Maker vs Wild

It’s been a long and turbulent three years since the last Mendix World in 2016. With many changes and additions to the platform since and many more yet to be released, it was time for Mendix to set the stage again and demonstrate the roadmap for the years to come.

“Mendix World: the world’s premier conference on low-code app development and digital transformation in Rotterdam.” Even without the ‘in Rotterdam’ part it’d be specific enough to be a world’s premier, because low-code is on the rise.

Officially, there were three days, of which two were public (as was the agenda). So, let’s just assume Mendix, like many respectable technologies, starts counting at zero. To emphasize the direction they’re taking, Mendix has glanced over at recent political and commercial catch phrases, favoring brevity over eloquence with: “Go make it!” If anything, this should captivate people with even the shortest of attention spans.
Three days, all you can Mendix. Let’s go.

Day 0 was Partner Day. Implementation partners of Mendix were awarded praise and gifted compliments. I gathered that some sneak peaks were preleased, to be announced publicly on day 2. Yours truly wasn’t around for that event, but from the looks of the pictures and information shared, there seemed to be a good vibe among competitors in the market. In that regard Mendix (and its World event) is unique in its diversity of users, as the platform is a tool for the masses: techies speaking microflows and end-users talking business gather here.

Day 1 was the first public event and focused on the business minded, which increased the appetite of our more commercially minded people. Stands were evenly placed throughout the main hall, most often guarded by sharp looking sales reps or supported by underdressed tech wizards. I’ve even spotted the occasional project manager skulking about.
Bars were all around and outside and dedicated coffee stands were strategically placed to assist powering through even the most monotonous talks. (Kudo’s on the quality cappuccinos, Mendix!) Every few hours waiters and waitresses offered snacks appropriate to the time of day: chocolate brownies (confirmed to be clean and delicious), minty ice mousse (handy for covering up the coffee breath) and a bag of japanese nuts mix (ignoring the pleonasm, this was the best snack but could’ve contained more wasabi nuts).

As the day progressed, presentations and keynotes could be visited in the hall next door. Several small open domes were scattered throughout the hall, each giving room to around 50 people. This was, unfortunately, in most cases insufficient to host all interested people, as there were queues well outside these pavilions. It did give each session a sense of exclusivity, as well as underline the broad interest in the platform.

I took the liberty of fleeing my post at the stand and visited a keynote by Red Hat. Now, I’ve heard about Red Hat in the context of Linux and I naively hoped this presentation would bring modelling in Mendix and Linux closer. But of course it wasn’t. The presentation was ‘merely’ about connecting cloud nodes to Mendix applications via middleware. And the few interesting questions were directed to a technical presentation on day 2. So, still no modeler in Linux (the new Mendix Studio maybe?).

The rest of the day I attempted to be the helpful colleague, assisting with stand presence, giving answers to the needy and, of course, giving directions to toilets with the least probability of contracting a gastro-intestinal infection. Day 1 was scheduled to end with a ‘network and sponsor’ showcase. But, c’mon, this was obviously a tasteful relabeling of a party and drinks. Not surprisingly, from 17h on the questions became less about Smart App Suites and more about unquenched thirst. Mendix, no stranger to networking and sponsor events themselves, had set up an area just outside the main hall, with excellent food (and vegan hotdogs), drinks and even a blacksmith to convert swag to metal. The sun shone bright and the networking went on all night…

Day 2 was noticeably more technical. The initial keynote contained several interesting feature and roadmap announcements, making developers drool over their keyboard even more than usual. The Web Modeler will be coined Mendix Studio and become entirely codeless, which should put off any bet on the block. The Desktop Modeler will become Mendix Studio Pro, for all your remaining coding needs.

With AI becoming part of the Studio, even the most reclusive developer won’t be alone anymore. The demo of AI assist was impressive and seems to make a big impact on the speed of designing your microflows. But, in my humble opinion, the AR demo was most impressive. The demonstration of a Mendix app tying up input from a temperature sensor, a beer bottle and a HoloLens was nothing short of sensational. I think they appealed to many a professional’s IT wishlist, ticking the IoT and AR checkboxes. They already had me at beer though…

The afternoon brought more break out sessions: Partners demonstrating products, Mendix showing implementations and customers showing off their business transforming applications. I visited a UX design workshop which started off with a presentation on the need and application for a structured UI design in a project. This seemed like a good choice as front-end design is, as for most technical developers, not at the top of my skill list. The workshop ended with a demonstration of how to store design choices in a document for distribution. Unfortunately, the dead silence after announcing the demo was finished confirmed I wasn’t the only one in the dark about what the hell that was all about.

The day concluded with a keynote from Bear Grylls. To be frank, his could have been the only reason I signed up for day 2. I’ve seen many episodes of his survival series, being fascinated about tips and tricks in nature. Give me a carcass and a snakeskin full of urine and I’ll survive most hardships. But I was also interested in how Bear would link bushcraft to technology. Apart from finding bugs and using branches, I failed to see any common ground.

He kicked off with understating his public speaking skills, but clearly he had done the talk before. Mr Grylls had a nicely rounded story with a head and a tail, from starting from his military application to braving the world’s harshest environments, while constantly challenging oneself. He even had it all wrapped up in an easily digestible mnemonic of four F’s: Failure, Fear, Fire, Faith. And while these four words are easy to remember, they do sum up to core essentials: set backs, perseverance and courage. And isn’t that what life is all about, personal and professional?

B.G. ended with an even stronger take away: N.G.U. Never Give Up, which was also the title of his keynote. And there it is. There is the common ground: When you get stuck, find a solution to move forward. After two days of verbal harassment with buzzwords and tech talk, listening to an icon’s life’s story was as refreshing as it was inspiring.

Mendix’ theme finally started to add up: I’m going to make it!

April 26, 2019
Erik Mantel