Spotlight on the Developer Track

Registration is now open for the sixth-annual Denver Startup Week, taking place September 25–29. With a huge schedule of events across six tracks of programming, putting together your own schedule can be daunting! To help break it all down, each week we’ll be taking a deep dive into one track with the chairs who put it together, exploring the themes and topics they’re focused on this year, and hear what events they’re most excited to see.

This week we’re delving into the Developer Track with co-chairs Conor Swanson and Jay Zeschin.

Conor is one of the co-founders at Code Talent, a technical talent agency based in RiNo. He’s been around the startup and tech scene in Denver for a long time, and has experienced it from the perspective of an entrepreneur as well as that of a service provider.

Jay is an entrepreneur and software architect who was most recently the co-founder and CTO at Ello, a platform for artists and creatives to gain visibility, opportunity and influence. He spent a number of years as a technical consultant helping early-stage companies get off the ground, as well as inside product companies helping scale technology and teams.

First things first — how did you both get involved in DSW?

Conor: I’ve known [Organizing Chair] Erik Mitisek since back in our college days at the University of Denver. Back in 2012, Erik recruited me to help organize the first Startup Crawl, and I’ve been excited for the opportunity to assist ever since! In 2013, I shifted over to co-chair the Developer Track with Jay, and added the Product Track as well when that began in 2015.

Jay: Around 7 years ago, I ran into Erik at a Denver Founders event where he mentioned that he was working on an event to celebrate the entrepreneurial community in Denver. At the time, there were a lot of talented people doing amazing things, but not much of a cohesive sense of identity for Denver as a tech hub. I volunteered to help out, and Erik and [Organizing Chair] Ben Deda pulled me into organizing a slate of developer-oriented events. That first year we staged 60 or so events with no idea if anyone would actually show up to any of them, and managed to pull in about 3500 attendees that year — despite a snowstorm dropping several inches of snow right in the middle of the week. I’ve been involved in DSW ever since!

Do you have a theme or particular area of focus for the Developer Track this year?

We don’t have a theme explicitly set, but our approach is similar to the one that Callie and Lauren described for the Maker Track — we want to be tracking the broader industry trends and ensuring that the mix of topics is relevant at a macro level.

Selecting sessions for the developer track is somewhat tricky in that we try to avoid topics that are too deep or overly specific to a particular technology stack. For all of the programming tracks, the goal is to have a session that’s interesting and relevant scheduled for every time slot during the week, so attendees can treat any track like its own mini-conference. That’s difficult to accomplish if sessions are too narrowly focused. Also, there many great technical conferences in the front range that cover those specific stacks better than we could ever hope to. Instead, we try to pick great sessions that cover topics relevant to all developers, in the form of interesting case studies, primers on emerging technologies, architecture and techniques, soft skills, and more.

Outside of all that, we have some really interesting content that slots into our clusters this year, particularly in IoT, Healthtech, and Diversity & Inclusion. We have some great sessions slated that tackle developer-specific concerns in each one of those topic areas.

What are the “can’t-miss” sessions in the Developer Track?

Navigating the Path from a Junior to a Senior Developer” (Tuesday 9/26 at 12:00pm) — With Turing School, Galvanize, and many other code schools having their roots here, Denver has been at the forefront of a movement which has done a tremendous amount of work to introduce new audiences to careers in software development. Once you’re out of the program and in a real job, however, managing and progressing your career requires an entirely different set of skills, a fact which more and more graduates are discovering. This panel should be a great introduction to the tools and techniques necessary for managing your career in software and consistently “leveling up”.

Cybersecurity 101: Protecting Your Startup” (Wednesday 9/27 at 4:00pm) and “Crypto and the Law” (Friday 9/29 at 2:00pm) — In the current environment, security and privacy concerns are front-of-mind for more startups (and by association, their engineers) than ever before. Knowing the appropriate security and privacy practices to apply and the right times to apply them is critical — too soon and you’ll waste precious runway, too late and you can wind up front-page news. These two events will pull together some of the best local minds from Protectwise and Red Canary (cybersecurity) and the Colorado Electronic Frontier Alliance (cryptography) to help you get informed and make the right decisions for yourself and your organization.

