Heartland Developers Conference 2020 goes virtual 

It’s fitting that an annual conference for software developers is using technology to continue this year’s event during a global pandemic. The 17th annual AIM Heartland Developers Conference will take place virtually on Sept. 24 via the industry-leading Hop.in conference platform. This year’s breakout tracks include AI, design, container orchestration, IT culture, frameworks, .NET, DevOps…

HDC 2020 will feature networking and expo booths in a virtual format
HDC 2020 will feature networking and expo booths in a virtual format

It’s fitting that an annual conference for software developers is using technology to continue this year’s event during a global pandemic.

The 17th annual AIM Heartland Developers Conference will take place virtually on Sept. 24 via the industry-leading Hop.in conference platform. This year’s breakout tracks include AI, design, container orchestration, IT culture, frameworks, .NET, DevOps and Java. The conference will feature a virtual expo hall with sponsor booths, a raffle, curated entertainment and networking rooms.

In a major win for the nonprofit AIM Institute, this year’s presenting sponsor is Microsoft, with the company’s Senior Cloud Advocate Jessica Deen giving the keynote speech: “DevOps, Waffles, and Superheroes – Oh my!” 

“Partnering with Microsoft takes the conference to a new level of excellence,” said Tony Veland, AIM’s director of community engagement. “(Microsoft’s) support underscores that HDC is the region’s premier software development event that has provided world-class content to the Silicon Prairie developer community for more than 15 years.”

Deen’s keynote presentation will cover how to minimize the microservice learning curve with container orchestration, specifically the open-source automation platform Kubernetes, by bringing DevOps best practices into the mix. 

“This is not another Hello World session with quick tips,” she said, adding that users will come away from the presentation with hands-on material to get started building their knowledge of container orchestration.

Users can watch Deen’s HDC keynote speech free. They can also get a no-cost general admission ticket by visiting the HDC 2020 Eventbrite page and using the promo code SUPPORTER at checkout.

While the pandemic forced the traditionally live event to go virtual, AIM has adapted to the challenge by developing a conference that reaches beyond the Silicon Prairie region to include tech talent from all over the country.

“Tech innovation is core to our mission, so hosting HDC on a cutting-edge virtual platform like Hopin makes sense and will provide a more engaging experience than the remote sessions we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few months,” Veland said. “The virtual conference will still allow for one-on-one networking and offers a virtual exhibition hall.” 

Developers from corporations of all sizes are on this year’s speaker slate, from heavyweight enterprises such as Union Pacific, Kiewit and Physicians Mutual, to burgeoning tech companies like Flywheel and Buildertrend.

The lineup of speakers include experts such as OnTrak’s Atif Mohammed, a leader in AI and machine learning who teaches at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and is a volunteer NASA research scientist at the Squirrel Valley Observatory in Columbus, N.C. Mohammed will deliver a presentation about AI, Behavioral Health and Neural Language Processing, titled “The Transformational Role of AI in Treating Behavioral Health.”

There’s also plenty of local tech talent presenting at the conference, like Justin Trowbridge, business development officer for Omaha predictive analytics firm Contemporary Analysis. Trowbridge will address the challenges modern developers and designers face with “Design Like a Five-Year-Old: the Value of Asking ‘Why’ When You Hit a Feedback Wall.”

His presentation will help designers and developers learn how to better serve end users who are more technologically savvy than customers of the past, Trowbridge said, bringing up the counterintuitive fact that end users’ tech savviness can actually  create obstacles for developers.

“People expect things like augmented reality and virtual reality and AI,” said Trowbridge. “What used to blow people’s minds (now has them asking), ‘Well how come it’s not built into my Facebook app?’”

Worse: people do not give helpful feedback to designers. That puts them at a disadvantage when trying to build useful technology, he said.

What constitutes unhelpful feedback, according to Trowbridge? 

Anything vague or ambiguous. He used the analogy of a pilot’s “gripe sheet” to illustrate the point. 

Pilots use gripe sheets to alert the ground crew to problems the plane encountered while flying. In turn, mechanics use those gripe sheets to guide their work and let pilots know what repairs have been made. This is supposed to keep everyone on the same page.

