Nowhere Developers speaker lineup represents tech giants

by Jennifer Joyner (JJoyner@nwabj.com) 342 views 

The Nowhere Developers conference is planned for March 15, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Record in downtown Bentonville. The “pure tech conference” will feature high-level discussion and activities aimed toward software developers, separating it from other area tech conferences, which Nowhere Developers organizers say also can be useful to marketing and business leaders.

Kanat Bekt, software engineer at SupplyPike in Fayetteville, said the organizers pulled from their favorite tech conferences from around the country in order to get ideas for the event.

Conceptualization of the conference stemmed from challenges his company faced in recruiting talent, Bekt said. SupplyPike is a supply chain technology company formed out of CaseStack. Since the company became its own entity, it has grown quickly, and the tech talent pool in the area has not kept up, he said.

The Nowhere Developers conference is aimed toward bringing in developers from other areas and showing them the potential for work and life in Northwest Arkansas, in addition to creating a network for area developers to tap into. The idea behind the name is that great tech developers are not only found in large cities or tech hubs. Lectures and workshops are planned for the conference.

David Max, senior software engineer for LinkedIn in New York City, will give a talk titled “A Tale of Two Systems.” His speech is partly about keeping technology working as it scales, “but the underlying, bigger lesson of the talk is that software systems don’t only have features, they also have what are called quality attributes. The distinction is that a feature describes something your system does, like send an email, authorize a payment, download a file, etc. A quality attribute describes how your system is.

“Two systems might do the same thing, but one is designed to be fast and efficient, while another might be designed to be flexible and scalable. Certain quality attributes like scalability and performance often trade off against each other, and choosing an architecture for your system means prioritizing among them based on your specific needs,” Max said. “The case I will use in my talk is an example of where a team tried to add scalability to their system while keeping everything else the same, and then [was] bitten when it became evident that they had not planned properly for the performance penalties their changes caused.”

Sabeen Ali, founder and CEO of AngelHack in the San Francisco Bay Area, will lead a breakout session at the conference. Ali is at the helm of a female-owned and majority female-operated company that organizes hackathons and accelerates early-stage startups from around the world.

Prior to AngelHack, Ali founded and sold her own leadership training and organizational development company, Team Building ROI. She also founded Code For A Cause, a nonprofit organization that aims to make technology and coding accessible for all. Through the organization, Ali has organized events and initiatives designed to connect developers, support within tech fields females, ethnic minorities, military veterans and other disproportionately disadvantaged communities.

At the Nowhere Developers conference, Ali is expected to give a speech titled, “How Holistic Hacking Leads to Developer Happiness.” Bekt said he thought Ali would be a good fit for the conference because of her emphasis on diversity, which has been identified by many in tech industries as a key issue. Her talk will touch on work-life balance, in addition to the importance of being a well-rounded developer, with abilities that go beyond coding, into presentation-making and other soft skills.

MACHINE LEARNING
Michael Gashler, assistant professor in the computer science and computer engineering department at the University of Arkansas, is a researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, and especially the machine learning model of the artificial neural network or neural net. That will be the topic of his discussion at the conference.

Gashler will highlight a couple of the unique properties of neural nets compared to other machine learning models and will show how neural nets can be used to solve problems that other models cannot address, he said. Neural nets are loosely patterned after brains.

“That is, they simulate a collection of artificial neurons connected in a big network,” Gashler said. “The idea is that each neuron only has a limited ability to learn, but when they are all connected in a network, they can operate together to accomplish much more.”

In the past decade, neural networks have surged ahead of other machine learning models by achieving better accuracy at numerous benchmarks, and have prevailed in numerous AI competitions, Gashler said. In particular, neural nets excel at image recognition tasks and are increasingly being used in such applications as self-driving cars, internet search and robotics control.

“What particularly excites me about neural nets is not the improved accuracy that they have demonstrated lately, but their unique properties that enable them to be used in ways that those other machine learning models cannot support,” Gashler said. “People who do not use machine learning might expect to see a few obscure applications that computers can now handle. People who are already familiar with neural nets may learn that there are more ways to leverage them than they are already using.”

Jonas Meyer, technical program manager at Google, will be a featured speaker on the topic of “Understanding Cryptocurrencies.” Meyer will speak on a high technical level about the basics of the technology behind cryptocurrencies and public blockchains, in addition to differences among well-known cryptocurrencies. The talk is recommended for individuals with the knowledge and experience level of an undergraduate degree in computer science, according to the event organizers.

“By the end of the talk, you will understand the definitions and capabilities of colored coins, decentralized autonomous corporations/organizations, and smart contracts,” according to the event website.

Two representatives from Walmart will draw upon their experiences working for the retailer in a speech on “Operating Services in a Hostile Environment.” Jeff Parker, enterprise technical expert, and Pam Fisher, senior manager of release management, will give the talk.

Greg Tatum, browser software engineer for Mozilla, will give a speech on “Sculpting and Drawing with Algorithms using WebGL.” In addition to giving specifics on how to use the application programming interface, Tatum will speak on the connection between the creative and the technical.

One of the breakout sessions of the conference will be an NWA Tech Panel, which will speak to the unique challenges the region faces in fostering a vibrant technological industries ecosystem. Announced panelists include Gaven Smith, vice president of engineering and technology at J.B. Hunt Transport Services; Mark Brandon, CEO and co-founder of Qbox and creator of Supergiant; and TJ Sangameswaran, director of SupplyPike. Bekt said there were other panelists planned, but not confirmed at the time of publication.

‘CODING FIRE DRILL’
Chris Moon, systems administrator for Google and a 2011 information systems graduate from the UA’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, will lead a breakout session on “Administrating Unanticipated Service Proliferation.” In the session, Moon “will be using his knowledge of Chrome OS systems to equip you the next time you find yourself in a coding fire drill,” according to the conference website.

Two software engineers at SupplyPike will offer a breakout session workshop titled “Deep Learning with Artistic Style.”

Attendees will be invited to participate in a challenge led by Stephen Ashmore, a full-stack engineer focusing on data and machine learning, and Luke Godfrey, a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science and engineering department at the UA. Ashmore studied machine learning at the UA, where he received a master’s degree in 2015. His research interests include generalized artificial intelligence, neural-network-powered robotics and analytics applications.

At the UA, Godfrey’s research focus is on aggregating and parameterizing activation functions to improve deep learning in neural networks, recurrent neural networks, and time-series analysis and forecasting, according to the Nowhere Developers conference website.

Wil Stuckey, staff software engineer at MailChimp, will lead a breakout session workshop titled “Kafka in Practice.” Stuckey will lead discussion and exercises surrounding the merits and disadvantages of the software platform Kafka and how to use it.

Conference registration costs $150 per person. Link here for more information. Bekt said he expects about 200 attendees at the conference. More than half of those are from within the Northwest Arkansas region, so organizers missed their target in terms of bringing in participation from outside the region, he said. He hopes to make the conference an annual event, but it depends on whether it is deemed worth the significant investment.

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