The Five Stages of CodeMash

Last week Josh and I ventured north to Sandusky, land of Cedar Point, for CodeMash 2014. For the uninitiated, CodeMash is a software development conference held every January at the Kalahari Resort, a massive hotel with a great conference venue and indoor/outdoor waterparks. The conference focuses on .NET and Ruby development but there’s always a good share of front-end, design, hardware, professional development, and the occasional PHP course thrown in. Alongside the main conference there’s also a track called KidzMash, a series of games and learning experiences targeted towards children.

This was Josh’s first and my sophomore CodeMash and we both went into it looking for different things. Josh is an UX enthusiast while I was more interested in enhancing my front-end workflow, testing, and performance. I was able to find great talks in all three areas, two of which were from developers at Sparkbox in Dayton, the company behind the Build Responsively workshop. Rob Harr, Technical Director at Sparkbox, gave a great talk on web app performance and introduced me to the idea of a page size (performance) budget, a great way to frame discussions with clients/designers who want too much on a page that degrades load time and chews through data plans.

The next morning Adam Simpson, another Sparkbox developer, outlined the company’s current front-end tooling (something I’m especially interested in unifying here at Buckeye), using a combination of CSS pre-processors, Coffeescript, Grunt, Bower, and Yeoman. I also caught some great sessions from Hany Elemary of OCLC on accessibility and Michael Boeke of BrainTree on UX anti-patterns.

I’d highly recommend CodeMash to anyone who is able to attend, but be forewarned: CodeMash can be an absolutely overwhelming experience. With that in mind, I’d like to present the Five Stages of CodeMash:

1. Anticipation

Someone who has been to CodeMash tells you how great the conference is. Maybe it’s the two days of being around really smart people that catches your attention, perhaps it’s the bacon bar (yes, bacon bar); someone has planted the CodeMash bug in your ear and you decide, “Come next January I’ll be staying at a waterpark resort while bettering myself as a software developer!”

You’ve requested the time off work, [ideally] gotten your company to pay for it, and you’ve battled your way through both the CodeMash registration and Kalahari booking (heads up: both sell out quickly). Now comes the hard part: making it through the holidays knowing that as soon as you get back to work you’ll be out again for half a week.

And now we play the waiting game...aww, the waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

2. Arrival

If you’ve never been to Kalahari, you’re in for a treat. This absolutely massive resort boasts 890 guest rooms, 273 suites, and 215,000 square feet of meeting space. The resort is full of restaurants and bars and the waterpark takes up 173,000 square feet (admission is included in your stay and/or CodeMash attendance). During CodeMash the halls outside the conference rooms are full of vendors, drink stations, and developers who have to push just one last feature for work between sessions. There’s a party most nights in the Grand Hall, a great opportunity to make new friends.

3. Ambition

“It’s a fresh, new day” you think, stumbling out of bed after doing some “networking” in the bar the night before.

You’ve assembled your schedule (booking multiple talks for each time period lest one be canceled, uninteresting, too over your head, or otherwise not work out), loaded your pockets with business cards, and put your phone on vibrate—it’s amazing how many people forget this step—and you’re ready to take on the day. That new framework you heard about last night? You’ll surely have mastered it by tonight. When you return to work on Monday you’ll be a whole new developer and your bosses will throw money and promotions at you for you are now the alpha programmer.

Unfortunately, that feeling is soon replaced with:

4. Insecurity

“Damnit, everybody here is smarter than I am. There are two thousand people here who impossibly know way more than I do, what the heck am I doing with my career?”

This anxiety will build with each session you attend. I want to tell you that it’s okay, it’s natural, and it will pass. No two developers have the exact same experiences and it’s rare that developers use the exact same set of tools. There will be things at the conference that will be new and will totally overwhelm and confuse you, but the amount that you expose yourself to these situations is completely under your control. If there’s a session block with no sessions that appeal to you, move to the Open Spaces area and see if there’s a discussion going on there that’s a better fit; last year I attended an Open Spaces session on responsive workflow and this year I learned how to pick locks. The other alternative is to create your own Open Space session where you discuss or teach something you already know with people trying to learn.

The mind needs time to digest information – sometimes a change of pace can help you cope with information overload.

5. Acceptance

After you get home from Sandusky, you’ll most likely crawl into bed and sleep for the next 10-22 hours. CodeMash can be an absolutely exhausting experience, but as you process what you’ve taken in, you begin to see its real value. CodeMash is not just a “go to classes, collect swag, go back to the room”-type of conference. Instead, it’s more of a “throw myself into a pool of smart people, challenge myself, and hopefully after a long weekend and some strong coffee I’ll be not just a better programmer but a better person”-type of conference.

If you somehow learn nothing from the experience, you can still enjoy the bacon.