Virtual HDC proves online conference still a great way to learn, connect

Nearly 1,200 people attended the virtual Heartland Developers Conference yesterday hosted by the AIM Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to building the tech talent community. It was the first time in HDC’s 17-year history that the conference had been held online. With 23 breakout sessions running the gamut of tech topics, the conference gave IT professionals…

Art courtesy of Mind's Eye Creative
Art courtesy of Mind's Eye Creative

Nearly 1,200 people attended the virtual Heartland Developers Conference yesterday hosted by the AIM Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to building the tech talent community. It was the first time in HDC’s 17-year history that the conference had been held online.

With 23 breakout sessions running the gamut of tech topics, the conference gave IT professionals weary of working from home a safe, and for many, welcome opportunity to network, learn new technologies and keep current on industry trends in the time of COVID-19.

All those reasons convinced Omaha Public Power District Senior Application Engineer Vara Cherukuri to attend. He said he wanted to find out more about React—he is in the early stages of learning the Javascript library—and to understand how companies are handling cybersecurity with everyone working from home.

Luckily for Cherukuri, HDC had two breakout sessions for that: a demonstration of how to build an app in React from beginning to end, and a presentation on securing Azure applications using object identity. He said the takeaways he gained would help him with new measures his team was planning.

While Cherukuri had previously attended an in-person software development conference in Chicago, HDC was his first virtual one.

“It was seamless,” he said. “I did not find any difference.”

Since the pandemic had been forcing him to work from home for the past several months, Cherukuri enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people again.

“It’s actually a breakout session for me emotionally,” he joked.

The event was held on Hopin, an online venue for virtual events. Like an in-person conference, the platform featured a main stage, breakout rooms, an expo hall for sponsors and partners, and a networking feature that functioned as a kind of videoconference roulette, connecting attendees randomly to one another for five minutes at a time to approximate the chance interactions of a live event.

Veena Madireddy, a software developer for CSG, enjoyed the networking feature. 

“I don’t think I would’ve met so many people from different, diverse backgrounds if (the conference) was an in-person one,” Madireddy said. “This was random, and I really liked the networking part of it.”

Presenters also gave the conference good reviews.

AIM Code School instructor Vanessa Kasun led the breakout session Chekuri attended on programming an app from scratch using React.

Kasun said her favorite part of the session was being able to engage with attendees during the session.

“People were asking questions throughout and commenting about stuff they had experience with as well,” she said.

But, of course, there are challenges that come with online learning of any kind.. Kasun felt there are advantages to in-person teaching that simply can’t be replicated online. 

“I love being able to read body language and hear tone of voice, and being virtual takes away the ability to do those things,” she said. “It helps me gauge whether people are picking up on the concepts and understanding (them) or not.”

Despite these limitations, Kasun said she received positive feedback both during and after the event.

The conference  breakout sessions were divided into seven tracks: IT culture, design, Java, .NET, AI, container orchestration and development operations. The keynote speech was given by Jessica Deen, senior cloud advocate for Microsoft, HDC’s presenting sponsor. Deen spoke about using Kubernetes to improve development operations. 

“It was definitely hard to choose sometimes between two (breakout sessions happening) at the same time,” said Zebulon Frantzich, a cloud security software developer for OpsCompass.

Frantzich also said he liked the one-on-one networking more than he’d expected, and that he couldn’t wait to watch the recordings of the breakout sessions he missed, especially the AI-related sessions.

All videos from yesterday’s conference will be made available on the AIM Institute Youtube channel starting Monday.

The event even included a virtual “Mesh” party towards the end of the day, featuring raffles and  a comedy performance by Omaha improv group The Weisenheimers. 

The next HDC will take place September 21, 2021. 

 

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