We are excited to announce our partnership with the South West’s leading Tech community, Bristech! We spoke to Nic Hemley, the founder of the organisation on why he loves technology so much that he decided to build a whole community around it.
Bristech is on a mission to share technical knowledge one event at a time.
We are tech-agnostic and invite speakers from across the technical spectrum, including programming languages, DevOps, Data, MLOps, psychology and soft skills.
We are lucky to be sponsored by a number of community-minded organisations who share our core value for open knowledge exchange.
For further information about our events for 2021, please see our website: bris.tech
Where did your love for all things digital technology come from?
I love this opening question! You are 100% correct. I love both the mental and creative challenges of solving problems using technology.
My journey into this world started in 1984 when my dad brought home a BBC B. We used to type in BASIC code from magazines together with my sister and as my interest grew, so did the possibilities.
My Dad also had a Winchester disk drive that played “Darth Vader’s March” across the two disk motors and I was hooked: not only could we create funky moving graphics in code but we could also program music; a related and overlapping passion (Full disclosure: I am a keen percussionist).
From there, my career fluctuated between digital music (samplers and the like) and digital technology. In the end, digital technology won out.
How did the idea for Bristech come about?
As a software developer I was always interested in the people/psychological side of tech.
I happened to be in Edinburgh one week and someone suggested that I go along to an in-person event at the uni where someone was presenting their technical work.
The “witness to passion” on offer that evening gave me the initial idea for Bristech and the idea has been evolving ever since: in 2015 we spawned the eponymous conference and in 2020 we held our first virtual MLOps conference on a boat in Bristol harbour.
What has been your biggest achievement with Bristech and why?
I think my biggest achievement has been to establish Bristech as the “goto” event for tech folks new to the area.
When Monica Radclyffe, Centre Director at SetSquared, first came to Bristol she came along to Bristech to check out the tech scene. Once I heard that, I knew we had achieved some level of notoriety!
In terms of outcomes, I think the biggest impact is likely from the knowledge sharing itself, which forms the DNA of our events. Someone came up to me after the conference last year and said that they had seen Emily Ryatt (nee Rigby) give a talk on 10% time and had persuaded their own organisation to do the same. This fills me with joy. When positive impacts on organisations emanate from what we do, then it makes me happy!
I’m allowed to ask this because Storm hasn’t run an event at Bristech just yet… What was the biggest stand out event that’s taken place at Bristech and why?
I think there might be a few different categories of amazingness here!
The best talk I have seen at the Meetup in terms of outstanding content is probably Alan Furlong (Meetup #60, June 2019). Very often as technologists we forget the psychological underpinning of teamwork and Alan’s talk was a timely reminder that we need to explore inwards as well as outwards in our work. To my mind, coding can be meditation, a theme we will be revisiting next month.
For a sheer crowd pleaser, it would have to be Matthias Endler (Conference, 2019) who threw chocolate into the crowd in response to correct answers to questions.
But my favourite of all time is probably Mark Woods on ML in Space (Conference, 2019). Not only is the context of delivering robots to faraway planets fascinating, but also the AI transcript got mixed up with his Irish accent and interpreted ‘specialists’ as ‘space lizards’: SciSys have clearly been collaborating galactically in order to deliver their robots on Mars ;)
What was the impact of Covid-19 on your events and community and how did you adapt?
Obviously the events space was changed overnight by the restrictions. Our events were all in-person and so we took an early decision to move online. Other meetups are on-pause, which is also a fine decision if only interested in the community aspect, but we discerned that the show should go on, even if impacted.
This led to a virtual MLOps event, the lessons from which have been feeding into the meetup. Production values are important (alongside a sense of fun) and hopefully we can get a good balance.
Audience engagement online can be difficult and this is something we are currently focusing on. Some meetups have been doing short audience member intros, which I like, but we haven’t yet decided how best to better engage with our audience. The conference in 2019 featured social badges: butterflies for those open to conversation and caterpillars for those who are less socially inclined. I think that worked well for an in-person event, but needs an analogue online. A work in progress!
What are the future plans for Bristech?
There has been a large emergent component to what we do and with good reason: the tech scene is ever-accelerating and to remain relevant you need to adapt.
This has been a major disadvantage to single stack meetups, which struggle to change.
Bristech was conceived as “tech agnostic”, which initially was a strength and a weakness, but appears now only as strength. We have created a platform for change and can respond to developments in both open source MD commercial industries.
In 2021 we intend to run MLOps II and also double down on open source as a major driving force in the industry.
We are delighted to be sponsoring Bristech this year. You can find their line up of events here.