CppCon 2017 Trip Report

Until last week I had never been to a C++ conference before. I’m rather glad to say that I’ve now experienced the wonder of having a firehose of C++ knowledge plugged into my brain and turned on.

Most of the best times at the conference were in between talks, where random meetings in the hallways over coffee would yield fascinating discussions. I was flattered to have a fair number of people spot my name badge and come up and thank me for Compiler Explorer – a very surreal experience. I got a tiny taste of what it must be to be “famous”! I also got a lot of advice and ideas on how to improve the site, and once the dust settles a little I look forward to getting stuck into improvements, like more Microsoft compilers (and a better compilation experience for those using it), and execution support.

While the hallway chance encounters (and lunches and dinners) yielded a lot of great conversations, the talks were also full of information. Below is a small taste of some of the talks that left an impression with me:

Keynotes

The keynotes were by and large great. Bjarne gave a talk on Learning and Teaching Modern C++ which was a great call to action for us folks trying to make C++ more accessible to newcomers (we are all teachers!), as well as a reminder to old fuddy-duddies like me that Modern C++ is approachable, especially with things like the C++ Core Guidelines to, well, guide us.

Titus Winters from Google expoused the idea of C++ as a “Live At Head” language – an idea I particularly like, although my time at Google might be the reason for that! He argued convincingly for building our code against the head revision of all dependencies, and for library vendors to provide tooling to make updates less painful. clang-tidy, in particular, can be taught to give hints on API changes to make the process of deprecating old functionality easier on end users. As part of the keynote he announced the open sourcing of Abseil – Google’s internal library of handy functions. I’ve missed having a lot of those functions (like StrCat) and have ended up writing my own (inferior) versions, so look forward to introducing Abseil into our codebase at work.

Herb’s talk “Thoughts on Generative C++” was my favourite plenary session. I’m so excited about the idea of metaclasses – in whatever form they may take in the future – and it was great to hear all about it. Herb even used the cppx version of Compiler Explorer live (brave man) to demonstrate how some C# interface code could basically be ported directly to C++.

Lars Knoll gave a presentation on the history and future of Qt. I didn’t enjoy this keynote as much as the others; I felt that he spent too long explaining the history of a library I know little about without first explaining its use to general C++ programmers. Perhaps I’m in the minority here.

Other talks of note

There were so many other talks to choose from. In each one to one and half hour segment there were usually about six talks going on. The days ran from 8am in the morning til way past 10pm on most days – it was pretty exhausting!

Some highlights to draw attention to:

I have a list as long as my arm of other great talks, both ones that I saw and ones I anxiously await being uploaded to YouTube so I can catch up with them!

One last thing

So, this was my first C++ conference. But it won’t be my last; I enjoyed it so much. What was it that changed my mind, and made me attend in the first place?

Well, in this case, I was invited…to speak. So on Friday, after Chandler’s fantastic optimization talk, I got to stand up on stage and wax on about Compiler Explorer. It was an amazing opportunity, and I can’t thank Jon Kalb enough for the invite. And for handling my bag-of-nerves self during both the run-up to the conference and during it too.

The talk went very well, and seems to have been well received (at least by the folks I know…they’re probably just being nice!) I really enjoyed it too: anyone who followed my twitter stream in the weeks leading up to the conference knows I was more than a little stressed by it. All the hard work payed off I think. It was recorded is available on YouTube, should you wish to watch it.

I was did an open-content jsbeeb talk (not recorded) one morning, and was on a panel on compiler optimizations, sandwiched between Chandler Carruth and Jim Radigan from Microsoft, feeling quite fraudulent in such company. It was a lot of fun though!

Conclusion

All in all, I had an amazing time. I have a set of notes on things I’d like to try out in my own code now, and there will be a lot of further research on ideas I heard about at the conference.

Most of all, the feeling I was left with was how amazing the C++ community is. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other C++ programmers, putting faces to names I only had seen on Slack or email, and meeting the next generation of C++ coders.

Filed under: Coding
Posted at 21:00:00 BST on 2nd October 2017.

About Matt Godbolt

Matt Godbolt is a developer working on cool secret stuff for DRW, a fabulous trading company.