Engineering ❤ Product ❤ Design, building products at Gusto” (Wednesday 9/27 at 10:00am) — — 12:00pm and “Speaking Different Languages: Design, Development, and Bridging the Gap” (Tuesday 9/26 at 2:00pm) — Users expect the software products they use to be functional, well-designed, and performant, and building products that meet those expectations requires engineering teams to be nimble and cross-functional. These sessions will explore ways that two different companies (Gusto and Covered, respectively) have optimized their product development processes with an eye towards user experience, with lots of lessons that attendees will be able to take back to their own teams.

Google Developer Group Interview: Strava — From Startup to Today” (Wednesday 9/27 at 12:00pm) — With the competitive outdoor-focused culture we have in Colorado, cycling- and running-oriented training platform Strava is a pretty big deal. Derek Faulker, one of Strava’s early engineers, will be sharing his experience helping the company scale from a scrappy startup to its current size and the different technical roles he’s taken on along the way. Mark Scheel, who organizes the Denver Google Developer Group, is our longest-tenured session organizer in the Developer Track. He’s spoken every year, on topics ranging from Android development to alternate reality gaming, and we’re excited to have him back!

Decoding and compiling the start-up growth curve” (Wednesday 9/27 at 12:00pm) — A challenge for any engineer in an early-stage company is adapting to the changing realities of the business; adjusting architecture, implementation, and effort accordingly without winding up in a cycle of constant churn. This panel will incorporate multiple perspectives (technical and non-technical, management and individual contributors) on ways to approach this challenge, with a particular focus on ways that both sides can work more closely to achieve business goals with less friction.

Microservices for Startups: Build to Adapt” (Thursday 9/28 at 10:00am) — Microservice architectures are all the rage for growing companies, especially as a way to ease the pains of team coordination, code complexity, and operational stability while scaling rapidly. This session will explore the ins and outs of implementing microservices and the technical and business reasons why an adaptable architectures makes a lot sense for startups. Session organizer Travis Nelson runs the Denver Microservices meetup, and is one of the foremost local voices on this topic, so the session will certainly be interesting and informative.

We have another session that’s just about to be released to the schedule that’s we’re also very excited about. It’s a panel on the implications of privacy in the IoT space, and will feature a high-powered group of speakers from Mozilla, Philips, and Soundwall discussing the emergence of connected devices and the changing expectations that user have for privacy with these devices all around them. Look for more information on that one very soon!

What advice would you each give someone who is attending DSW for the first time?

Conor: Put yourself in a position to take advantage of the amazing networking opportunities the week provides. Schedule some meetings at Basecamp, stop by Union Station for the opening party, take a stroll on the crawl. In my opinion, the best thing about startup week is the chance to easily interact with so many other great people in our ecosystem. Introduce yourself to some strangers and see where the conversation leads you!

Jay: The scale of the event can be intimidating, so plan your week around the things that you really want to see/do/accomplish and focus on those first. Take the opportunity to expand your horizons — if you’re a developer go to a talk on design or manufacturing; if you’re a marketer go learn about fundraising or product development. There are great events going on in Denver all year round, but the thing that makes the week special is the density of events and concentration of people in such close proximity, all interested in learning and helping each other grow. It’s personally energizing and can be a powerful catalyst for your career and your company.

Is there anything else that you really want Denver Startup Week attendees to know about the Developer Track?

Something that we think sets the Developer Track apart from many conferences with technical content is that we work hard to make sessions engaging and approachable for attendees with many different backgrounds. If you’re a new developer, there are sessions that will expand your horizons and expose you to topics that you haven’t had a chance to explore yet. If you’re more senior, there are sessions that will give you tools and skills to better interact with business and management in your organization. If you’re non-technical, you can get a survey course in the ins and outs of software development. And we hope that all attendees will get a chance to hear some compelling stories from individuals and companies who are building great products and be inspired in their own work!