AmazonCamp Roundup

This roundup is a couple of weeks overdue – life’s been a bit hectic round these parts between work and the new kid so blogging got a bit back-burned so, from the “Better Late Than Never” file:

For something that started out as a “I wonder if anyone would be interested…” AmazonCamp sure blossomed into a fun evening that seemed to provide a lot of value to everyone who attended. Heck, at the end of the night I practically had to drag people out (I did have to turn out ALL the lights) of Indoor Playground so we could move onto a local bar for some drinks – I’ll take that as a good sign that people were engaged.

After I threw out the idea I touched base with Amazon evangelist, Mike Culver, just to make sure I wasn’t duplicating the effort of anyone else locally. He turned me on to Reuven Cohen of Enomaly who was working with a couple of people to try and get a local AWS user group up and running.

The night quickly became an AmazonCamp/AWS User Group kick-off evening and Mike graciously offered to come up and talk to the group as well.

The Presentation
Mike gave a quick talk to lay out the groundwork for Amazon and what each of it’s AWS services are. He then provided some examples of apps he’d seen or heard of that really took advantage of Amazon’s services.

Sworn to secrecy (or as he put it pro-actively ignorant) about what’s coming down the pipes there wasn’t a tonne of net-new information to be gleamed from the presentation but he did everyone on to some very interesting use-cases of each of the AWS applications (at least the one’s we can use from up here in Canada).

The Demos

Following Mike’s presentation we flipped into a more DemoCamp style portion of the evening. We had five companies talk about what they were doing with AWS.


Justin Giancola, Freshbooks
Justin talked about their work with Amazon’s Flexible Payment Service. Sadly not something we can really play with here in Canada yet but certainly some very interesting opportunities arise out of the service.

Me & Dave Rapin, Clay Tablet Technologies
Dave and I dug into how we’re leveraging AWS for a SaaS/hosted license version 2.0 of the Clay Tablet product. We’re leveraging EC2, SQS & S3 to make it all happen and our architecture allows us to quickly ramp new servers up (and subsequently take them down) to handle heavy loads of content etc.

Kevin Thomason & Ilya Grigorik , AideRSS
Kevin & Ilya covered their experiences in developing AideRSS on the Amazon platform and how it basically saved them a lot of money (and face) when usage exploded on launch day. Amazon allowed them to ramp from 10 to 30 and ultimately 100 server instances in a 24 hour period.

Chris Thiessen, Zoomii.ca
I’d seen Chris demo Zoomi at a DemoCamp a few months ago and asked him to come out. Chris has built a unique online bookstore that basically pushes the limits of the AWS services in just about every way possible. A very cool idea that should be launching soon check out his site to signup for the BETA.

Reuven Cohen, Enomaly
Reuven has a long history with the AWS guys and co-organized the event for me. He got up and talked a bit about the various services and products that they’ve built to complement AWS.

All in all the night seemed to be a big hit – we followed the formal part of the evening with some drinks at a local bar. Despite plying Mike with pitchers of beer we were unable to pry any Amazon secrets out of him ;) – To his credit though he really was interested in digging deeper into what all of us were doing and what we were looking for from AWS down the road (Reminder: Bulk Account Management please! :) ).

Looking forward to getting another AmazonCamp together in the new year.

BarCampTorontoTechWeek – Belated recap…

BarCampTTW - DSC08228

Well, BarCampTTW has come and gone. As the unofficial kickoff to Toronto Tech Week, I’d have to say BarCampTTW was a rousing success.

Based on the show of hands we had a pretty diverse crowd where almost 50% of the participants were first time BarCampers. Also a good sign was the number of women we had come out – while numbers are still in the teens they represented about a quarter of the attendees. In recent month’s there’s been lots of discussion in both the conference and unconference spaces around the lack of female representation so it’s good to see that some improvement is being made but we’ve still got a ways to go.

All in all the sessions were quite interesting and I found this camp definitely slanted more to the conceptual and ideas rather than pure tech which was interesting. I was talking with some folks at the post-camp drinks and realized that I’ve started to look at BarCamp as the generalist platform/entry point into the community that we use to launch niche interest groups/events from (DemoCamp, VizThink, InteractionCamp, TransitCamp, EnterpriseCamp etc.) . It truly has no agenda or theme out of the gate and, true to form, is entirely whatever the participants make of it. It’ll be interesting to see how the nature of the event changes as we continue to reach out and try and bring new members into the community.

Photos from the event can be found here. Blog posts from the event can be found here & here.

Along with my fellow organizers (Will Pate, Mark Kuznicki, Bryce Johnson and Dan Kurtz), I’d also like to thank our sponsors for this past camp:

Microsoft Canada
Idee
Tucows
Hyndman Law
University of Toronto: Faculty of Information Studies

It’s through supporters like the organizations above that we’re able to put on these great events and keep the price of admittance your time and a willingness to participate.

Check out the TorCamp page to see what events are coming up (VizThink3 is June 14th). If you’re not from Toronto, the BarCamp community is a truly global phenomenon – check out the BarCamp site to see what is going on in your neck of the woods (or see how to start something up).