Scalar Conf 2017 – A quick visit to Warsaw

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And so I got a last minute opportunity to attend Scalar Conf 2017. It was the first time I attended to this event, and also the first time I went to Warsaw – which is where the event took place.

All in all, the event was good. I went with a few other Zalandos, and we had a booth there. One of the most interesting things overall were all the conversations I had with several people that visited us. Among the topics discussed were our Tech Radar (which we were displaying in our booth), people curious about the Eff Monad and several points about how is it to work at Zalando.

I did not watch all the talks since, like hinted above, the discussions were the most interesting part of the conference, and I wanted to spend time in our booth. I did nonetheless watch a few of them, which I’ll discuss a bit below.

The first talk I watched was the first one of the conference: Dave Gurnell’s Adventures in Meta Programming. The topic is basically something he seems to be diving deep into in the last few years, which is meta programming in general – as can be noted from other conferences where he talked about Shapeless for example. This time, the focus was not only Shapeless, but also macros, and when to use one instead of the other. I especially liked the terms “Typey stuff” and “Syntaxy stuff” that he coined to point out what is better for which kind of scenario. In summary, use macros for things that are “syntaxy things”, and Shapeless for things that are “typey things”.

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Next there was a talk about type classes, from Andrea Lattuada: Typeclasses, a Typesystem Construct. I watched just part of it, since it was targeted at beginners. If you are curious, the examples were moving back and forth between Scala and Haskell – and if this topic is new to you, you should probably watch the video.

Another interesting talk I watched was from John de Goes: Quark: A Purely-Functional Scala DSL for Data Processing & Analytics. The main message from this talk was that functional programming is a better way to deal with Data Analytics in general, in contrast with the way Apache Spark does things, which causes lots of problems – even though it is productive to start with. Instead of having computational lambdas, we should instead decouple the computation description from actually executing such computation. A nice quote from him that goes in this direction is: “We are lazy functional programmers”. If you are curious about what he is doing there, other then checking the video of his talk you can also check the project’s Github page at github.com/quasar-analytics.

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The conference also featured an interesting talk about monad transformers from Gabriele Petronella: Practical Monad Transformers. It was very interesting for anyone that want to understand what such tools are for and what are the problems that come with using them. A highlight of this talk was towards the end, when he was talking about alternative tools and mentioned the Eff Monad – which is a framework that is quite new but we are already using in my team at Zalando. Perhaps this also explains a bit about why so many people came to the Zalando booth curious to ask about Eff.

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There were other interesting talks, but the last one I want to mention is Gatling distilled, from Andrzej Ludwikowski. I wanted to have a look at Gatling for a while now, so this talk came in handy. He introduced what Gatling is and gave a few tips. A few take-aways for me:

  • Gatling can also be used for integration tests;
  • it has a nice DSL;
  • you shouldn’t use the recorder;
  • assertions can include response time limits;
  • several different data sources can be used;
  • remember to turn on logging, to understand what is going on.

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During the whole conference, the organizers had a couple of flip-charts up with questions like which frameworks do people use for persistence, among other things. If you are curious, there is a post on the conference blog about this here where they go through all the questions asked and the results.

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In summary, the conference was interesting and it was certainly worth the time going. The downside for me was that there were too many Akka related talks, and as you can see from my selection in this blog post, I’m not exactly interested in seeing too many things in that direction. I understand that Akka is important and cannot be left aside, but having five talks about that, plus a couple of others that were also indirectly related was a bit too much.

That being said, I hope I’m able to attend Scalar Conf again next year. If you want to see a bit of how it was, I uploaded my pictures to Flickr. And you can check all the conference talks in this Youtube Playlist.

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