A Devoxx of Firsts


Devoxx AntwerpIn this blog post, I tell you all about my experience of Devoxx Belgium 2023. A Devoxx of Firsts, where I did a lot of things for the first time. Keep reading to hear all about the workshopI gave, the awesome keynote on imposter syndrome, and the workshops and talks of my colleagues

For the last 2 years, I focused a lot on self-improvement. I was chosen to participate in Luminis’ leadership program called Accelerate. Want to know more about Accelerate? We have a great video explaining it here (starring me!).

During Accelerate, I faced my fears of presenting. As a result of facing my fears, I presented at a conference last year, which was J-Fall. Although only a byte (or lightning) talk of 15 minutes, it was exciting and fun. I did more presentations after that, but I didn’t go to any conferences. Until my colleague Jettro’s and my workshop proposal for Devoxx got accepted. And so the Devoxx of Firsts started: my first conference for the year, my first workshop at a conference, my first conference in a foreign country, and my very first Devoxx. For my colleague Niels, Devoxx even was the first ever conference he attended. Hence the title of this blog post, a Devoxx of Firsts. Also, my first time blogging about a conference experience!

Day 1 (Monday): LangChain 4 Workshop

My colleague Nico was so kind to drive me and Jettro to Antwerp, in his awesome Subaru. The first talk I attended was a deep dive talk about LangChain, a tool we also use in our workshop. It proved to be a really good introduction talk to our workshop. During the break, I approached the speaker and asked if he could mention our workshop, so the attendees of this deep dive could put their new knowledge into practice right away. Funnily I felt a bit anxious to ask, as this was the first time I approached a speaker at a conference and talked to them. But I did ask, and he was kind to do so.

Right after that talk was our workshop. Somehow, the mention by the previous speaker gave me a boost. For the first time, I was not anxious about doing something like this. I felt excited instead—the power of overcoming your fears. The workshop itself didn’t go as well as we hoped, at least in our experience. A few people struggled to get their environments up and running. We learned something there.

At some point during a presentation part, the power went down and the room went dark (see picture below). It made presenting a bit harder, but we didn’t let that bother us, and we just continued until the lights went back on. We had some good discussions at the end of the session with some exciting people, which made me leave with a positive vibe. We ended up with a 3.6/5 rating, which I think is not bad for my first workshop. After this, we had a nice dinner in the center of Antwerp with our Luminis group, and went to bed afterwards.

Day 2 (Tuesday): Workshopping

On the second day of the conference, I started with a workshop given by my colleagues Nico, Niels, and Jettro (see photo). Their workshop was about how to translate your Event Storming outcome into code. I had done some (practice) Event Storming sessions before, but never made it to the next step. We had to work in pairs, ping-pong style. It was a good session where I saw the power of TDD and pair programming combined. I’m going to do this more often.

Following their workshop, we all attended a workshop about Roblox & Quarkus. We created a back-end service in Java with Quarkus, deployed it in AWS, and called that back-end from a Roblox game. The service was used to provide questions and to verify the answers. With the right answer, a gate opened within the game. It was fun to do. Even got my first experience with Amazon CodeWhisperer. Not fully convinced yet, but I saw the potential of code assistants. If it improves a bit more, I’ll definitely use it. I filled the rest of the day with visiting booths to gather goodies and a talk about Machine Learning in Java.

When the conference ended, I attended my first speaker dinner. One of the perks you get when presenting at a conference. We sat down at a table in a corner, so we weren’t really able to mingle with other speakers. That was a bit unfortunate, but I’ll definitely try to do that next time!

A lot of talks on Devoxx were about ML, LLMs, and AI. Even though Devoxx is mainly a Java conference, I already saw a lot of Python code, because a lot of ML/LLM/AI work is done with Python. During one of the talks, my colleague Jettro made a reference to Monty Python. I then concluded that I’d never seen any of the movies. So back at the apartment after the speaker dinner, my colleagues showed me Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the first time. I totally laughed my cheeks off.

Day 3 (Wednesday): A Day of Keynotes and AI

Wednesday started with three keynotes. The first one was about the history of Devoxx, as this was the 20th edition. After that, there was one about Java 21. This was refreshing because, for the last couple of years, I focused a lot on self-improvement and search technologies, and not so much on new Java features. The last keynote was about embracing imposter syndrome by Dom Hodgson. We all start off as an imposter when we do something, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a lot of fun, and, for me, the best talk of the conference. You can watch it here if you are interested.

The rest of my day was full of interesting data and AI talks:

To close off the day, we watched Monty Python’s Life of Brian back at the apartment. Or so I tried. I fell asleep halfway because of exciting but long days we’ve had, so I decided to go to bed.

Day 4 (Thursday): More AI, and some Java

While I attended a lot of talks on AI already the previous days, I still had some coming. I heard the term MLOps a few times before, but didn’t really know what it meant. So I chose to attend an introduction to MLOps as my first talk of the day. Now I know what it takes to deploy Machine Learning models to production. Talking about ML, my second talk of the day was about lessons learned about ML in Java with a home project. I always like this kind of talks, because it’s all about experimenting and making mistakes.

At the same time as the ML in Java session, my colleague Peter also presented (photo on the left). He talked about the QUIC protocol. Although I didn’t attend it, I watched it later online and want to give him a shout-out on how well he did. You can watch his talk here.

After that, finally, the talk I had been waiting for. A talk about LangChain4j. A Java version of LangChain. In preparation for our workshop, I spent a lot of time experimenting with this framework because we didn’t want to limit our attendees to Python. I also wrote a blog post about it. So I was curious about what this talk would bring me. It was

an informative and fun presentation/demo by one of the founders. I vote this as the second-best talk of the conference for me.

At the end of this talk, I approached the speaker and for the first time, I complemented a speaker in person on their performance. We had a short conversation with the dev-team and they made me keen on contributing to the project. If I will be able to help them, that would be my very first contribution to an open-source project. So let’s see what I can do!

The day continued with more talks:

  • Semantic Kernal: A Microsoft competitor of LangChain. Interesting content, but a bit of a boring talk. Probably a combination of AI tiredness and a less enthusiastic speaker.
  • Battle AI coding assistants: AI could be a great help in writing better, cleaner, and more secure code. So I wanted to see this talk in which one is best. This battle was between Tabnine, GitHub Co-Pilot, and ChatGPT. Too bad it didn’t include Amazon CodeWhisperer and JetBrains AI.
  • Java patterns and practices for serverless applications: AI tiredness kicked in, so I chose to go to a talk about using Java in the cloud. And who said Germans have no sense of humor? Here’s one for you.

And not specifically on this day, but in the context of A Devoxx of Firsts: Luminis recently acquired a company and throughout Devoxx I met with a few of my new colleagues for the first time. Good to see we have new enthusiastic colleagues.

The End: A Devoxx of Firsts

One benefit of organizing a conference in a movie theater is that you can also watch a movie. Every year on the Thursday evening, all Devoxx attendees are invited to watch a new movie together. So my conference experience ended by watching the movie “The Creator”. It had a very fitting topic: AI. And since this was a new movie, I saw it for the first time ;).

All Devoxx presentations can be viewed on the Devoxx YouTube channel. The workshops, however, are not recorded.