Scala Days Berlin 2018: Some Conclusions From a Backend Engineer

Working at Spotcap means benefiting from a myriad of perks, and we don’t just mean the fresh fruit and cereals in the kitchen or the ping pong table in our break room. Our team has the opportunity to better themselves by accessing both internal and external training courses and attending conferences which help them to hone their technical skills. Last week, some of our engineers attended Scala Days, a must-see event on every Scala devs calendar. Sinisa Louc one of our backend engineers and an avid blogger on Scala and technical programming (check out his blog here), shared his thoughts on the conference…

For those who aren’t familiar, Scala is a general-purpose programming language designed to express common programming patterns in a more functional and object-oriented way. If you want to know more about how we use Scala at Spotcap check out this blog post featuring our CTO Piyush Purang.  

It’s that time of the year again when every Scala dev’s Twitter feed gets completely swamped with #ScalaDays. Over the years, this event has become one of the most important global Scala conferences, so you can’t blame us for wanting to show we’re part of it too, right?

Given Spotcap is based in Berlin, we’re pretty happy that Scala Days takes place here, but even so, it’s actually the perfect city for the conference considering how many Scala-oriented companies are based here.

I’m not going to describe the talks themselves in this blog, the videos should be up on YouTube soon enough and it would take a separate blog post to really do justice to each talk and convey the key learning points properly. Instead, I’ll just give a quick overview of the event itself.

A look to the future

The first day usually consists of registration and a keynote, traditionally by someone who needs no introduction within the Scala community, Mr. Martin Odersky, and this year was no exception. Mr. Odersky, is also known as the father of Scala because he started the design of the language at EPFL in 2001 before releasing it in 2003.

Mr. Odersky’s talk was future-oriented, showing the Scala roadmap and describing what is to come in Scala 3.0, the next milestone for the language. Some of the most interesting features are:

  • Native language support for union and intersection types (A | B, A & B)
  • Native language support for type lambdas
  • Cutting down implicit conversions
  • Implicit function parameters
  • Trait parameters
  • Enums
  • Multiversal equality

On the machinery side of things, we’re getting TASTY (Types Abstract Syntax Tree), a powerful mechanism for cross builds. Exciting times are ahead!

Organisation

Because there are four tracks, you would expect to feel like you’re missing on 75 percent of the conference, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. At any given point, I had one talk that was more interesting for me than any of the other three. I don’t think this is an accident. Significant effort was put into organising the talks in such a way so that there’s always a bit of something for everyone. The talks I attended mostly revolved around the somewhat theoretical aspects of the language, the type system and underlying category theory concepts. Another colleague of mine, however, took a completely different track as he is a data engineer and therefore more interested in things like message queues, actor systems, graph databases etc. I think Scala Days did a terrific job at organising the talks this way. 

As is the case with other software conferences, there were many stands with interesting (or somewhat interesting companies) ready to tell you about themselves in exchange for shirts, notebooks, stickers, yo-yos, socks, even laptop camera covers for the paranoid ones. It did feel a bit too crowded at times—on your left you see someone you recognise from a previous role, on your right a recruiter is vying for your attention, and in front of you a mass influx of devs trying to make their way through the crowd. But I guess that kind of ‘buzz’ is what conferences are all about, even if it means standing in the lunch line for a bit longer than you would hope.

To hear what life is like within Spotcap’s engineering team, hear it directly from our CTO Piyush Purang, in this blog.

The talks

Unless you skip mid-talk from one to another, you can attend about 12 talks (not counting keynotes, closing panels etc.), which is quite a considerable amount of knowledge to take in. Talks are categorised in two ways: ‘foundation’ or ‘expert’. Which allows you to tailor your conference experience based on your level or to mix them up a bit  (e.g. expert in the morning, a bit less intense in the afternoon).

The speakers at Scala Days are, if you pardon me for sounding pretentious for a second, the ‘crème de la crème’ of the Scala world. Most Scala enthusiasts will know Martin Odersky, or Heather Miller, Miles Sabin, Bill Venners, Noel Welsh, Jon Pretty, Holden Karau, Alexandru Nedelcu, Dave Gurnell, and the list goes on. Sure, some important names were missing—but it’s impossible to get everyone every year.

Regarding the contents of the talks, as I said earlier, there was a little bit for everyone. From computer scientists to data engineers, from newbies to seasoned experts, from theory-nerds to implementation-oriented pragmatists. One interesting thing I noticed is that beginner-oriented talks didn’t refrain from taking a short digression into more advanced areas, providing them some extra things to research after the talk, and vice versa, expert talks would sometimes slow down and spend an additional moment explaining certain concepts if some part of the audience looked confused. At the end of the day, there was a lot to take away and very little to complain about.

Until next time, Sinisa.

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Spotcap is currently looking for a dedicated backend engineer to join Sinisa and the team, check out the job description and apply here.