James Governor's Monkchips

Monki Gras 2015 – Curating the Nordic (Developer) Invasion

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Was the most tweeted comment of the conference by far. Or if I was a marketing person I’d probably lead with

Or for something a little more geeky:

Monki Gras is a labour of love. I personally select every talk and speaker, and sign off on every detail, from schwag to food to design. It is not conference by committee, which makes the event a bit scary to organise, but incredibly rewarding. With my theme this year – the inexorable rise of Nordic influences on craft and digital culture and software development – I feel I helped to uncover something people know intuitively, but haven’t yet given a name.

Also, apparently, I stuck to my theme. Laura Cowen says: “All the speakers this year were Scandinavian in some way. It was probably the most rigorously applied conference theme I’ve ever seen (mostly, conferences come up with a ‘theme’ for marketing purposes which usually gets mostly forgotten about by the time of the conference itself).” You should read the whole post.

David Gingell also has a fairly comprehensive write up here, which you should also check out.

And then there are some thoughts on the Open Culture angle from Cote.

Helena Bengtsson, Editor of Data Projects at The Guardian newspaper, told us about her adventures in data-driven journalism. That is, the seemingly simple task of using a tiny bit of coding and data analysis to mine the world for stories. In particular, Helena was interested in looking into various government activities, for example, seeing how often each lobbyist visited government officials.

Each of the data-driven investigations quickly turned into a sort of cat-and-mouse game where the Helena would find a piece of interesting data and then the government would slightly change how that data was made available in order to, one presumes, add just enough chaff to the system to make Helena’s task more difficult. For example, Helena asked for a dump of all lobbyist visits and received a very tidy CSV file for the past 30 days. As she asked for more complete updates, the government changed its reporting mechanism to just be daily snap-shots, expiring any data older than 24 hours. So, being tenacious, Helena simply asked for these snap-shots daily. There were other nightmarish ETL tales like having to handle PDFs and other ill-formatted data.

Day One in particular felt just right – dare i say lagom. Day Two of course we all had a hangover, so things were not quite crisp like crispbread [Swedish: knäckebröd, hårt bröd, hårdbröd, spisbröd, knäcke, Danish: knækbrød, Norwegian: knekkebrød, Finnish: näkkileipäIcelandic: hrökkbrauð], but talks were a little more technical. 

The conference kicked off with a wonderful talk by the Söderhavet digital agency about its rebranding work for Sweden, creating a new brand and visual identity for all official communications by the country. The Guardian has a nice write up of the project, here. Next up was Linda Sandvik, now working at the Guardian, on ‘Fjellvettreglene: The Norwegian Mountain Code’, with comments on everything from Slow TV to the Quota Law (today companies must legally have at least 40% board level representation by women). Regarding the Mountain Code Linda helped us all understand something that every Norwegian kid knows – sometimes it is right to quit, because you can’t beat weather. We should celebrate Frijtof Nansen rather that Robert Falcon Scott.

These two talks set the tone for the conference. We learned about culture, technology and language. We learned that the Nordic countries, let alone Scandinavian ones, are not a singleton. One of the particular pleasures of Monki Gras me learning more about how the different nations in the region see each other, and view themselves.

I want to thank all my amazing speakers. Helena BengtssonEditor of Data Projects at The Guardian newspaper, Donnie Berkholz, Senior Analyst at RedMonk,  Per Buer is the CTO of Varnish Software and became an avid home-brewer after Monki Gras 2014. Emil Eifremfounder of Neo Technology (Neo4j), Martin Elwinhead of Solutions Architecture, Nordics, for Amazon Web Services, Michael FriisProduct Manager at Heroku, Niklas Gustavsson is a backend engineer at Spotify, Reetta Heiskanen is Communications Lead at Mehackit, Janne Heino, Solution Designer of Cloud at Nokia Siemens. Co-presenting with Janne Heino, Chris Grzegorczyk is a Distinguished Technologist at Hewlett Packard, Chief Architect of Helion Eucalyptus, Anke HolstJanne Kalliolafounder and CEO of Exove, Viktor Klang is the Chief Architect at Typesafe Inc. Marietta Leinvestigative journalist on the Hungarian website Atlatszo.huElina LepomäkiMember of The Finnish Parliament, representing the center-right National Coalition Party, Joonas Lehtinen is the founder and CEO of Vaadin, Andreas Olofsson, CEO at Adapteva, will discuss ‘Designing Hardware the Nordic Way.’ How does the Nordic landscape and environment impact its peoples viewpoints on life, structure, design, and even hardware? We all know IKEA furniture – its simplistic, clean lines are instantly recognisable. Is Nordic hardware designed to a similar brief design, and if so, how does this impact its usability and effectivenesss? Andreas will give us an overview of designing the Nordic way, Patrik Sallner, CEO of MariaDB (formerly SkySQL), Linda Sandvik is a creative technologist and Knight-Mozilla Fellow at The Guardian, Ilja SummalaCTO at Nordcloud. From Söderhavet, Creative Director Mattias Svensson and Jesper Robinell, Head of Design. Stefan Hattenbach, Type Designer and founder of MAC Rhino Fonts. And Saffron Governor, catering consultant.

Techworld has a solid write up of the Niklas Gustavsson talk on Spotify Developer culture.

“Spotify’s success is largely down to the way it gets developers to work in small groups on autonomous engineering projects, according to one of the company’s project leaders.”

Techworld also gave us a view on How the collapse of Nokia has fuelled the Finnish startup revolution, in an interview with Patrick Sallner.

Videos of talks should start going live this week.

We didn’t achieve 40% participation by women, but I think we did sort of OK on gender diversity. On racial diversity, not so much.

While I had sign off on every detail, that is not to say I didn’t have a great curatorial team working with me. Christie Fidura made sure the trains ran on time. Helgi Gudjonsson pulled together an outstanding range of craft beers and aquavits, and my sister Saffron Governor managed all the catering, putting together an incredible menu which included elk salami, reindeer mouse and air-dried pickled wood-ear mushrooms. My colleagues at Shoreditch Works managed logistics for me. As ever Ben Gatehouse managed design.

If you like the sound of Monki Gras you should check out Thingmonk USA in Denver in a couple of weeks. We’ll have amazing talks and hacks, an IoT connected Hog Roast, and a beacon-driven pub crawl.

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