Chatting, Sharing (& Shots) in Chattanooga - GigCity 2024 report

Underjord is a tiny, wholesome team doing Elixir consulting and contract work. If you like the writing you should really try the code. See our services for more information.

I went to Chattanooga in Tennessee from Sweden to hang out with the Elixir community. I’ve been part of Elixir in various ways for 6-7 years now and this is the first time things have lined up and I could go to the US for a conference: I had a sponsor for the trip. I was offered to not just speak but keynote. The conference is put on by friends, Bruce and Maggie Tate, who’ve supported a lot of great stuff in the Elixir community for a long time. And Todd Resudek decided to do NervesConf in conjunction. A bit of a perfect storm for me to head over. So I did. I want to unpack it.

This blog post, my trip to Chattanooga and the work on my keynote presentation was all supported and enabled by Tigris. They offer a new approach to object storage in collaboration with and I think you should check them out. Just run the command and see how you like it: fly storage create


From Sweden I took the train to Copenhagen a few hours south. Almost forgot my jacket with the passport in it on the way but we caught it just in time to go back and fetch it. Copenhagen to Amsterdam was no trouble. Amsterdam to Atlanta was pretty smooth as I’d ponied up for extra leg space. Atlanta to Chattanooga was delayed so instead of midnight I arrived 02.00 (2 AM) which I didn’t love. Bruce was kind enough to get me anyway. So I got to the Tate residence, was shown the guest room and slept the sleep of the dead. I had two good nights of sleep, with two days of doing a lot of very little. I hung out with good people. I ate things. This was good recovery before the conference and good social time with people I’ve known for about 5 years or so but have not had a ton of time to hang with.


The core concept of GigCity Elixir is hospitality.

Bruce and Maggie are graceful projections of that facet of southern culture. They work it as deep into their conference as they can. I felt very welcome, I know one attendee lost their place to stay, was going to not come and the Tates insisted they show up. That attendee took over the guest room I’d had as I went to the Moxy hotel. They take care of people. And they proactively support and encourage a diverse set of folks.

In the days before I was given a lovely tour of Chattanooga, got vegan junk food and had a great time chilling and resting.

GigCity Elixir as an idea is arguably Bruce’s baby. GigCity Elixir as executed is inarguably Maggie’s doing. She is a force and a delight. What a human. In the days leading up to the conf she helped me shop for cool sneakers! Apparently she’d already pinned down everything for the conference and could spend time kindly goofing off with me and showing me novel things to eat and drink.

If you want a sense of a small-scale event, put together well with a strong local connection. Consult them, visit their conference. See how they do it.

Day 1: NervesConf

With Maggie Tate logistics and a Todd Resudek schedule NervesConf became the start of my three conference days. Other people got some Ash training by Zach Daniels and Josh Price of Alembic.

Nerves is special to me. It was where I entered the community for real. I did Elixir, I did Phoenix. But I talked to people in Nerves much, much more. It was right-sized compared to the more busy Slack channels. Meeting a bunch of the people that I’ve run into over the years around Nerves was such a thrill. And getting to dig deeper into topics I’ve explored recently around security, boards and parts was thrilling. What a high-bandwidth and high-knowledge environment. I learned a ton and any question had experienced answerers right next to you.

Jon gave a very nice rundown of the recent work in the Nerves project. Some old faces spoke, some new faces spoke. All good talks. We had a talk from pojiro of the Nerves JP delegation (three people!) and I guess I brought in the European touch. We had Powell Kinney talking about the autonomous boat he’d worked on. I shared my learnings and explorations around security from recent client work on the Raspberry Pi CM4 and the challenges therein. I think it was well received and I had a good time giving it. Alex Mclain gave a talk that should serve as a foundation for anyone who wants to build products with Nerves. There should be recordings for all of these that will come out eventually.

I can’t imagine a friendlier and more chill group to present to. Darlings all of them and just a good vibe of people caring in a similar direction.

It was such a good time. I got some custom hardware (thanks Alex) and am now very keen to try and make some Nerves event happen over this side of the pond.

The only weirdness of the day was the storm preventing a bunch of people from arriving when they had planned. Many were re-routed, delayed or otherwise bothered by tornados, lightning and other fun flight-unfriendly phenomena.

A first late evening with drinks and friends.

Day 2: Gig City Elixir starts

I slept as long as I could without entirely missing breakfast.

A lot more people. I think NervesConf was 30-50 people. Gig City was up towards 150 I think. And a lot of friendly faces. Some I only knew the nickname, some I didn’t recognize in 3D. Some were very familiar and nice to meet again.

Randall Thomas started us off well of course. His talks are always good energy, possibly bad feels, but good energy.

Many lovely conversations. Suprisingly tasty catering (Maggie again) with really good vegan options.

