Abstractions Conference 2016: Full review and what to expect from 2017

| 6 min. (1151 words)

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to attend the first Abstractions conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Billed as a multi-disciplinary conference for designers, developers, DevOps, and community leaders, Abstractions.io certainly lived up to that description. 1,500 attendees attended three days of presentations, social events and demos by the best software minds in the industry.

Here’s a full review of the speakers, sessions, and attendees, plus what you can expect from next year’s conference.

The speakers

Who speaks at an event like the Abstractions conference?  People like Sandi Metz, Saron Yitbarek, Kelsey Hightower, Aaron Patterson, Scott Hanselman, Eileen Uchitelle, and more!  The Abstractions speakers brought an incredibly deep and diverse pool of knowledge and experience that I haven’t seen outside of major, established events before.  From language creators like José Valim (Elixir) and Joe Armstrong (Erlang) to community leaders like Jono Bacon and developers like Nadia Odunayo, there was never a shortage of wonderful presentations to attend.

The sessions

Sessions at the Abstractions conference ranged from the expected language demos to techniques for mentoring/growing junior developers to sessions lead by industry leaders.

A few of my favorite sessions were:

Luke Westby’s ‘Friendly Functional Programming For The Web’ which featured an overview of why Elm is such a powerful tool in web design and development.  Also, way to rock the live coding during the session, Luke!

Aaron Patterson’s ‘Optimizations You Shouldn’t Know About’ where he combined his much loved sense of humor with a deep discussion and breakdown of VM internals and caching tricks in Ruby.  Also he rocked a pretty sweet button-up with watermelons all over it and featured a few Gorbypuff photos on his initial slides.

Sandi Metz’ ‘Get a Whiff of This’ covering ‘code smells’ and then working through a sample of confusing code to show how to apply the proper refactorings.  As always, Sandi delivered huge amounts of knowledge to a standing room only audience.  Her standing ovation at the end of the presentation was very deserved!

Scott Hanselman’s keynote ‘**_JavaScript and the Rise of the New Virtual Machine’ _**was an amazing talk with a benign name.  Scott gave us all non-stop laughs in conjunction with a really in-depth discussion.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Scott talk, take time to watch this one. (We’ll add the link when the talk is released).

The attendees

One of the best parts of going to a developer conference is the chance to meet and interact with colleagues.  Developers come from all walks of life with each person having their own unique story to tell. There’s never a shortage of interesting people to run into.

For example, on the plane ride from Denver to Pittsburgh I happened to spot someone in an event t-shirt. I struck up a conversation and turns out her name is Rylee Keys, a software engineer also heading to the conference. I ended up hanging out with Rylee and fellow conference attendee Jessica Nebgen for dinner Wednesday evening and then again during the conference.

Conferences are also a great way to catch up with people you already know as well.  I met up with Tara who is an amazing Ruby on Rails developer and runs @GoatUserStories.  Also from Portland, Dustin Brown from Treehouse was there and we managed to spend some time catching up. We typically see each other around the Portland area developer meet ups but it was nice to have a chance to just share in the experience together.

Distractions area events

A unique “side-track” (if you can pardon the pun) of the event, was the Distractions area events.  These events offered a chance to meet some of the speakers, practice some yoga, and trade swag/stickers. They also offered a welcoming place to take a break from the sessions.

During the ‘Meet The Speakers‘ Distraction event I had a chance to meet and speak with Sandi Metz, Saron Yitbarek, Scott Hanselman (woo fellow Portlander!), Aaron Patterson, Safia Abdalla, and others.  Everyone was incredibly friendly and open to questions and the occasional mild fanboy/fangirl reactions (sorry for that, Sandi and Aaron).

You could definitely tell from the general flow of the sessions and from these side events that the conference organizers from Code And Supply (@codeandsupply) cared about the audience and speakers.  Sponsor booths were set up in a non-intrusive manner around the central hallway/entryway for the event.  The event stage areas were well maintained and the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful.


Each conference tends to have a handful of people that really made the event a memorable experience.  For me those people deserve recognition so I am calling them out below:

Rylee Keys and Jessica Nebgen for the laughs, company, Pokemon hunting, and great Mongolian BBQ!

Tara for her great attitude, my first iced vanilla latte ever from Mocha Crazy (GOATS!!!), being my fellow sticker bandit, and keeping my laughing in between sessions.

Dustin Brown for his amazing beard and great work he does at Treehouse.

Saron Yitbarek for being an inspiration to all of us with non-traditional backgrounds as well as trying to get me out to dinner with her group on Saturday night.  Sorry I couldn’t make it!  Great work with Code Newbie!

Scott Hanselman for his hilarious keynote and being so friendly at the Meet the Speakers event.

Sandi Metz for how candid and approachable she was at the Meet the Speakers event.  Being a huge Sandi Metz fan it meant a great deal to speak with her and even get a Raygun sticker in her collection!

Aaron Patterson for being a kindred spirit of stressing out about giving talks no matter how many times you’ve done it before.  Sorry that I made you more nervous after thanking you for being open about being nervous before talks!

What you can expect from the Abstractions conference in 2017

With it being the the first Abstractions conference ever, I can’t imagine a better way to get the ball rolling.  Code and Supply did a top notch job in providing a valuable and interesting conference presentations from industry leaders.

It also might be worth a mention that their scholarship program ensured potential attendees that were underfunded got a chance to participate.

The only thing that has come close to that same community feel was Ruby On Ales. (Which I can’t recommend enough to any developer whether you are into Ruby or not).

The venue and city were beautiful, and provided a great backdrop for a safe, fun learning and community building experience. If next year’s conference is anything like this one, we can expect more top notch speakers and excellent organisation. I can easily say it was one of the best conferences I have been to, including non-developer conferences (sorry Dreamforce…).

Were you at the Abstractions conference too?

If you’d like to meet the Raygun team at one of our upcoming events,  we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.