Heading to Lambda Jam

Lambda Jam is a conference targeted at commercial developers using functional programming languages, in particular focusing on Clojure, Scala, Erlang, Haskell, and F#. The conference will take place in Chicago, July 22-23rd. Three Cognitects will be at the conference: Rich Hickey, Cognitect CTO, will deliver the opening keynote at the conference. Alex Miller will present a Datomic workshop, lead a jam, and help run the show. David Chelimsky will be attending. Tickets are still available

Lambda Jam's first edition took place in July 2013. The idea behind the show is that functional programming is on the rise in industry and while there are academic FP conferences and language-centric conferences, there are relatively few conferences where commercial functional programmers can meet to cross-pollinate ideas across language boundaries. (Some other notable venues are Commercial Users of Functional Programming and FP Days - both worth checking out.)

Lambda Jam was also designed to experiment with ideas for more interactive learning in a conference setting. Many programmer conferences are based on the eyes-front lecture format. As a conference organizer, this is the easiest format to use. Attendees have been trained in how it works from years of lecture-oriented classrooms. Organizers have full control over the speakers and content. Resources (room, A/V, size) are known in advance and lectures scale up well. But is the lecture format the best approach to learning? There is ample evidence that lectures are not the best format for all topics or all attendees.

Many conferences supplement lectures with longer-form workshops. Workshops give the opportunity for interactive learning over a longer time period. However, they are much more challenging on the budget. To be effective, workshops should be small. Small rooms mean more rooms, more A/V, and more speakers (speaker expenses are typically the second biggest expense category after food). Workshops are therefore usually a net negative on the budget. 

Lambda Jam is an experiment in building a conference format that balances different learning opportunities with a workable budget. Mornings are traditional lecture style. Afternoons are primarily interactive learning. Long-form workshops are available, but they also include a new concept called "jams". Jams are an attempt to combine the hands-on aspect of workshops with the scale of a lecture. 

Jams start with a problem description. Participants form groups (or may elect to work indepently). Last year, many people formed teams to experiment with a language other than the one they normally work on. Language experts offered to assist these teams and help them through the rough patches. The jam ends with a demo period where attendees share a bit of their solution (whatever they found interesting) and what they learned.

If you can't make it to Lambda Jam this year, check it out next year. Lambda Jam has also been held twice in Brisbane, Australia and may come to a location near you in the future!