A few weeks ago, several of us here at Cantina were fortunate enough to attend Gr8Conf 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference is focused on 3 major technologies: Groovy, Grails, and Griffon. Cantina is fairly well known as one of the more Grails-savvy consulting firms in Greater Boston, having started the Boston Grails Meetup in 2009 and hosting many of the group’s events since. So we were naturally very excited about the opportunity to meet some of the thought leaders behind the Groovy programming language and our beloved Grails web application framework. And besides, who would turn down an expenses-paid trip to Europe?
Steve Pember, Dave Fox, Dave’s lovely wife and I left Boston on the Monday evening before the conference began, landing in Denmark around 10am Tuesday morning. We had planned to only attend Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions, opting out of Tuesday’s “University Day” Gr8Conf prelude. That gave us all day Tuesday to adjust to the timezone difference; i.e. sleep.
Upon arriving at the Copenhagen IT University on Wednesday morning, we were warmly greeted by the event host and organizer, Søren Berg Glasius, who handed us our welcome packets that included the conference agenda, some reference material, and a USB thumb drive containing some sample projects to be covered during the various event sessions. And with that, it was time to take our seats, connect to the university’s free wireless network, and settle in for the official conference opening. Gr8Conf was underway!
Søren’s opening address was concise and relevant, setting the tone for the remainder of the sessions. Before long it was on to the Groovy Language Update from none other than the Groovy project lead, Guillaume Laforge. We heard about some of the nice language features and performance improvements the community would see with the release of 1.8, and some of the items that are in scope for version 1.9. The features which really stood out for us in the now current version 1.8 are the inclusion of GPars for parallel computing and AST transformations (specifically @Delegate). Great stuff!
Immediately following Guillaume’s presentation was an equally important and interesting session by Peter Ledbrook of VMWare, focusing on the Grails 1.4 release which is currently in final testing. Of particular significance will be the inclusion of Groovy 1.8, Hibernate 3.6, and improved class reloading for development mode. Additionally, no major pain points were called out for folks upgrading from 1.3.x, which is excellent news.
All of Wednesday’s remaining sessions were useful and entertaining, but I won’t summarize them all. If you’re interested, the topics covered that I’d recommend reading up on include: CodeNarc, GMetrics, and the SpringSource Eclipse bundle geared towards Grails, STS. To cap the day off, Gr8Conf and Gennemtænkt IT provided us with beer and snacks for an open-ended meet & greet socializing opportunity.
Day two began with a sun-soaked walk across Copenhagen to the IT University. We found seating (barely) and listened in while Andre Steingress filled us in on something I’m sure we’ll be applying in our Grails projects here at Cantina: GContracts. Coding to contracts is always a good idea, and GContracts greatly reduces the effort required to do so — all while improving readability. This was one of my favorite sessions of the conference.
Remaining topics for Thursday included a performance and byte code optimization talk by Jochen Theodorou, which was fascinating but not for the casual dynamic language programmer. SpringSource employee, Grails committer and personal friend of ours Burt Beckwith gave a talk on GORM tips & tricks which, despite MySQL’s best efforts to subvert him, went very well and shed light on some not uncommon GORM challenges such as read-only domain objects. Peter Niederwieser showed us how Spock can simplify unit testing and enable more readable test cases, and Václav Pech demonstrated practical applications of the GPars parallel computing library for Groovy. Both of these sessions were standing-room-only, and deservedly so.
Gr8Conf wrapped up with a panel discussion where nearly all of the presenters from the conference were front and center, free to address the attendees and field questions from them. You could sense a feeling of satisfaction and excitement from both sides, as the #Gr8Conf Twitter feed was projected on the big screen and positive, encouraging tweets streamed in throughout the final session. The panelists tossed souvenirs into the crowd for those who asked solid questions, and laughs were shared all around. It was clear that Gr8Conf was a success, a valuable networking and learning experience, and in light of all that, I’m looking forward to attending next year!