Strange Loop: Where Picasso Meets Python

A city street showcases a prominent sign reading "Strange Loop". On the horizon is a city skyline.

Tom Kowal

November 02, 2023

Attending Strange Loop has been on my list for around a decade. Year after year, the dev community would come alive with news and ideas from the conference and I loved that dose of secondhand inspiration! You could say I’ve always had Strange Dreams of Stranger Loops.

But each year for one reason or another, I would prioritize something else and tell myself: "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." This time, there was no ‘next year’ - it was the conference’s finale. So with a bittersweet mix of excitement and remorse, I finally decided to check it off my list! It was really as Simple Made Easy as that.

You might be asking yourself, What is a Strange Loop and What is it Like to Be One? Well, it was a tech conference like no other – if we ever discovered a Theory of Everything, it would probably be announced there! Every year you could expect an incredible variety of talks, covering everything from Mapping Imaginary Cities to Picasso, Geometry, Jupyter. A real interesting mix of Humanities x Technology.

Some of the talks I saw at the right time in my career while others went right over my head. Maybe I wasn’t ready to do a deep dive on type theory but I was interested in A Little Taste of Dependent Types and let me tell you, The Trouble With Types is that we still can’t agree, Is it a Bug or is it a Story?. Maybe I was less concerned with How to Hack a Painting and more with How to be a Compiler. Either way, I always walked away invigorated and ready to tackle The Mess We’re In.

There were talks that had me Learning to love Javascript, shaking my fist at all of the Lies, Damn Lies, and Metrics (spoiler alert: averages are lies and won't help you understand what's really happening under the hood. Maybe that's why you can't spell average without rage), and nodding along like I See What You Mean. For the first time I found myself Taking PHP Seriously and pondering existential questions like, “How does text become data?”.

When the talks were finally posted online, like a kid with a bucket of candy on All Hallows’ Eve, I’d sit down to go through them all. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always enjoyed hearing from the wonderful people in our field and not solely Learning from Machines. I mean sure, machines could create Artisanal, machine-generated API libraries but could they give me that sense of Community-driven development I was looking for?

A Halloween-themed bucket brimming with VHS tapes.

Whether you’re Designing Dope Distributed Systems for Outer Space with High-Fidelity Simulation or just Playing with Engineering, it’s about How we tell stories in code. We spend more time reading code than writing code so investing time up front to make sure our code is clean, clear, concise, and covered by tests will pay dividends over the years that we and our teammates maintain it.

In the end, the reason I always wanted to attend Strange Loop is because Everything I have learned, I have learned from someone else and, well, I wanted to celebrate Our Shared Joy of Programming with you all! And even though I only attended one in person, I feel like I’ve been there for it all and it’s been A Long Strange Loop.

Tom Kowal

Project Director

Tom is an engineering manager at 8th Light building on top of his history as a seasoned programmer. With over a decade of experience working with organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 100 enterprises, Tom brings with him a pragmatic approach to solving challenging and impactful problems. A fan of simple solutions that encourage teams to iterate and extend them over time, he finds joy not only in writing code but also in judiciously removing it.