Jenko Words & Code

17 September 2015

Memoirs of a UDiffer

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This evening will see the 34th(?) and final Unified Diff. Unified Diff, or UDiff as us old timers call it, has been a staple part of my life for the past 3 and a bit years so I wanted to take a bit of time to write up some of my experiences/memoirs of this time. An Ode to UDiff if you will.

Unified Diff is a local tech meetup in my home (ish) city of Cardiff (gerrit?). It was started by 5 of the smartest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. In size order: Carey, Gavin, Craig, Rhodri, Warren.

I somehow managed to worm my way in to make it a 6some, which was kind of an honour. I didn’t want to take such an event for granted so tried to help out as much as I could with the website and filming and what not, and for them to recognise that and get me on board meant a lot.

The Early Years

Back in 2012, a tech meet up in Cardiff was badly needed, other than the smaller niche meet ups like SWLUG and Cardiff RB there wasn’t really anything to serve the wider tech community. UDiff aimed to fill that void.

The first couple of meet ups were fantastic. We chose a small O’Neills bar, which worked out quite well. In fact I think, for me at least, this was the golden generation of UDiff, I really enjoyed the ‘bar camp’ feel of them which I don’t think we managed to recreate elsewhere. It allowed people to relax, have a drink, get some food if they wished. It also had a good screen and was a perfect size.

There were many good talks throughout the O’Neills days, from interesting panel discussions with legends like Stu Herbert and Richard Gaywood, to grand reveals of MySpace projects that never materialised.

The other thing about O’Neills is that it gave me my first experience of public speaking. I had came up with a (somewhat silly) talk idea on a long car journey.

I had started looking into front end tools a little bit having been solely interested in server side stuff previously so thought I’d give a quick run down of what the in tools were at the time. Nothing too technical just a nice little overview of tools and techniques that were previously completely new to me.

I wanted to inject a bit of personality into a pretty dull topic so I came up with the title ‘Frontend Awesome SHit Any Nerd can Use’ or ‘FASHANU’ if you will. It basically allowed me to sprinkle in a bunch of John Fashanu facts and anecdotes to keep the audience from falling asleep. What I thought would be really fun was if I could actually get John to turn up (!?) as a surprise guest and although I knew it was a long shot I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Here is the email exchange between me and his agent in it’s entirety (with some redacting):

So no luck with John Fashanu but the talk went well even though I had a cold and my boss decided to turn up and crank my nerves up to 11 just before hand.

The Awkward Adolescence

After Warren and Carey managed to get us barred from O’Neills (and a speaker pulling out of talking because the whole experience ruined his zen) we embarked on our teenage phase by meandering around a few venues.

There were a few flash in the pan venues such as the Promised Land, which was decent but a little small and required Rod to haul a projector half way across Cardiff. Followed by Fire Island (now the Urban Tap House) which I think held a few events. My good friend Aurélien talking about Scala in the pitch black is a fond memory as is my second go at public speaking when I talked about Breaking Bad, I mean Bugs.

We then settled on Porters for a time, which was pretty good. They had a small cinema-esque room which worked well, but the the venue wasn’t free and was a small walk outside of the city centre. There were some brilliant talks there though, one that sticks in the memory is Dayle Rees’ introduction to Laravel with a live (not actually live) link up with it’s creator Taylor Otwell.

Cinema Room in Porters

Settling down

The tail end of 2013 saw the opening of a great new collaborative open space for creatives in Cardiff called Founders Hub. It had a small stage area with projector, PA and good lighting. It was basically the perfect venue for us. This was to become our home for the next year and a bit.

UDiff & Founders Hub felt like a match made in heaven. We were all geeks talking geeky stuff together in a place decked out for geeks (there were floppy disks blue tacked to the walls for Pete’s sake!). Attendances here were good, Craig and Amie, the owners of Founders Hub, often kindly ran a small bar and the space was great for chatting to people and getting to know one another.

UDiff @ Founders Hub

There were some great talks here on a wide range of topics from 3D printing to SEO to the incredibly successful ‘AWS night’. If I had to pick a favourite talk from this era it was probably James Cryer’ talk on ‘Janky’ as it opened my eyes up to stuff I didn’t really know about yet.

Everything at Founders Hub felt right, it was all just so easy and we had settled in to it as our natural home. It was therefore a big shame when Founders Hub announced they were closing at the end of April 2015. Not only a great shame for us but for the creative/tech industry in Cardiff as a whole. We must give thanks to Craig and Amie though for everything they did for us and hope their new ventures are working out well.

The Twilight Years

With Founders Hub gone, the future of UDiff was up for discussion and although we came close to calling it a day then, we decided to keep it going and we got lucky with a local recruitment company offering us a space to run the meet ups with free food and drink. We had been nervous of including recruiters in the past due to the ‘from the community, for the community’ vibe we were going for but we were ensured that there would be minimal sales speak or ‘networking’ and to be fair they were true to their word.

Although a good size, the venue at Acorn wasn’t perfect. The projector wasn’t brilliant and we struggled a bit with the lighting, particularly as it was Summer. However, the food and drinks provided were brilliant and I’m sure helped get people involved. Also, there were some really strong talks. In fact looking back I don’t think there were any weak ones, they were all really really strong and I’m struggling to pick a favourite but I think Warren’s talk on Monads stands out to me, mainly because I really liked his ego-free explanation of it all.

We also got to experiment with using Periscope for live streaming the events at Acorn and it was fun and worked well. Whether people actually tuned in and got much out of it I’m not sure, but it was certainly fun to do and see people pop up on my phone.

The Quizzes

A small aside here to talk about one of my favourite bits of UDiff history, the Christmas Quizzes. They were absolutely brilliant fun and if anyone runs a local meet up I highly suggest you do a quiz at some point. We tended to arrange ours for our Christmas meet up and had such rounds as ‘O’Rly - name the O’reilly book from it’s redacted cover’, ’Guess the legend - guess the famous computer scientist from a picture of them’, ‘Tweet or false - whether tweets from famous computer people were real or fake’ as well as the obligatory regex section. If UDiff does come back in any fashion, I really hope we are able to do some more quizzes.


Favourite talk

Gav D’s clean code talk. A must watch for anyone interested in becoming a programmer IMO.

Favourite venue

O’Neills. The whole bar camp feel was great.

Favourite speaker

Richard Gaywood. Spoke confidently and really knew his stuff.

Favourite moment

Aurélien talking about Scala in the dark. Unfortunately not recorded :(

See you later

To sum up, UDiff has been brilliant over the 3 (nearly 4) years it has been running. It has felt like mission accomplished in many respects as there are now loads more tech meet ups in Cardiff which I like to think UDiff at least influenced.

The timing of all this seems apt. All the guys organising are in a much different place to where they were when all this started, people have got married, had babies and so on. It’s a lot harder to find the time and energy basically.

However, I think we’re going out on a high and you never know, there could be a come back. With that in mind, I’ll end this with how Craig so succinctly put it in our email thread about this decision:

“Let’s just do an indefinite hiatus like all the best bands do.”

Craig & Rod

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