4th Paris Hackers Meetup and me

When I was in elementary school, I founded the "Students in Revolt" party. I made some letterhead and went looking for like-minded individuals who would join this promising initiative. It turned out that not many of my fellow students were in "revolt"—zero being a more correct approximation. I even tried to enroll my younger brother, who was probably 5 at the time. I offered him the title of Vice President; he declined. I offered him money; he said he diddn't care about money.

The "Students in Revolt" party died for lack of members, or purpose. My revolt was still there, though, and it felt real and legitimate.

In reality, I was bored. I needed meaning and purpose in everything, which fueled my unhappiness. This lasted a very long time: from elementary school to business school and my first couple of jobs.

But it progressively dawned on me that what I really liked was to make things, and that programming is a fantastic way of making things. I became an independant contractor and have been very happy ever since.

And yet something was missing: I had no one to talk to. Amongst my friends or family there were no programmers; at clients' sites, most developers didn't seem to care much about their job.

I was looking for a guild: a place to meet skilled craftsmen in the same trade as I, interested not only in improving their craft but in learning about all sorts of topics.

Of course, Hacker News is one such place. Discovering it felt incredible.

And yet... something was still missing. Online communities give you the illusion of being gregarious, when in fact you're sitting alone behind a computer screen, most of the time not even fully dressed.

This is where Hacker News Meetups come in; they are "Hacker News in the flesh", and something else entirely than lurking on an online forum. But it seemed improbable there would ever be one in Paris.

And then the improbable happened—not just once, but four times, and counting.

4th Paris Hackers Meetup

Last Wednesday was the 4th Paris Hackers Meetup, held for the second time in the new office of Joshfire near République.

This time about a hundred people attended. Energetic, competent people (still mostly male, unfortunately). To a large extent, Hacker News Meetups seem to be take place in an alternate universe: everyone's happy, everyone speaks decent English (this is Paris!?!)... and every company is hiring,

There were two presentations: in the first one, the Mozilla team showcased new products and versions, including Boot2Gecko (new mobile OS based on the rendering engine of Firefox) and a "Tilt 3D view" that let one see the structure of a web page in 3D.

The Q&A session was a bit strange, as some people seemed to blame Mozilla for its very existence; but the Mozilla people answered gracefully. They are still hiring like crazy.

The second presentation tried to answer the question: how do you scale to absurd numbers of page views in the most efficient manner?

Michel Bartz was Lead Software Engineer at Manwin Canada and had to deal with over 5 billions page views per month. The software stack was a pretty common LAMP setup, but also included Sphinx for search, which can plug itself directly to any ODBC data source, and Redis as an in-memory key-value store. He seemed especially fond of Redis which he said never ever crashed under his watch (unlike, say, Memcached).

At this point (if you weren't there) you may wonder how anyone who's not Google or Youtube ever gets to 5 billion page views per month. The answer is porn, of course (Pornhub and Youporn). Pornhub itself incurs charges of over $600,000 dollars a month on bandwidth alone.

At the end of this talk there were many questions, mostly technical. But what Sylvain (our host) really wanted to know was if there were naked women running around in the office. The answer is no; it's a pretty normal working environment, save for the perks ("350 TB of porn... beat that!").

After that Sacha Greif and I said a few words about the latest Hacker News Meetup in London that we attended together; it was huge (500 people) and nice: many talks, including one by Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame and another one by Sugru makerJane ni Dhulchaointigh (yes, that's her name). Sugru is a silicone-based special rubber with which you can fix anything. It was listed as one of the 50 best inventions of 2010 by Time Magazine. I use it and love it.

The downside, it seemed to us, was that there was not enough time or space for schmoozing. Also, London is a very strange place where people drive on the wrong side of the road... and were trees come dangerously close to the earth.

Anyway. Then Sacha demoed an ebook he's writing about "Step by Step UI Design" (no link since it's kind of a secret for now ;-).

And after all that came the beers and pizzas, and socializing. Watching a hundred introverts engage in passionate conversation, and being part of it, is quite an experience.

All in all, a most excellent installment of the Paris Hacker News Meetup—best one so far, for my money. Next time a larger venue will probably be needed, as well as corporate sponsors for the food and drinks...

Right now we're sending big thanks to Joshfire for the great initiative and great execution.

Mon, 19 Mar 2012 • permalink