The people’s conference


I have still to properly unpack my luggage and yet here I am, eager to make sense of the enthusiasm of experiencing Heart of Clojure. I tried my best to pin down on my diary everything that the conference had to offer, because at first I wanted to write a round-up similar to the one I did for Dutch Clojure Days 2018. However, summarising Heart of Clojure seems like an unimaginative exercise. And this is because a summary is by definition a cursory look. Considering what I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy, it doesn’t feel right.

So, what was Heart of Clojure like exactly? After one day and a half in and plenty more to do, I came up with a definition: the people’s conference. Fragments of this definition were already floating around my head as soon as I was in front of Hal5, the incredibly cosy space the Heart of Clojure team set up as the main location for the event. It’s not easy to put it clearly into words, but just take a look at the registration process. You reached a desk, they gave you a badge, you picked the holder of the right colour for you (i.e., green meant you were fine appearing in pictures taken during the conference, pink you were not), you were given pens and markers to write your name on the badge and add whatever customisations you feel like adding to it. Now, go back and count how many you and they there are in the last sentence, and you’ll start getting an idea about the general approach of Heart of Clojure.

The more I think about it, the more I find the effort to make everything safe and nice for the attendees remarkable, especially because it looked like nobody was actually controlling anything. I wasn’t expecting surveillance cameras and SWAT teams, of course, but the simple fact that the responsibility of looking after everyone appeared invisible made for a peaceful environment. And you always had kind and smiling Heart of Clojure’s staff members around ready to help you out or have a chat with you. The results were in plain sight. Everybody looked calm, serene, and even without asking you could tell they were having a great time just being there.

Unsurprisingly, the wide range of topics in the program left me with an impossible amount of thoughts. Teaching programmers to draw, Clojure in fashion, empathy and resilience, inclusiveness and climate change, open source sustainability and fragment shaders, compilers and arcade games. In a two-day span, the selection of talks leveraged topics of such a pervasive power that it was basically impossible not to constantly connect and be moved. With the entertaining work of the hosts and unforgettable MCs Saskia Linder and Bozhidar Batsov there was no such thing as boredom in the air.

At the same time, though, I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about the extra activities. Again, the Heart of Clojure’s masterminds put the people in charge, and so anyone could devise an activity covering the spare time in the evenings, during the long afternoon break on Saturday, or on Sunday morning. Before leaving for Leuven, my overtly paranoid brain asked me: how could they trust everybody like this? What if a too fervid attendee can’t manage it well? Wouldn’t it spoil the fun for the rest of us? It turned out there was too much joyfulness around to be paranoid, a well-deserved lesson for that silly brain of mine. I will never be able to thank the awesome Malwine enough for the sketchnote workshop, and I’ll have to find a way to be at another of her workshops sooner or later.

Probably co-opted by the aforementioned brain, my mind wandered in similar doubts when it came to the lightning talks, but in five minutes Connie silenced both my brain and my mind. I think I’ve held my breath and stood still throughout her entire session, struck in my seat by the genius of an eleven-year old’s crafts. More than anything else, she was the heart at the Heart of Clojure.

I have to stop now, because it’s time to rest and see if I can soothe the intense emotions of the past three days. Did I mention the couple of tears on the “My Heart Will Go On” karaoke? You cannot play with a sentimental fool like this, people, there are feelings at stake. Come on.

But before turning off the lights:

Thank you Arne and thank you Martin: you conceived the impossible and made it happen. Please make it happen again.

Thank you Heart of Clojure’s program committee and reviewers: Arne and Martin couldn’t have made it without you.

Thank you speakers: singling out one of you would be unfair and completely pointless. You all inspired me, in one way or the other.

Thank you Saskia: you taught me the beauty of reaching out, and I will treasure the words on emotion management for a long while.

Thank you Bozhidar: no, not for just CIDER this time. For everything, including the unparalleled dancing skills.

Thank you Carlo, Davide, Fabrizio, and Kleopatra: I’m still not sure of how you did it, but you made me forget sociability is an issue for me. For a while, at least.

Thank you Marco and thank you 7bridges: I just couldn’t have managed it by myself.

Thank you James Cameron: yes, I still cry with that film, why are you doing this to me?