As I prepared for Strange Loop 2023, my interactions with fellow attendees across all digital platforms — from Slack channels to online forums — filled me with a unique sense of anticipation. Unlike other corporate-dominated, virtual tech events in the software development sphere, this conference promised something rare: genuine human connection.
Strange Loop has been touted as offering an atmosphere of authentic team cohesion and sustainable growth, so I was curious to see if all the buzz held true. When my train arrived at Gateway Station, I immediately understood why.
Here’s what four pivotal sessions taught me about the ever-evolving, complex landscape of software development and the imperative role humanity plays in it.
The Power of Play in Engineering
The first talk, Annmarie’s Thomas’s “Playing with Engineering,” highlighted the importance of assembling unique backgrounds and integrating play into your work. Annmarie is the founder and director of the Playful Learning Lab, a research group of undergraduate students from 12 different majors. The lab combines these diverse backgrounds with three guiding principles:
Clean up your messes
Play well with others
This multidisciplinary approach fosters an impressive environment of innovation and operational excellence. Even amongst the chaos of the pandemic, Playful Learning Lab set out on an ambitious project to unite the world through music and art. By sticking to those three simple, yet powerful rules the now global team stays resilient, enabling them to launch the ‘Art Together Now’ project, a testament to human collaboration and creativity in difficult times. Over 17,000 people worldwide contributed, all unified under the umbrella of OK Go Sandbox, a digital haven for educators.
To me, this was a lesson in the importance of never losing sight of the joy our software craft brings not only us but others. It’s a lesson that also resonates deeply with the 8th Light team — a playful and diverse approach to problem-solving, making us more than mere developers — but innovators intent on retaining humanity amidst an increasingly digital world.
As an organization or team remember:
Play is about process, not outcome
Play is joyful
Play involves freedom of choice
Play is social
Turning Challenges Into Opportunities
When looking at the bright side of our playful craft we cannot hide the fact that what we do is hard. There were two talks to cover this, the first of which was “Making Hard Things Easy" by Julia Evans. You may have come across Julia's work, Wizard Zines, and if you haven’t then you’re in luck. Wizard Zines is bound to have an answer to a topic you’ve been struggling to find clarity on.
And that is exactly what her talk covers: the importance of understanding the tasks we undertake are intricate and challenging, but the software community’s collective knowledge and collaboration can help to solve even the most complex issues.
Which leads us to Randall Munroe’s talk titled “Drawing comics at work.” The easiest way to get my thoughts out on what I took away from that talk would be with one of his xkcd comics covering the importance of embracing someone’s newfound knowledge. A simple and concise way to showcase how challenges can be transformed into opportunities for business agility and project delivery.
Digital Rights & Humanity in Software Development
To close out this and the final Strange Loop, it’s fitting to highlight keynote presenter, Alex Miller, the creator/organizer of Strange Loop. In his talk, Miller lays out a profound technology strategy. By amalgamating the insights of hardcore industry folks and academic luminaries, he emphasized the importance of ethical considerations in software development, highlighting the need for respecting digital rights, privacy, and freedom of expression.
The main takeaway: In today’s age, where every business component is intertwined with software, it’s our responsibility as technologists to lead with empathy, always emphasizing humanity over mere code.
Carving a Path Forward with Strategic Partnerships
Although this was my first and unfortunately last Strange Loop, I can confidently say that it was a perfect closing that encompassed why this conference brought the community together. Strange Loop illustrates why strategic partnerships, coupled with technical excellence, and underscored by a human-centric approach are what truly paves the way for enduring, sustainable growth in the software domain.
It’s imperative to retain a playful, curious approach and an openness to learning, iterating, and innovating to keep an edge in the industry. My hope is that we’re all inspired — from leaders, individual contributors, and everyone in between — to remember what makes this community and software as a whole so beneficial to the world. Embrace collaboration, focus on innovation, and remember that at the heart of every code, there’s a human story waiting to unfold.