Masha Reko - Apprenticeship Blog

What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing. (Aristotle)

Day 55-62: (Code)Freezing in Finland

New year is here, and I’m finally back to blogging yet again! As we just returned from the CodeFreeze conference in Finland, my mind is still racing in an attempt to sort out my countless impressions. Honestly, I couldn’t wait for a chance to blog about it and share my experience.

However, I will try my best not to bore you endlessly with all the details. Therefore I will do two posts on this CodeFreeze: one that will be some sort of review and quite like a collage of all the memories I’ve made, and another that gives a bit more insight into the things I’ve learned and how this whole experience helped me get closer to the goal of becoming a Software Crafter. So let’s get started with the first one!

It is said that CodeFreeze is not a typical conference, but then again - it is not a typical unconference, either. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’m in for a very unusual experience; the moment our plane landed at the airport in Ivalo, a very small town in the faraway Lapland, I knew that the adventure is about to start.

As we left the airport in search for a bus that will take us to the Kiilopää national park, it was pitch darkness outside. I had to get used to The Long Night very fast, as the sun is quite a rare sight this far north at this time of the year. Actually, we never got more than 5 hours of it per day, and if it was cloudy - even less. I’d say it kind of felt as if we were there for 7 days and 30 nights. The biggest downside of all of this is that you are constantly sleepy. Constantly. But I must say I’ve never slept better in my whole life than in these few days at CodeFreeze.

Anyways, it is not like I’ve slept away my days by any means. There was so much to do in Kiilopää, even though it’s a place completely isolated from the rest of the world. To be honest, I liked that quite a lot. I was at a point in my life when I needed to go somewhere far away from everything and do a cold reboot (literally, freezing cold). The far end of the world proved to be just the place that I needed for it. “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small,” to quote that famous song from the movie Frozen.

The nature of Kiilopää is simply breathtaking, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. One day we climbed to the top of Kiilopää, which is the second highest peak of Finland with only 546m in height. Therefore I’d say that the surroundings are actually quite flat. From the top you can see the plains spreading as far as the eye could see, and there is nothing else for miles and miles around you, except for forests and sparkling white snow. At times it felt like I was stuck beyond the Wall in Game of Thrones, and that the White Walkers could come at us any minute. On the other hand, during night, if the sky was clear, you could see literally every star and constelation there is. And, if you’re lucky, you might even get to see the Auroras.

Nature

Chasing the Auroras is probably the most fun part of visiting Lapland; it’s one of those things that almost everybody has on their bucket list, and with a good reason. We were pretty unlucky with the weather the first few days, but finally, on Monday night, it happened. Actually, it was pure accident that I woke up in the middle of the night and saw it through the window. I jumped out of bed and awoke the rest, yelling excitedly. Truthfully, we never got dressed so quickly. And once we were out, there they were: the Auroras, dancing in the sky - although not in their full glory. Perhaps we were late, or the clouds were a bit too thick, making the Auroras a bit more faded than I had hoped. But it was magical nonetheless. And seeing how everybody dropped what they were doing, or jumped out of bed and ran outside to experience the moment - made it one of the happiest memories that I will carry in my heart forever.

Nature

During the day (as short as it was), we got to try many different outdoor activities. I did snowshoeing for the first time, exploring the great wilderness of Lapland on foot. And I tried my luck with cross-country skiing, as well. At first I thought that it will be easy, as I am a quite experienced downhill skier - but it was literally nothing like I had expected. On day one, I fell more times than I could count. Eventually, however, I think I got the hang of it. The fact that my fitness level was still quite low, made me feel like dying at times, but at least I got the technicalities right in the end.

On the last day, Lewis and me actually felt pretty confident and went out on the real track in search of raindeer. Unfortunatelly, luck failed us and we never got to see them. Actually, that’s not entirely true - there was plenty of raindeer every day, in the form of soup, sausages, burgers, etc. (Seriously, do these people even eat anything else?) Speaking of food, we ate so, so much. Officially it was three meals per day, but as food was almost constantly being served in the dining hall, it felt like we had so much more. It was this infinite loop of eating and napping that was very hard to break away from.

But we managed to do it, thanks to the nice sessions that took place in the afternoons, when the darkness would fall on Kiilopää yet again, making the outdoor activities mostly impossible. As I mentioned, this wasn’t a classic conference, where you have a strict schedule and structured presentations. We had this Trello board for organizing our days, and basically anyone can do a session on whatever they wanted to talk about. Some went so far with this casual setting, that they even held sessions in a sauna.

CodeFreeze

When first reading about CodeFreeze, I liked the sound of all this very much. But actually being there - I would have appreciated a bit more structure, to be honest. It just didn’t feel like a real conference, but more like a casual meetup of people interested in software craft. Not that it was bad (I assume that’s the whole idea behind having an unconference, after all), but as a Junior Software Engineer, who’s only just beginning to dive into the professional waters, I felt like I wasn’t experienced enough to participate in some of the discussions, and would really appreciate to have a more structured, well-planned talk about the topic, instead.

Nevertheless, I loved the fact that some of the more experienced Software Crafters actually took the time to talk to us apprentices, do some katas with us, and even lead some quite insightful discussions over dinner (I particularly enjoyed comparing Java and Scala, OOP and FP, and so on). In my mind, that’s what makes a true Software Crafter, and they truly lived up to that role.

CodeFreeze

In the evenings, we got to hang out in the cabins and spend some more time with the group. One of the cabins was a designated place for this, and there you could play video/RPG/card/board games, go to the sauna and do the dip in the ice cold water, or just sit and chill with the rest of the people. However, I personally enjoyed spending time in our own “HolidayCheck” cabin the most - drinking beer, chatting, laughing, playing Uno or sometimes even trying to watch Finnish cartoons. I felt like this made us even closer than we were before, and that’s really important when you spend so much time with someone almost every day. So that’s another plus to take away from the whole experience.

In summary, this has certainly been 7 unforgettable days (or nights?), filled with amazing moments and a number of lessons learned (stay tuned for the next post for more on that). It’s definitely an experience I would recommend, and one that I would consider repeating in the future, when I gain some more experience. But for now, I’m ready for some warmer places - perhaps even the SoCraTes conference in Gran Canaria in April, who knows? :)

Note: I need to credit Esko Luontola for all the amazing photos he took (except the first one, taken by me).