NodeConf 2014: A story of aspiration and community

This year, I helped mentor NodeConf 2014, which was an amazing experience. For those not familiar, NodeConf is a much different format than the average industry conference. First, instead of a standard conference center, the venue for NodeConf is an idyllic middle schooler’s summer camp in sunny California. There’s a museum of taxidermied animals, foxes and deer wandering about, and a pond for swimming adventures. Evening activities ranged from heated games of 4 square (or absurd variants like 25 square) to s’mores, from LED firework displays to late night hacking.

NodeConf wasn’t just about having fun, though. The format of the content is just as interesting. Instead of sitting through 8 hours of presentations, NodeConf was 2 days of hands-on workshops. These represented a wide swath of technology, encompassing writing native C++ node modules, rolling your own database, doing in-browser rendering with WebGL using projective geometry, writing server-side API servers and more. These workshops were organized through the workshopper node module, which presents a terminal-based series of exercises; finishing one unlocks the next.

Beyond the structure of the conference, the experience of it was transformational. One specific exchange crystallized this for me. I was talking with Paolo Fragomeni about LevelDB and he mentioned a desire to write a module which handled sharding of LevelDB instances. My immediate reaction was one of recoil. “Lots of people spent a lot of time thinking about how to do this correctly because it’s hard”, I thought to myself. “The person who implements this will probably do it worse than the current ‘production’ implementations.” Thankfully, I recognized this emotional response for what it was: fear about my lack of knowledge. Paolo’s desire to write sharding in node speaks to one of the best parts of the node community. They are not afraid to challenge what already exists, nor do they have a fear of hard problems. After all, it’s just code. It’s this attitude (along a pervasive sense of play) that lead me to my biggest revelation this weekend. Despite having written JavaScript professionally, 40 hours a week for 2 years, it’s only now that I’m able to call myself a member of the JavaScript community. The fearlessness in the face of hard problems is a virtue I aspire to and I'm excited to join a community of people I respect.

This year’s NodeConf was an amazing experience. I highly encourage you to get involved next year in any way you can. Mikeal Rogers puts on a fantastic conference that’s sure to delight. I, for one, am anxiously awaiting next year’s. If you want to follow along with the mentors in the meantime, I’ve made a handy twitter list.

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