“Sometimes the feedback pilots give is pretty detailed: ‘Left aileron does not retract,’” Trowbridge said. “It’s pretty easy to figure out what that means. But sometimes a pilot writes, ‘Something loose in cockpit.’ That’s pretty vague. And so the ground crew writes, ‘Something tightened in cockpit.’ Yes, they’re trying to help, but they’re not specifically telling anybody anything of any value.”

Asking a strategic series of “why” questions, however, allows designers to retune unhelpful feedback into something specific and insightful, to get past knee-jerk reactions and understand what someone’s really thinking, Trowbridge said. He will explore this in greater detail at HDC.

While some breakout sessions are oriented more toward the big picture side of tech, others will feature more nitty-gritty demonstrations, such as Buildertrend Senior Developer Aaron Perkins’s “Edge Computing with .NET Core & Raspberry Pi.”

Perkins said his presentation will help developers think harder about the machine origins of computing. This could result in them writing more efficient code that loads faster. To do this, he will walk participants through a real-time demonstration of a weather station application. The Raspberry Pi will capture temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure data and then send that information back to a central application.

“One of the aspects of being a software developer is that the things you work on are often pretty abstract and don’t really have a real-world presence,” Perkins said. “Developers today have gotten a little removed from the actual hardware, especially with cloud computing where you never even see the physical machine that your code is actually deployed on. I see Raspberry Pi as a great way to get back to the roots, so to speak.” 

The Buildertrend developer said his breakout session is perfect for anyone with an interest in hardware development, specifically ways to leverage one’s knowledge of .NET core on an edge computing platform like Raspberry Pi.

“Come to the session if you want to get into the nuts and bolts,” Perkins said. “Because I will be diving into specific implementation and showing code and the specific development experience.”

HDC will also address aspects of the developer lifestyle that sometimes gets overlooked in purely technical conferences.

Attendees who wish to gain clarity on their lives and careers are invited to attend professional coach Flame Schoeder’s interactive breakout session, “Innovate to Find the New Normal: an Introduction to Coaching.” Schoeder will help attendees identify and work through a problem they’re dealing with right now. 

“We wanted to give people a chance to innovate about something that might have been stuck in an old pattern of thinking or was continually frustrating,” she said.

Professional coaching is on the rise and backed by research. A 2016 study comparing professional coaching with other types of training on the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce procrastination found that professional coaching and group training were equally effective, but that professional coaching had a bigger positive impact on satisfaction and goal attainment. Self-coaching, meanwhile, was not effective.

One of the main benefits of coaching, Schoeder said, is helping a person gain a new perspective on themselves and their motivations, as well as an awareness of the necessary steps to reach one’s goals.

“Sometimes you need to really get clear with yourself,” she said. “Coaching helps you really see what that is, how you can live in your aspirational values even more of the time. In the case of developers, it can help you be more creative. It can help you see where the real source of a conflict or frustration is, so you can actually go and deal with that.”

Schoeder’s session will last 45 minutes and help each attendee generate their own solution to a problem or anxiety they may have.

“(A good coaching session) should help you for the rest of your life, not just for this one issue or at this one time,” she said.

And, of course, HDC will offer the same great networking opportunities as ever, on an even larger scale. The virtual platform will allow one-on-one video networking.  In fact, Perkins, who moved to Omaha in 2019, considered last year’s HDC key to his adjustment to an unfamiliar city.

“It was a really good way to meet the development community as a whole in Omaha and kinda see what everyone’s about,” Perkins said.

With HDC 2020 now virtual, opportunities for expanding one’s sense of community are amplified.

Trowbridge, a multiyear Heartland Developers Conference attendee, concurred with Perkins, saying he has loved every HDC he has been to because they fulfill an important function in a developer’s life.

“(Technology) is an industry where it’s easy to hide behind a screen and be anonymous, but HDC gives people the ability to interact and expand their knowledge base and build a community that doesn’t exist in a chatroom,” Trowbridge said. “It’s cool to see all the different people and the different companies that support that community come together.”

SPN readers interested in attending HDC can register here for a free general admission ticket by using the promo code SUPPORTER at checkout. College students can also register for free using their .edu email address.



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