The Gathering 2013 Brings Together Students and Alumni for Un-Conference-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Gathering 2013 Brings Together Students and Alumni for Un-Conference

David Pfeffer (SE '13) hosts a session on web-based IDE at the un-conference.
David Pfeffer (SE '13) hosts a session on web-based IDE at the un-conference.

You might not expect to find students happily discussing the latest topics in the software industry on a Saturday morning. Yet that was exactly the scene at Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus at this year’s Gathering, held as an un-conference. The Gathering is an annual CMU-SV event that brings together students and alumni to connect, recharge and reflect on issues in the industry.

The un-conference, a participant-driven format, allows for session topics to be tailored to participants’ own interests and passions. Anyone with an idea can claim a meeting time and room to host a discussion. The flexible format allows participants to gain feedback from various people rather than simply one speaker and to contribute to different topics to maximize learning opportunities.

“Almost all of our students are lifelong learners, so I am excited that the participants get to tap into their passions, find other people who are excited about the ideas and share and learn from each other,” said Todd Sedano, Director of the Software Engineering program.

Over the course of three slotted session times, students and alumni engaged in discussion over topics ranging from how to conquer coding interviews, startup prototypes, continuous deployment, Big Data, moving IT infrastructure to the cloud, to how to start a table tennis tournament on campus.

“In my first session, I had one of the most intellectually stimulating conversations in my time here on how to do web-based integrated development environment (IDE),” said David Pfeffer, a full-time Software Engineering student.

David Jensen, a 2005 Software Engineering graduate and currently CTO of, echoed the utility gained from the sessions: “It has been awhile since I graduated so it is great to get back into that situation where you’re talking about subjects and learning something from it. Already I got a tip on a software package I’m interested in.”

The un-conference resulted in not only stimulating conversation but also actionable items planned for the next semester. For example, students discussing tips and ideas for code interviews formed a study group with weekly events such as competitions based upon coding interview questions.

Some full-time students, part-time students and alumni met for the first time while others reconnected, providing a mix of dialogue that is not always possible given the hectic nature of Silicon Valley working professionals. The value of learning from people of different backgrounds and life experiences was a theme throughout the day. “I got to see how different tools and approaches were used to solve the same problem,” reflected Linda Avendano, a part-time Software Engineering Development Management track student working as a software engineer at Visage Mobile.

The un-conference participants may have left campus on Saturday afternoon ready to get back to preparing for the next semester’s courses or enjoying the sun. However, many left with insight about software issues and tools gained from interfacing with peers throughout the day, proving that learning for CMUSV students is not restricted to a time or classroom.