A virtual open-space

Have you heard about open-spaces before? Have you ever been to an unconference? If yes, find something else to read. Otherwise, keep on reading. I’m going to describe how I experienced a virtual open-space I recently attended. By the end, you will have some good reasons to join one.


I’ve written before about the open-space conferences that I went to, but I never explained why I love this event format. There’s a lot to say, but I’ll restrict myself to the top three reasons why I keep coming back:

  1. Autonomy and empowerment: the format of the event allows the participants to focus on meeting their individual needs. The law of two feet means that you are expected to use your own two feet to move to whatever place you can best contribute and learn. In the same way, all participants are allowed to adjust scheduled sessions as they see fit.
  2. Strong engagement of participants: anyone can propose a topic for a session. During a session, you are encouraged to suggest an improvement if you notice that a session is not going well.
  3. Relaxed expectations: two guiding principles remind participants to take it easy. “Whoever comes is the right people” and “Whatever happens is the only thing that could’ve happened“.

An open-space offers a different kind of experience than a regular conference. Even with a good understanding of the guiding principles, it’s going to be hard to imagine how it develops unless you attend it.

CITCON 2020, virtual open-space

CITCON usually takes place in a European city. Since COVID-19 makes traveling unsafe, CITCON 2020 went online. I volunteered to help the organizers, Jeff and PJ. We used the suggestions from Misha Glouberman, did a couple of test runs, and, in the end, we had a good understanding of the technology stack needed to need all the needs of an open-space. Amelie sums it up perfectly.

The tools worked well on the day of the conference (~70 participants). A couple of notes on the tools: the organizers arranged for a basic Zoom subscription, and a basic Miro subscription. There was also a need for a full-time “Zoom receptionist”, with the primary responsibility of elevating participants to co-hosts. Being a co-host means that you can move around the breakout rooms, which served as the rooms of the sessions (the blue horizontal swimlanes in the schedule below).

CITCON 2020, virtual open-space schedule
This is how the final schedule looked like (Miro)

A typical session

A typical open-space session is usually a “go-with-the-flow” discussion on the proposed topic, and it depends on the participants to set the direction and to keep the session on track. Often, participants, bring up a couple of subjects related to the topic. Commonly, some of the subjects will be touched only briefly. There’s no slide deck to take away at the end; every participant takes from the session whatever they need.

When it’s over, it’s over

I am finishing with another of the four principles of open-spaces. Creativity has its rhythm. So do groups. When you think it is over, ask: Is it over? And if it is, go on to the next thing you have passion for. See you at CITCON. Or at humansconf. Or at DevOpsDays.

JCrete 2018 was amazing

I know it’s after the fact, but I want to share my experience at JCrete2018. I encourage you to join the invite lottery when it opens up in December.

A disclaimer: JCrete overwhelmed me and I am not able to do it justice in this post. The participants were incredibly knowledgeable and I felt humbled many times during the sessions. Initially, I sat through sessions just absorbing new information. Slowly, questions started popping up in my mind, but I was blocked by the fear that I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say. Eventually, my curiosity took over and I had some good chats with some of the big guys (Robert Scholte, Cliff Click, Heinz Kabutz, Ivan Krylov and Chris Newland). It turns out they were approachable and very inspiring.

JCrete lasted for five days and had about four sessions and about two leisure activities per day. It was common for the session discussions to continue during the relax time. If you’re not familiar with the “unconference” concept, I have a friend who was there and explains it well.

Monday’s highlight — Challenges of AOT

I didn’t know anything about AOT compilation, so I went. During the session I realized that the Java ecosystem is vast and the technology behind it is, to say the least, sophisticated. This session made it clear that some smart computer scientists are working on the JVM and the Java language.

I wanted to learn more about this theme and Ivan Krylov recommended this video about JIT.

Tuesday’s highlight — Java mentors

Some time ago I realized the value of having mentors. In this session, we discovered that the mentor has expectations from the mentee: learn, show interest, develop soft skills and act on the previous points. But the mentee also has expectations: code reviews, get in contact with new tools and processes. Another discovery is that finding a mentor is not that hard: just reach out to them and show them your dedication.

Wednesday’s highlight — GDPR

There were three people in the room that had implemented GDPR. The session was focused on the technical implications of applying the law. Basically, it turned out to be a crash course on the subject. The basics are:

  • GDPR applies to you if you handle personal data of individuals (e.g. customers, employees) that are EU citizens.
  • categories like sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity are also considered personal data.
  • the scope of the GDPR responsibility is as broad as possible: you’re even responsible for 3rd parties that process your data.
  • everything needs to be accounted for: clear documentation of data storage, data handling procedures, on-demand/automatic data deletion procedures.
  • opt-ins need to be clear and explicit.
  • everything needs to be audited every year.
  • you need to have a point of contact in one of the EU member states.

Thursday’s highlight — Communication for introverts

I was surprised at the number of people that joined this session. And, judging by the number of people engaged in the conversation, it seems this is a hot topic. We shared useful tips&tricks of how to deal with unexpected work situations. These are just a few:

  • if you get angry, go out and do something physical to consume the anger.
  • start labeling people as green (they have a significant positive impact on your life), yellow (so and so) and red (they hurt you in any way). Get rid of the reds (e.g. switch jobs, end friendships). Be strict about it.
  • it’s the manager’s responsibility to solve many of the issues that appear in the workplace. You don’t need to take it upon yourself to fix them.

Some of the ideas from that session are also in this talk.

Friday’s highlight — Contributing to maven

On the Hackday I went to the session lead by Robert Scholte. He introduced us to contributing to open source by fixing maven defects. It turns out it’s not as hard as it seems:

  • start small: pick a plugin that you’re interested in, but don’t go for the big ones (e.g. compiler, surefire).
  • open the project page and locate the “Issue Management” page and then open up the Jira board for that plugin.
  • pick a simple bug. That’s it.
  • bonus: Robert added a label recently for easy bugs (i.e. up-for-grabs).

JCrete 2018 was marvelous and I hope to go there again in the following years. But I’ll have to join the lottery in December, just like the rest of the mortals 🙂

Java Unconferences/Open-spaces

This year I attended CITCON and then I searched for a similar Java unconference/open-space. I got super lucky to be accepted at JCrete, but that’s another story. The reality is that unconferences are mind-blowing, but a bit hard to find if you don’t know what to look for.

These are the unconferences that I currently know about:

Join one… it’s going to be worth it.

One last thing: I’m new at writing posts. If you have any suggestions to make this post more clear, please write a comment.