Thoughts on ElixirConf EU

by Martin Gausby

470 Attendees & 30 Speakers

The fifth annual ElixirConf EU was held this year in Prague, Czech Republic. It saw 470 attendees, and 30 speakers, from all over the world, where the ones that had travelled the furthest came all the way from Australia and New Zealand. I have been to all of the European editions of the conference, and it is nice to see the number of attendees grow. In just a couple of years, we have gone from the size of a major meet-up group to enough people to fill an auditorium! Exciting times. And while I cannot think of a time in the history of Elixir that has not been exciting, I would say that this year was special.

New companies adopting Elixir

At this point in time, we have a language that is very stable. It is built on top of one of the most hardened foundations in the industry: The Erlang Virtual Machine. Not only that; the community has a very strong toolset for building large scale applications at their disposal. One could say we have solid answers for building software. That is why many companies and organizations, such as Flyiin; Toyota Connected; Bleacher Report; Vamp, and many more, have adopted Elixir and is now running it in production, and many have done so for a couple of years at this point. The talks reflected this as they covered library design; architectural design; stories of larger systems successfully being partly rewritten and refactored; and solutions to hard problems such as handling millions of messages were shown. All solutions to truly difficult problems.

But we did not forget the newcomers to the community. For them, and more experienced community members, we had talks about the functional foundations of the language, its tooling, and various ways of testing Elixir projects. And talks about the practical, yet not so approachable areas of our toolbox, such as Evadne Wu talking about ETS (the Erlang Term Store, a built-in “Redis”-like, in-memory key/value store baked right into the Erlang Runtime System), and a comprehensive guide to what happens when you boot your application by Michał Muskała. Also, Bram Verburg gave a talk about the SSL module, this will become a valuable resource for the community going forward when we seek to secure our network applications.

Broadway, Scenic, Telemetry, MQTT

While the Elixir language itself has been announced to be a stable and feature-complete language, it is important to not stagnate. It is now up to us, the community, to build the extensions we want to see. Right now, besides pushing the boundaries of concurrent data pipelines, as Jose Valim showed in his keynote about Broadway, one of the frontiers is creating graphical applications using the Scenic framework, and we saw a couple of talks exploring this. Tonći Galić showed how far he could get building a GameBoy emulator with Elixir, and our former colleague Ju Liu showed how to implement a classic painting, both with Scenic. Another frontier is the Nerves project which enables us to build embedded hardware solutions using Elixir. The project is going strong, and Paul Wilson gave an inspiring talk about the video solution they use at their office to include their colleagues working remotely, all built with Nerves.

Erlang Solutions had two speakers on the program, my colleague Arkadiusz Gil and myself. Arkadiusz announced his Telemetry project, which provides the community with a unified way of getting metrics out of an Elixir application. Personally, I see this as one of the missing pieces in our Elixir toolbox, and I am happy to see a solution that can benefit the entire community. My own talk was about my Tortoise MQTT client. I have given a couple of conference talks before, and I think this was the biggest audience I have ever spoken for. While public speaking can be scary I think the audience made it great. I got some good questions about MQTT and Tortoise, and the conversations I had after the talk in the hall were really good. I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone. It is hard work, but rewarding. Be on the lookout for «call for talk proposals» at future conferences—personally I would recommend Code Elixir LDN and ElixirConf US which both currently accept talk proposals.

But, what really makes a conference worthwhile is the community, and they meet in the hallway track. The maturity of the language and the ecosystem reflect on the community members as well. In the meeting area, you would meet seasoned community members, always willing to share their excitement and knowledge, as well as equally excited newcomers eager to absorb the knowledge. The buzz on the floor seemed to revolve around the recent addition to the Phoenix Web Framework: LiveView. Chris McCord did a great job of showing some examples from the community in his keynote: amongst the examples was a game built by a designer with only a couple of months of Elixir experience.

That is pretty exciting. A stable, and approachable language on a stable foundation.

Last thoughts

Personally, I really enjoy the ElixirConf conferences. To me, they are the highlight of the year. I think the conference experience shows a community that is still excited about the possibilities the Elixir language provides, even five years in. We have long surpassed the stage of «Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could use Elixir for this» to «We have built this with Elixir, and it is awesome.» Not only are we exploring concurrent data pipelines, but we are also continuing to branch out into other fields, such as graphics and hardware, and with Phoenix LiveView we have something truly unique in our web application framework, where others will have to catch up to us. I think this year’s edition of the conference provided a good mix of basic talks, and solid knowledge from people who now have years of experience, and showed some good leads to where we can take Elixir, and what we can do with the language next. I look forward to seeing where we are at the next ElixirConf, and where we will take it from there.

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