Scala By The Schuyllkill Recap


Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Scala by the Schuylkill conference at Comcast headquarters in downtown Philadelphia. Initially begun as an internal Scala conference, the organizers opened the conference this year to external folks interested in Scala. I learned a lot from this event, gaining perspective on trends in the Scala community and sparking curiosity in several interesting applications of the Scala language.

The keynote speeches were the highlight of the conference for me. Comcast’s CTO, Sree Kotay, gave an engaging talk on the culture of innovation at Comcast and how they’ve evolved into a “technology first” company (as quoted recently by their CEO Brian Roberts). He also explained their rationale for using Scala for certain projects, noting the interoperability with Java, modularity, and its ability to draw top talent as key factors of adoption. He even showed off his geek credentials by detailing his love/hate relationship with a certain Scala web service library. It’s clear that Sree is an engineer at heart and it was refreshing to see that the CTO of a multi-billion dollar company still enjoys tinkering with code.

Michael Pilquist gave the other keynote, doing a masterful job in explaining the value of functional programming. He boiled down the essence of FP as managing the complexity of both state and control flow via composability and small expressions in isolation. He also demystified category theory, an area of mathematics I’ve always found interesting but never really saw the practical use for until now. He stressed that category theory in programming is used to achieve precision by finding the appropriate level of abstraction for a given problem to focus on the essential. Michael put these ideas in an accessible and interesting context, and I also appreciated his book recommendation, How to Bake Pi by Eugenia Chang, which I’m currently devouring.

A great variety of talks followed, touching on interesting topics like GIS, machine learning, microservices, and streaming with a focus on tools like Akka and Spark. About half of the speakers were from Comcast, and it was interesting to see the problems they’ve had to solve and why they chose Scala to solve them (hint: they work with data, a LOT of it). I came away with at least a dozen different TODOs to research new libraries or techniques. I also enjoyed meeting new people and catching up with some past colleagues. As an introvert, I don’t focus much on networking and relationship building, but a tech conference focused on a specific technology like Scala creates an environment that’s very conducive to meeting new people and learning about their work.

I’m happy to see an important tech company like Comcast invest so much time and energy into both the Scala ecosystem and the local Scala community here in Philadelphia. It’s clear that, regardless of what you may have heard, Scala is here to stay!

Special thanks to Chariot for sponsoring my attendance!