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Travelogue - NDC Minnesota 2018

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

May 6th - I’m on a plane thinking back to a dinner two years ago at the Sjøflyhavna Kro. This restaurant sits along the water west of Oslo on the Fornebu peninsula. There’s a functioning dock for seaplanes on the side of the restaurant. Kjersti from NDC conferences is at the table and firing off a stream of questions.

Are you having a good week? Yes!

Do you think he will win the election? No!

Should we try to bring an NDC event to the U.S? You absolutely must bring NDC to the states! And soon!

Where should we host the conference? How about on the east coast - near my home?

This last answer I gave with a grin.

Fast forward 2 years and I’m on a Sunday night flight from Washington D.C. to Minneapolis. I’m going to speak at the first NDC event in the U.S! Although Minnesota isn’t exactly near my home, it is 4 time zones closer than any other NDC event. During the trip, I keep thinking back to my stays in Fornebu – home base for the NDC team.


Fornebu, like the NDC conference schedule, has grown dramatically in the last 10 years.

Let’s go back even further to June 1939. This is when the Oslo Airport officially opened for business in Fornebu. 1939 wasn’t the best year to open an airport in Europe as the start of WW2 was only three months away, and eventually Norway, with her North Sea ports and access to iron ore in Sweden, was of interest to both the Allies and the Third Reich. It was the Third Reich that moved first. For five years the Norwegian royal family lived in exile and the Oslo airport was a military airbase for the Deutsche Luftwaffe. One of the remarkable stories of resistance during this period is the story of Operation Gunnerside, a story where 9 Norwegian commandos destroy a power facility in the mountains between Oslo and Bergen to guarantee the Nazis can’t use the plant’s heavy water to make an atomic weapon.

Fornubu 2014

By the time I first set foot in Fornebu, the Oslo airport had moved far to the north in Gardermoen, leaving behind empty hangers and a large terminal building. It’s inside the former terminal building where I taught my first class in Norway at the ProgramUtvikling classrooms (PU being the company behind the NDC conferences). I remember having lunch with students in the cafeteria and someone mentioning that we were eating in the former baggage claim area. Ever since that comment I look at the conveyors for the cafeteria trays and picture Samsonite luggage rolling out of the dishwasher.

During my first trip here, I thought Fornebu was “out there” – in the sense there wasn’t much to do in the area other than eat at the single seaplane restaurant. Most teachers and out of town students preferred to stay in central Oslo and commute to class.

If you go to the peninsula today, only 10 years after my first class, there’s a variety of restaurants and hotels to choose from, as well as a shopping mall, waterfront apartments, an arena with seating for 20,000 fans, and office buildings with seating for 30,000 human resources.

One of the old airport hangars is now an indoor golf facility. I’ve gone over a few times over the years to hit balls and play golf in a simulator. The facility is only open during the winter months, of course, because you can’t keep a Norwegian indoors during the summer.

I feel fortunate to have witnessed both Fornebu and NDC conferences grow over the years. What was at one time an abandoned airport is now a thriving, eco-friendly community. What was at one time a single event in the heart of Oslo is now a worldwide tour, a traveling circus if you will, of speakers and attendees coming together for a special summit.

Go Vikings!

Although I suggested the east coast, in hindsight, Minnesota is the perfect place for a Norwegian Developers Conference in the U.S. More people in Minnesota claim a Norwegian ancestry than any other state. The professional football team is the Vikings, and if you watch carefully when moving around the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll occasionally see the other red, white, and blue flag – the Norwegian flag – affixed as a sticker or hanging on a smokestack.

Norwegians came to the states for the same reasons as other Europeans - to escape from religious persecution, or famine, or both. Many settled in the northern mid-west states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. Like Norway, these states are lush and green in the summer with a healthy dose of chilly weather in the winter. Also, like Norway, large blocks of ice once ravaged the area leaving behind some exceptional geological features.

These are my thoughts as the plane descends into the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International airport.

Only one hour later and I’m checked into my hotel room overlooking the upper Mississippi river, and I’m remembering a quote by Mark Twain. “The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.”

I could say the same about certain front-end programming frameworks, but that’s a different topic for another day.

View of the Mississippi River at NDC

The Workshop

May 7th – It’s breakfast time on day one of a two-day workshop on ASP.NET Core. I’m always excited on the morning of a workshop, although I admit there is a bit of trepidation, too. Much of the trepidation exists because I know for the next 36 hours I’ll not be able to do much more than speak, eat, and sleep. No time for email or finishing a movie. I’ll need to spend most of my time in the evening preparing for day two. I can’t believe I used to do 5-day workshops when I first started teaching for Pluralsight. I must have been much, much younger then.

But, I am excited. I still love teaching, and for this workshop the morning session is always motivating. I show some of the low-level machinery of .NET Core and ASP.NET Core that turns on light bulbs for even experienced Core developers.

Outside the workshop room

By the end of the second day I’ve spent most of the time writing code for the group, answering good questions, and occasionally talking through a slide or two. Although for this workshop, I spend most of my time with slides as a short refresher after writing demo code, as in “let’s visit the slides to see if I forgot anything!” The room was comfortable, and I think the participants were pleased.

At the end of the workshop, my brain and vocal chords are begging for some down time. I saunter over to the St. Paul Grill alone. The Grill is not as old as all the dark mahogany inside would suggest, but I remember the food and drink from a previous trip as being excellent. I feel awkward sitting at a proper dining table by myself, so I take a seat at the bar and prepare to mindlessly watch a Warriors – Pelicans playoff game. Unfortunately for my vocal chords, the bar is full of gregarious patrons and a bartender with classical barkeep communication skills. It’s all good, though, and the meal is excellent. Afterwards I meander across the street for a digestif and take a seat with fellow workshop instructors Brock and Michelle. Customized chocolate martini

The Conference

May 9th – The conference opens at the St. Paul RiverCentre. Even the venue name looks European. Hundreds of attendees start to arrive, and I’m thrilled to see the first NDC on U.S. soil get underway with a keynote by Dylan.

Unlike most events here in the U.S., the NDC conference does not operate under the influence of a software vendor. Nor is the conference overrun by evangelists and professional speakers from a software vendor. There’s a wide variety of topics and a sizable number of independent thinkers. No speaker here will be censored, or censured, for speaking critically about products or frameworks, which I can’t say for other conferences here in the states. It’s one of many things that makes NDC unique, special, and worthy of promotion.

Unfortunately for me, I can’t stick around long after my talk on this first day. After cutting back on conferences in 2017 I am now on my first trip of five trips over the next six weeks. I take a car ride to the airport in the afternoon, and land at Dulles airport in the evening.

I have a little game I like to play starting in the Dulles airport parking lot. The game is “beat the GPS”. If I ask the GPS to go home, the GPS will direct me to head east and take large highways like the D.C. beltway and the 8 lanes of interstate 270. Hoping that you won’t run into traffic problems on the D.C beltway is like hoping you won’t get wet while white water rafting.I prefer to head west on the small country roads of Virginia. I start the game and the AMG exhaust crackles through the spring Virginia air. This night I win and beat the GPS estimate by 5 minutes.

I'm home, but only for a couple days.