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Conference diary GOTO Oslo: Choices & Cruises

Monday March 2nd 2020

Choices are hard, especially when you don’t know the outcome. I am lucky to work in an environment where the effort is valued over the outcome. So if we choose, it’s because we value the outcome of a successful attempt. This makes the choice, to me, a lot easier. Decide, give it your best shot and evaluate what worked, and what needs improvement.

But some choices are a lot harder. Especially when they involve your loved ones, or when you have little control over the outcome, or when failure has a big impact on your job or your life.

Hard choices at home…

The last couple of weeks have been hard on my family. We’ve had to make some hard decisions regarding the kids’ school situation. Unfortunately, we were given less time than we would have liked to make those decisions. The impact on our family, my wife especially, will be very big. We made the call, hoping that all the effort will result in us seeing our kids happier about themselves. But we don’t know if it will work. Scary stuff.

…and at work

But at work, I’ve also faced a tough one this week. Tomorrow, I am scheduled to speak at GOTO Oslo, a conference that takes place on a cruise ship. It looks like an awesome event, and I am very much looking forward to it. But because of the current COVID-19 outbreak, the organizers informed me yesterday that they are reformatting the event to be partly digital and partly on the ship. Speakers have been offered the choice to either record their session and send it in, or to be on the ship as planned.

To me this choice came the night before the kids would start at their new school, an emotional time. And normally for such a week I would not accept a conference, if I would have planned the switch months in advance. Now I’m not too scared of the virus itself, but should the ship get quarantined, that would mean I would not be there for several weeks. And that’s less than ideal. But also very unlikely.

It was a tough choice surely, so because there were pros and cons to both sides of the argument, and most of all because there is no way of knowing if I would be safer from the COVID-19 outbreak on a boat in Scandinavia or on my daily train to Antwerp.



Image by GOTO Oslo

Cruise on!

In the end, I made the decision to proceed as planned, and to join the conference people on the cruise. To come through for the organizers in these difficult times, to meet up with peers and to share knowledge. And hopefully to have enough of a crowd to play a gig with Dylan Beattie and the Linebreakers.

I’m writing this at the airport, on my way to Copenhagen. Tonight, when I land, I’m going to drop my stuff at the hotel, meet up with Dylan and go into town for some dinner. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a city where I used to live for a year a decade and a half ago. Tomorrow morning, we will head to the docks to see how big the damage of the virus outbreak has been to the conference turnups.

In any case, I will give it my best shot to help make this conference awesome.

Tuesday March 3rd

Today we arrived in our new home for the next couple of days, the MS Crown Seaways. Unfortunately not a lot of the speakers have made it, mostly because of international travel restrictions and company policies. But I’m very pleased to see that about 200 software developers have decided to show up to the conference anyway! That is a fantastic bunch of people we are going to spend the next 3 days with!

Video recording

The first thing I did after boarding the ship was dive into a meeting room to make a video recording of my talk. The GOTO organizers are going to stream every talk on Youtube for the attendees who weren’t able to make it. They also show recordings in the rooms where the speaker wasn’t able to make it. A clever solution to make the most out of the situation. But this means that all of us speakers need to make sure that a recording of their talk is available. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a recording of tis talk yet, hence the filming. I did learn, however, that when I give a talk in an empty room, the talk tends to get quite a bit shorter.

More talks?

We also talked to the GOTO organizers and offered to do more live talks. With only 5 speakers on the ship, there are a bunch of time slots that have no live speaker, only video. That seems less than ideal for the attendees. But if we all work together, we can try to rectify that situation. So the GOTO people went to work on the agenda with some extra abstracts we gave them. This virus may have crippled the number of people who showed up, but we won’t let it spoil a perfectly good conference!


The Comodore deck

Then it was time to check into my room. Speakers are located on the top deck. These rooms are amazing! We have our own balcony, our own lounge with all day snacks and a specific button to call the elevator to the 11th floor. This one goes to ELEVEN! This is a fantastic gesture from the GOTO people, and it makes us feel really appreciated as speakers. But I had barely gotten to my room when I realized it was time to go and give my talk. The Comodore club is an excellent lounge style room that fits a sizeable audience. So on that stage, it was showtime!



And then the ship set sail for Oslo. We are now well underway with a view of the Swedish coast out of the window, and more talks going on. I’m going to experience a bit more of the conference and possibly hand out some more RAD certificates.

Wednesday March 4th

Apparently, on these ships, the morning announcements are not optional. At 8 AM, over a loudspeaker in your room, you can get a good morning message from the captain. Time to wake up! After a nice breakfast buffet, the day started with the announcement from the GOTO organizers that the day’s agenda had been changed. A lot of attendees were happy to see more live talks on the agenda instead of video recordings. To me, that meant that the day’s rush could commence.

The rush

Although you’re only on stage for a little bit of time, sometimes you have conference days were you feel like you’re on the move for the entire day. And today was one of them. I started by sitting with Dylan to make a setlist for the evening’s gig. Since I was the only Linebreaker who had actually made it, there were a few songs that we had to scratch because we felt that wouldn’t work as well without those band members. We still came up with a 75 minute setlist. And then the blur started:

  • Practice some new songs in my room
  • Do a play-through of the entire set with Dylan in his room
  • Grab lunch
  • Get off the ship to walk to the closest guitar store in Oslo to go get some strings
  • Do a run-through in my hotel room for the extra talk I was giving later that day
  • Meet up with some people who had requested RAD certificates
  • Do my ‘Build software like a bag of marbles, not a caste of LEGO’ talk
  • Run to my room, put my laptop away, and bring my guitar downstairs
  • Watch Dylan deliver the closing keynote. ‘The art of code’ is a magnificent talk!
  • Set up the video screen and do a sound check for our gig
  • Join dinner halfway through, because of the above. It was very tasty!
  • Showtime! We played Dylan’s songs in front of the GOTO audience

The aftermath

And that’s when I felt like I finally had some time to relax. And when looking back, it had been an awesome day! Everything went according to plan. Attendees were happy, because there had been more live talks on the second day. There was a very nice vibe at the closing gig. And although we would still sail through the night, it felt just like Dylan mentioned during the closing keynote:

We have successfully held a conference on a cruise ship during a global virus outbreak!

So to unwind from the day’s events, we sat down for a beer in the bar, where a woman was singing covers with her guitar. She happily let us sing along, and some of us were even called on stage to sing through the microphone. That’s an opportunity you don’t have to offer twice to Dylan, or any of his Linebreakers. So there we were, a bunch of software developers singing and drinking. A perfect way to end the conference, I would say! That, and the fact that we didn’t get quarantined.

Hopefully until next time, GOTO Oslo. I had a great time!

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About the author

Hannes Lowette

Hannes Lowette

Competence Coach .NET

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