Generally, I advise against having events south of the ball park in SF. The farthest from downtown I am willing to walk is Pier 48, with the possible exception of Mission Bay, though only then if I can grab the free shuttle from 16th St. BART station. As a journalist and car owner, I cannot rationally use Lyft if it’s someplace I can drive myself. I’ve already laid out the money for the car.
In the Bay Area, this can be a death sentence, and yes, today it did take me 1.5 hours to get from Oakland out to the Midway, a sprawling night club way out near where the Pound used to be, and a few blocks down from Pier 70, where it has been fashionable to hold events for the past 4 years. GitHub challenged the Bay View bubble by hosting Universe out at Pier 70, and continues to do so. Today, Slack pushed the envelope even further out by hosting its free Spec developers conference at The Midway.
And there’s the rub: just what is up with this weird, free event they’re hosting way out here in the boonies of San Francisco? Slack’s offices are right next door to the conference capital of California: Moscone Center. There’s not a lot about this event that follows the traditional technology-event path. The real question I have for this particular developer conference: just what do you have to talk about when your platform is heading towards IFTTT land? Sure, Slack had all manner of discussions scheduled: from partners, to users, to internal people from Slack detailing the newest innovations, such as Actions and Block Kit.
Both of these additions, however, just make it easier to develop applications for Slack. And at some point, the whole thing is just so easy it doesn’t necessarily need a developer conference at all. Yet there is still the need for some of the functions of a conference in the Slack community. There’s certainly a use for having third parties show off their integrations and discuss their successes.
And, absolutely, it’s great to see talks from folks like Karishma Kothari, solutions engineering manager at Slack, showing off all the ways in which developers can make applications without any code at all. Perhaps that’s the reason her presentation was a full 10 minutes short of the allotted time: there’s just not that much to explain! It’s point-and-click, just like IFTTT.
In this new world of low-code, the developers are just everyday folks, building out whatever they feel like. They’re not looking to go to a conference and get a t-shirt for the latest Java application server, or a squishy sumo wrestler. They’re not even aware that they are a Slack developer: they’re just a person building something on top of a tool they’ve become accustomed to using. It’s as if Slack found the secret path to low-code platform prevalence: get people into the chat room, first, then make it easy to expand usability inside that venue.
At other developer conferences, attendees pay big bucks for lavish parties, and spend their time learning the deep intricacies of APIs, SDKs, and taking certification tests. Slack is just too damn easy for any of that. Certification on Slack is when your users learn how to edit the loading messages. At my non-profit, even the least technical person on our team can edit those, and rewire Slackbot to make snide responses to things said in chat. It’s the perfect introduction to extending the platform, and a fun one.
I guess what I am saying is that Slack’s made the right choice by hosting this smaller, one-day, developer event. Their job is to inspire, now. They’ve already made, perhaps, the easiest low-code platform for enterprises to adopt. The idea of hosting hour-long talks on the deep technical details of Slack seems completely anathema to the whole Slack way of doing things. Can you imagine a full-day tutorial on Slack? What would that even cover? You could integrate every third party application on their platform in that time!
Perhaps that ethos has carried over into the conference itself: unflashy venue, simple meals and talks, no big name concert blocking off Howard St. Because, let’s be clear here, Slack is just killing it as a company right now. They could do the Salesforce/Oracle thing if they so desired.
But that old way of conferencing feels more like building a levy in this modern era of cloud-based development, and simpler platforms for building applications. We’re really entering the era of the Lego block: that promised phase of software development when functionality can be clicked and dragged together in meaningful, and more importantly, business-expanding ways. Trouble is, in such a system, the need for intensely training and indoctrinating hordes of developers is no longer a top priority; not when they can learn to do what they need in 15 minutes on YouTube.
This was the vibe I was getting at Spec: everyone is using Slack, everyone is developing stuff on top of it, and no one seems to be having giant, scary problems. This is nothing like traditional development training. We’re not implementing a multi-core, parallelism maturity model, or spreading repository meta-data standards across 30 organizations. We’re just chatting, man, and when someone says “Beer,” Slackbot burps.
And when someone sends an email to our info address, we all get an alert in our social media channel. And when someone breaks the build, we know about it in chat right away. And when someone is sick, they can let everyone know automatically.
Slack is the virtual office of the future, and they’ve gotten so good at making the office easy to customize that they’ve never even needed to create their own channel of interior decorators.