And we did my second appearance in the conference schedule. A live episode of BEAM Radio. We tapped some guests and people we knew to prepare hot takes. Then me and Bruce just invited people up on stage. One of them was Quinn. She blew the roof off of the conversation in terms of where it could go and then it went. And we brought in people from the audience, whoever wanted to bring something to the table. I hope the recording comes out really well because I am very happy with how it all came together and the discussions that were had. People went all kinds of ways and did it well. I hope we also make a video of it.

Bruce and I didn’t have to do much, just keep shifting in new people. Thank you all who participated, I’m proud of y’all.

Another good evening. I restrained myself somewhat in preparation for my closing keynote the next day but still ended up going to bed a decent bit after midnight.

Day 3: Gig City Elixir wraps

Another morning even more tightly optimized for sleep. I wanted to be in sane shape for speaking and have a chance of lasting all day. Some nerves in me for sure but I also felt very comfortable with the vibe of the whole event.

I didn’t see a ton of talks, I picked some musts but also updated some slides that I’d left open for what the conference would bring. I went off and rehearsed. And as I felt myself slipping into a deep tiredness I scampered away the 5 minutes to the hotel, took a long shower, a short nap and recovered a lot of energy. I headed back in time to see Chris Keathley speak. I’ve followed the guy for so long and I find his thinking incredibly useful, informative and challenging, in the best way.

I went right after.

Preparing for my talk

This was the hardest talk I’ve given so far. In a keynote it didn’t seem right to hide behind technical curiosities or trixy, trixy code. I wanted to talk about idea-level stuff, I wanted to touch on community and as per usual I wanted to produce something somewhat novel. I think I pulled it off. I would not be doing this stuff if I wasn’t somewhat self-critical so there are plenty of things I could have done better. Better delivery, more practice, tighter slides, a bunch of things. But I’m satisfied with how it went and I don’t regret anything in particular.

I had an interesting constraint as I wanted the talk to touch on my sponsors field. It was not a constraint they placed but something that made sense to me. And I lined that up with things I’ve been thinking about anyway with Fly and Elixir vs Heroku and Ruby. I will try to gather those ideas in a blog post as well, people did say they felt they clarified something.

You’ll have the recording of the talk fairly soon.

Ending it

I ended the conference. My keynote was the closer. Bruce and Maggie were brave enough to let that be the final note.

That’s an experience. I recommend it. Go to some conferences and end them. It is quite fun :) Get permission first. There is a whole schedule. Ending them willy-nilly will make people upset.

Talk done I felt empty and drained for a good 15-20 minutes and just lumbered around and got encouraging words from people. This often happens after I’ve done something with a decent bit of build-up. A vacuum forms where nothing happens, intensely.

Then Flora (of Nerves puppetry fame) suggested shots so I tagged along out of the ending of the conference. Flora hustled a bunch of us off for tequila shots way too early in the day and then peaced out on an airplane. Boss move if you can pull it off I guess :)

Me and Josh (Price of Alembic) then went to Rock City which is a very cool mountain area tourist thing which the Tates and some other folks had planned a trip to. Josh accidentally acquired a Smith & Wesson trucker cap. Andrea Leopardi compelled me to promise to start using dbg instead of IO.inspect.

The rest of my evening was good conversation at the Moxy with various people and sniping Frank and Jon of the Nerves core team into trying to get ChatGPT to make flails which it does notoriously poorly at.

The next day

Most people had left. Most people were from the states. Me and Josh Price went for a sunday hike with the Tates. An “easy” “mile” according to the initial announcement. Tennessee Easy? It was decidedly at least mediumly strenuous and significantly more than a mile. And very sunny compared to what I’m used to. But we got to see just about all of Chattanooga from above and a long stretch of the Tenessee River. A lovely time.

Then we kept doing nice social things for the rest of the day. What lovely hosts and what lovely hospitality. Josh is also a really good travel-buddy.


I’m writing this on the flight home and my head is a bit tired, a bit worn. But there is a lot of idea-matter, a lot of inspirations and a lot stuff bubbling from this conference.

I like software development, Elixir and all that. But I am also quite interested in how people make things. How do you make a community? How do you make a conference? One of the best parts about engaging as a speaker or similar is that you have one foot behind the curtain. You get to see people’s design thinking, people’s people-skills and you get to engage with people who make things happen.

Much love to all I spoke to and interacted with, anyone and everyone who clapped after talks, anyone who was too shy or respectful to say hi, all that did say hi, those who mentioned something I’ve done. Invigorating. All of it. And as much love again to everyone I hung out with, days and evenings. You all made the trip very worthwhile and I think many more good things will sprout from it.

I had the best time.

Underjord is a 4 people team doing Elixir consulting and contract work. If you like the writing you should really try the code. See our services for more information.

Note: Or try the videos on the YouTube channel.