James Governor's Monkchips

Monki Gras 2024: Wrapped

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image of two beer mats, one a simple image like a command prompt, the other a logo of a funny little guy created by an AI to illustrate the monkigras event

It’s always difficult, if not impossible, to sum up a conference that you’ve recently run. But it’s important to write the post, because there are some important jobs to be done – most notably thanking a bunch of people.

The main thing I want to say is that it was really, really, good to be back in 2024. Monki Gras is a labour of love, but the hard work is always worth it. The event is unique in the community we sustain, and the approach we take to things. It feels important – being an expression of so many of the things Redmonk holds dear – most notably inclusion, kindness, and great story-telling. Like its sister conference Monktoberfest, at Monki Gras we want people to feel inspired, and, hopefully, to remember just why it is that they do what they do. We’re not about the hustle, the hockey stick, and the PLG, but rather the craft, the learning, and the teaching. We’re about highlighting the positive social aspects of this industry we’re so privileged to work in.

With all that in mind it might seem counterintuitive that I should have made prompt engineering and generative AI as my theme this year – Prompting Craft. After all, while AI is exciting in the possibilities it opens up, it’s also a little scary. A lot of the intellectual property used to train large language models (LLMs) has been used without any consideration of copyright. What is more, many creatives, including software developers, feel threatened by the rise of the machines. I definitely don’t want to minimise people’s fears or concerns. It’s going be very very uncomfortable. But it feels like the wave will break whether we like it or not. Also Chat-GPT is really really bad at generating vector graphics.

One answer to the tension about AI fears came from one of my speakers at the event – Dr. Cat Hicks, founder of the Developer Success Lab. In its research into the factors driving developer productivity, personal, and organisational enablement the Lab examined AI as a potential threat to people. The research found that the organisations and individuals most threatened by AI had an adversarial culture – a culture of “brilliance”, where individuals constantly feel they have to prove themselves, where coding is competition. Organisations that are ready to embrace the possibilities of generative AI on the other hand, have already fostered a culture of collaboration and shared learning, mutual support and teamwork. For these organisations AI is just another way to work effectively together.

I don’t plan to summarise all of the talks here but did want to mention Cat’s talk because of the reasons outlined above. The talk was very human, and yet it was about AI.

The human machine interface was a meta theme of the conference – prompting is just another user interface, and it’s inherently social. We prompt each other to get what we want and need. We prompt our children. We prompt our friends and colleagues. We have to build trust with LLMs before we are comfortable making more use of them. We can trick machines, just as they can trick us – security specialists are not going to be out of a job any time soon…

So about those thank yous.

Firstly a shout to our speakers on day one – Richmond Alake, Alex Chan, Patrick Debois, Cat Hicks, Zack Akil, Mathis Lucka, Luke Marsden, Farrah Campbell & Brooke Jamieson, Rafe Colburn, Afsha Hossain and Matt Webb.

Day two was also excellent – thanks to Dormain Drewitz & Rachel Stephens, Ian Miell, Julia Ferraioli, Jim Boulton, Kristen Foster-Marks, Paul Molin, Jessica West, Kyle Roche, Emil Eifrem and Paige Bailey.

So much respect to attendees went into the prep and hard work by these speakers.

While I may not have summarised the days’ talks, my colleague Rachel Stephens did a bang up job doing exactly that. Here are writeups of day one and day two.

Our Monki Gras sponsors were also critical in making the event a success. My humble thanks to AWS, Civo, Deepset, CNCF, Neo4j, MongoDB, Akamai, Griptape, PagerDuty, Screenly and Betty Junod for supporting us. A special thanks to Mark Boost, CEO of Civo, for all his sterling efforts helping out with our venue – Civo Tech Junction, a new space hosting free meetups and events in Shoreditch.

Last, and certainly not least, I need to thank the Monki Gras team – namely Jessica West, Dan McGeady, and Rob Lowe. I couldn’t have done it without their sterling efforts.

Other great write-ups include these by Sinead Doyle and François Hoehl and Simon Haslam.

I will sign off with a quote from Patrick Debois which made me very happy.

“I have not felt this energised after a conference in at least years. I’ll be back Monki Gras next time for sure!”

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