Istria – a part of Croatia that is commonly regarded as Italy basically, both by native Croatians, and long-time tourists who have already visited both places several times. Indeed there is something in this statement, the whole region just seems to have this lazy, relaxed, slow-life, drink-coffee-whole-morning feeling. And by the way, this drink coffee stuff is not an oversimplification – they do have these café literally on every corner and people there do indeed drink coffee and smoke cigarettes inside. Personally, I don’t have that much of an experience with Italy, but it somehow feels Italian.
It doesn’t seem like a great place to learn and gain knowledge, does it? But surprisingly, Rovinj, one of the most popular and known cities in Istria was a home for this years Web Summer Camp – a programming conference, for web related technologies, hosted in Croatia since very begining. And I have had a real privilege to attend it this year.
First of all, let me give some background on Web Summer Camp. It is not really your typical conference with, more or less, but usually rather boring lectures and not always that entertaining lecturers. Don’t get me wrong, these are also important, and one indeed can learn a lot, but Web Summer Camp is so much more because it consists of workshops, which is a unique event style, definitely in Europe. It is organized by a Croatian company – Netgen, whose co-funder Ivo Lukač started it a few years ago.
The Event currently takes three consecutive days, days full of learning and praticing. On each day there are two workshops on each of the tracks. This year there were five different tracks - #js, #php, #ez, #ux, and for the first time #biz – or rather six tracks because there were two separate tracks for PHP. Workshops were hosted in two neighbouring hotels – Hotel Lone and Hotel Eden. Neither had enough conference halls, and there were six of them at any given time. Here is a plus for organizers – for PHP tracks each of the two halls had so many places, that they could probably fit in all PHP attenders if they decided to come to one of the halls at once (which never happened but nonetheless). The halls themselves were of course large and air-conditioned, the chairs and desks were comfortable. Of course there were coffee breaks in the middle of each workshop, but if you wanted, you could easily sit through all 3 hours of coding (which btw I did, on the last day, but whys and hows are a different story).
When it comes to lecturers – as usual on such conferences there were old sharks (or IT celebrities if you will) as well as new fishes in the pond, trying to make a name for themselves. So among others you could listen to Harry Roberts from CSS Wizardry taking about web performance, or Kristijan Ristovski Kitze introducing React on #js track. On #php track (the one of personal interest for my team) Hugo Hamon with an excellent and a very long workshop about Design Patterns (never enough on design patterns, right?), and one of the most recognizable celebrities of PHP world - Stefan Priebsch talking about how to be a better coder.
Personally, I didn’t pay that much attention to other tracks besides mine, but undoubtedly they were also very interesting and developing. The ones I attended were amazing and what is more important, very inspiring. Contrary to classical conferences in Poland, which just present you something you may (or may not) already know, here you could dive deeply, and take a serious bite of programming meat. Sometimes it was fun and exciting way to learn new stuff, to find new ways of solving old problems, and even to learn some humility when you realize how much stuff there still is to learn. Overall, learning on Web Summer Camp was an awesome experience, absolutely worthwhile.
Of course Web Summer Camp is not only about learning and working. It is also about networking. And this, my friends, was another unique and amazing experience. Experience which we did not fully use in fact, but still even a small bite was tasty. The organizers really did a great job to make the whole event feel welcoming and friendly. Starting from morning recreation available for all, which we couldn’t unfortunately attend because of our location far away from the city centre, coffee breaks where people could easily get into conversation or small talk with lecturers or other attenders, up to amazing dinners and tequilla nights. Especially at dinners they used some tricks to make people mingle, and it was great. Meeting people from all around the world (there were some attenders even from the US) was a unique experience. You could get to know a little of other cultures, find out some interesting facts about other countries (did you know that they have highly profiled IT highschools in Italy where you’ve got subjects like assembler, C++ and PHP) and simply have fun with people.
Last but not least, I have to mention the food. I like food and I do enjoy really good food. And when I saw a banner at the airport - “Croatia the land of fine food” I instantly knew that I’m in the right place. Again a huge thumb up for the organizers – because they let us experience also this side of Croatian culture. Both for lunch and dinner there was a plethora of various local dishes (both for vegetarians and normal people) and snacks (cold and warm). For dessert lovers there was a special stand with amazing cakes, sweets and other fluffy and tasty things. Not counting breakfast (which as I said in Croatia consists mostly of coffee and cigarette) food for lunch and dinner was more than enough to be full throughout the day.
Overall I must say that was one of the best conferences I’ve ever had a pleasure to attend. Full of new experiences, opportunities and inspirations. I’ve learnt, I’ve coded, I’ve met and chatted with people all around the world. And I’m already trying to implement the new skill set in practice in our current project. If I were to choose a conference that should be a model for other conferences Web Summer Camp would be the one. Thanks Speednet for allowing me to be there!