Scala eXchange 2016
Last week I had the fantastic experience of attending the Scala eXchange. I was so impressed by the number of Scala Engineers of all levels coming together to share their stories and spread their love of Scala. There was a great turnout and after speaking to people, it was interesting to hear that more than half were ‘first timers’ - it seems the Scala bug is catching.
Scala - The Gateway Drug
The first day started with a keynote speech from Adriaan Moors - Scala Team Lead at Lightbend, who discussed some of the upcoming new features in 2.12.1. What was really interesting to hear is how, as the community involved in Scala has grown, they have shaped what to do (and what not to do) with Scala.
He also talked about Java 8, describing it as a ‘gateway drug to Scala’. It’s a powerful move for the Scala community to introduce some elements of FP into such a well-adopted language, and hopefully, this will translate into an ever-growing number of developers taking the plunge into Scala.
We also heard from Nicolas Long and Thomas Kaliakos from the Guardian, who will be speaking at a Scala Central event in the new year, talking us through how they are using Scala, Spark and Machine Learning to moderate antisocial comments. It was really interesting to hear how Machine Learning can have a massive impact on workload for their human moderators - and it doesn’t necessarily require complex techniques to see results. All you need to do is be prepared to learn, and take advantage of the support network of courses, books, meetups and colleagues.
Next up was Martin Odersky, who came on stage to a chorus of whoops and cheers - a vivid reminder of the passion the community have for Scala and its creator. He discussed the progress of new features, and the journey ahead. One standout point from the talk for me was how much the time frame for new features depends on the contributions from the community, and from collaboration from Lightbend and the student community. With Scala it appears the possibilities are endless - it really defines Open Source and demonstrates what can be done by the contributions and passions by others.
The Truck Factor
One the second day, we heard from Heath Miller, founder and director of the Scala Centre, who gave an inspiring talk on the power of FLOSS and how it has grown into a real movement. She also talked about the Truck Factor, which is, slightly morbidly, the minimal amount of developers that need to get hit by a truck before a project is incapacitated.
Currently, a concerning 64% of 133 active projects on Github rely on just one or two people to maintain it. This is something I see every day as companies enter panic mode when one Scala Developer leaves, as that person was so integral to their codebase. In the meantime, resources for Open Source projects are being developed and improved, which is a good sign, but there is still work to be done. Alongside ongoing efforts to widen the community, it’s important that companies allow their engineers to contribute back to the Open Source community to help themselves- unfortunately, many people the audience do a lot of contributions and feel sometimes the organisations they work for don’t support them in doing this.
We need to complement the specific objectives of the job alongside the value such an engineer can bring to the community. This will reward the business in spades - it’s all about giving back to receive a wider, higher skilled candidate pool in the future.
There were so many talks to choose from - with these kinds of events it’s always difficult to know what to go to, and sometimes you get a sense of ‘talk envy’ afterwards when someone mentions how great the talk they saw was! I definitely advise you to check out the recordings of all the presentations here - you'll definitely find something you're interested in!
On a more personal note, it was so nice to see so many of the speakers we’ve had at Scala Central, with well-received talks from Martin Carolan, Rhys Sharrem and Daniela Sfregola. It was great to have been able to support them in preparing for their talks, and we hope to see some of the other speakers make an appearance at our 2017 events, and do our bit to help grow the Scala community.
The Scala community is growing and growing, and there are some impressive advancements that have been made in the compilers, libraries and tooling that have allowed the community to push the limits of this highly expressive language. It was very interesting to hear about the efforts of the Scala centre, Typelevel and Lightbend to learn from the wider Scala community and how they are working to improve their side of the conversation creating more resources and reaching out as best they can.
However, there’s still work to be done in bringing Scala enthusiasts together, and increasing the number of people using Scala. Too many Scala projects are reliant on one or two people to maintain them, and it's vital that, to ensure the hard work being done on the libraries, tooling and compilers that are so helpful in helping the community best utilise the language to its full potential. People are so integral to this - whether that is developing and maintaining new features and tooling, or providing feedback and pull requests - and it’s vital that this ecosystem is allowed to grow, with engineers getting involved as best they can, and the organisations they work for supporting this involvement.
All in all, Scala eXchange was an excellent experience, and I’m really looking forward to 2017 and what it will bring to the world of Scala!