Monki Gras 7

Excellent stickers at this year’s Monki Gras, many courtesy of Charity Majors.

Monki Gras is a developer conference about craft culture. As James Governor describes it, ‘Monki Gras is about thinking about making’.

Thinking about making. That simple yet incredibly broad statement gives a good indication of the essence of Monki Gras. Part of what differentiates this developer conference is the emphasis placed on what tech, as a craft, can learn from other craft disciplines. Consequently, we had fascinating talks that referenced typography, printmaking, vintage car maintenance, sustainable fashion, beer (of course), and even sushi.

The theme of this year’s Monki Gras was ‘Sustaining Craft’. How do we sustain what we do? Jessica Rose addressed this at the level of the individual with an excellent talk on handling burnout. Other talks considered how to build things to last and maintain them once they are built.


Chas Emerick discussed the history of PDFs, from their inception with the explicit goal of changing ‘the fundamental way people work’,¹ to how PDFs have been a reliable data source over a sustained and continuing period of time.

PDFs have obviously been an incredibly successful and widely adopted technology. Creating communities of adopters and users is a perennial goal with technology. Lars Trieloff shared the good advice, in his talk on learning from 20 years of AEM history, that using standards lowers the risk for new adopters² thus enabling wider, faster adoption:

Technology adoption is a game of chicken.
Use standards to guarantee compatibility.

Creating communities of adopters and users is a perennial goal with technology. Building communities is an ongoing theme at Monki Gras and, this year, with sustainability as the theme, talks addressed how to build communities to maintain what we create and the importance of respecting the people that will come after us to maintain the systems we build.

Maintaining the maintainers, especially of open source projects, is a vitally important issue for the tech industry. Although open source software may appear to be free to consumers, someone is paying for it. Pia Mancini, cofounder of Open Collective, spoke on how they are enabling groups, such as open source projects, to become more financially sustainable.³

In her talk on ‘Sustainable Software Development’, Charity Majors, CEO of Honeycomb, emphasised that the craft of software engineering is about maintainability. Her clarion call is that it is time to stop pretending that maintenance and supporting production aren’t central to software engineering, and that this includes software engineers being prepared to be on-call.

Monki Gras mines the connections and insights that can be generated between disparate disciplines. What this means, as James Governor noted, is that, ‘When you put together a conference like this, weird themes emerge that you didn’t necessarily expect’. For me one theme was that of access, especially to power and knowledge, and inclusion. Catherine Dixon emphasised that the new technology of the printing press in 1450 revolutionised who had access to the written word. Aneel Lakhani spoke eloquently on how power and knowledge are distributed under our current systems of production and consumption, in which the end consumer is a product whose consumption is sold by marketers and middlemen to producers of goods. Mandy Whaley drew parallels between the life and professional struggles of Marie Curie and some of the issues facing the tech industry today.

Monki Gras itself addresses the issue of access and inclusion in the tech industry by running a robust Diversity and Inclusion programme.⁴

Monki Gras is very much about maintaining and fostering community. The ‘hallway track’ is fantastic, with space and time for attendees to meet, consider each other’s interpretations of the talks, and discuss potential new projects. All fueled by excellent food, coffee, and drinks.⁵ For James, ‘Sustaining the craft is about sustaining relationships’.

I was fortunate to be able to attend Monki Gras this year thanks to the generosity of the organisers and the support of my team at Jaeger tracing, who are mentoring me whilst I participate in the Outreachy programme.⁶

For those who would like to watch the talks from this year’s Monki Gras, keep an eye on the RedMonk Tech Events channel!

[1] The code name for the PDF project was ‘The Camelot Project’:

[2] I was first introduced to the beauty of this idea with Jaeger, an open source distributed tracing system that is compatible with the OpenTracing standard for distributed tracing.

[3] Open Collective enables groups to set up a collective, raise funds, and manage them transparently.

[4] Samantha Burke did an excellent job managing this year’s Diversity and Inclusion programme.

[5] Monki Gras’ production and catering manager is Saffron Governor and she does a wonderful job.

[6] Still feeling this: