worth going to?”. I think the answer is yes. If you’re new to Serverless it’s a no brainer, get on a plane and head to the next one. But even as an “experienced” Serverless dev I walked out with a bunch of stuff to look at, specifically Azure’s Logic Functions, AWS X-Ray, Step Functions, and SAM. Serverless is still in its infancy, and just like a child it’s growing daily. It’s really easy to use Serverless today and use today’s techniques in six months but as the past nine months have shown me the only thing constant in the cloud is change. And today’s techniques aren’t going to be the best techniques tomorrow. Conferences like Serverless Conference will help communicate these ideas and techniques and improve your Serverless solutions. Just get rid of the churros.