The 2019 AIM Heartland Developers Conference Brings Tech Talent, Businesses, Bigfoot Together

September 12, 2019

The 16th annual AIM Heartland Developers Conference drew over 700 attendees to Omaha last week and covered a range of topics relevant to the modern developer in 45 breakout sessions, 3 keynote speeches, multiple hands-on workshops and a panel discussion.

Technical presentations on trending topics such as machine learning, data hierarchy and regional cloud automation coincided with softer-skill discussions of emotional intelligence, leadership and avoiding job burnout.

The conference launched with a keynote speech by Arun Giri, AVP Lead Engineer-Enterprise Architect of Union Pacific. Giri discussed the engineering challenges caused by Union Pacific migrating from a monolithic, mainframe-based transportation-control system to a more modern system based on microservices.

Other keynotes included Principal Business Consultant for Roan Associates Consulting Rodney Verhoeff’s speech on emotional intelligence, and CEO Kyle Tut’s presentation on blockchain technology.

Breakout sessions offered attendees the chance to dive deep into specialized topics.

Amy Sand, a front-end developer for Fusion Medical Staffing, found Bryan Trogdon’s “Let’s Talk Conversation Design” the most interesting session she attended. Conversation Design is a design language based on human conversation and is forecast to play an increasing role in business development.

“By 2020, 50 percent of companies will be conversation-first instead of mobile-first, so I think it’s interesting to start brainstorming ways we can bring that into our current development,” Sand said.

Students and professionals mingled with representatives from 40 businesses recruiting for tech talent.

Ben Eisenberger, a Full Stack student at a local code school, said he came to network, ask questions and gather insights from industry experts. His favorite presentation was Sam Kirkland’s breakout session, “How Buildertrend Is Migrating a Million Lines of Code to React.”

For attendees, the chance to meet with a wide range of recruiters was a significant benefit of HDC.

“I’m kind of at this crossroads with what programming language do I want to learn next, and what do I really want to do,” said web developer, digital marketer and UX designer Patrick John Stevens.

“It’s like having a whole bunch of mini-job interviews with no pressure,” Stevens said.

Women in Technology

Playing off the HDC theme of Out of the Woods, Thursday’s lunchtime panel discussion Not Out of the Woods Yet: Women in Tech addressed ways to make technology a more inclusive place for women. Levi Thiele, Vice President of Program & Resource Development for the AIM Institute, moderated the discussion. Panel speakers included Nancy Williams, Co-Founder & CEO of No More Empty Pots; Susan Courtney, Executive Vice President, Operations, Business Process and Shared Services of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska; and Kate Brown, Vice President & Chief Information Officer of OPPD.

Thiele began by citing a Department of Labor study that found women comprise 57 percent of the professional workforce overall, but only 26 percent of the tech workforce. Moreover, 2 out of 5 women in tech would leave the tech field in less than 5 years, never to return. The most oft-cited reasons? Women felt a sense of social isolation and exhaustion from trying to over-prove themselves on the job.

Panel speakers unanimously stressed the importance of female mentors for women at all stages in their careers. Such mentors can offer invaluable guidance and support.

“It gets exhausting having to prove yourself over and over again,” Williams said. “Know that you’re running your race, and no one else’s.”

Here are some other highlights from the panel discussion.

Brown: “How do we get an environment where people feel welcome and free to be their authentic selves? It’s got to start with the culture that we create.”

Courtney: “Women don’t have to take whatever’s handed to us. I’m a huge proponent of women and girls learning to trust ourselves.”

Williams: “Know what you want. Be clear about what you value and what you want out of life. You’re not going to know everything, but know what resonates with you.”

Video Games, Prizes, and an Afterparty

This year’s HDC featured a gaming room with vintage consoles and old computer games. Participants could take a rest from conference activities and enjoy Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, or navigate the 8-bit world of Space Invaders on the Atari 2600. The room was a big hit with Kiewit’s Antonio Amaya, who spent the conference scouting new tech talent.

“Obviously it’s nostalgic for those of us who are old enough to appreciate the technology from that era,” Amaya said. “But I also think that it’s beneficial for some of the younger generations to get exposure to previous technology, to understand the limitations and how far technology has come in terms of tools and ideas.”

On Thursday evening, attendees packed the Buildertrend headquarters to enjoy a Mesh party sponsored by Deliveron. Attendees played pool, ping-pong, card games, bag toss and foosball while enjoying complimentary drinks and refreshments. The conference’s mascot, Tech Squatch, made an appearance and took selfies with several partygoers.

The conference wrapped up with a prize giveaway, with Tech Squatch distributing gifts to lucky recipients.

Overall, as in previous years, the 2019 AIM HDC was packed with opportunities to learn, network and have fun in the name of tech. Attendees who have come to the conference year after year likened HDC to a college reunion for developers.

“I’ve been in the industry in Omaha itself for a little more than 25 years, so there are a lot of familiar faces here,” Amaya said.

Originally published in Silicon Prairie News, Sept. 9, 2019