We Host Our First OCaml Retreat in India!

by Sudha Parimala and Isabella Leandersson on May 1st, 2024

Hacking retreats are great ways for programmers to connect, explore new ideas, and learn from each other. One of the most popular OCaml retreats is the much-loved Mirage retreat, organised annually in Morocco. But for us OCaml enthusiasts located elsewhere, the journey can be challenging (not to mention the climate impact!). That’s why the Chennai office decided to host a retreat in Tamil Nadu, India, this past March.
Hosting local events and retreats across the globe encourages more people to participate in the OCaml community. Retreats bring people of different experience levels and interests together, fostering an exchange of ideas, collaboration on projects, and support from more experienced members. These meetings of minds make the community stronger and more diverse.

What Does an OCaml Retreat Look Like?

Rather than specialising in one sub-topic, our retreat had a more general focus on OCaml. We encouraged participants to explore new things and share what they had worked on in the past. Our only selection criteria was that people had experience with functional programming, software development, or OCaml. As a result, our participants all came from different backgrounds, from Haskell hackers to cybersecurity developers, and each of them brought a unique perspective to the retreat.

We chose to host the retreat on the outskirts of the cultural landmark city of Auroville in a quaint villa surrounded by greenery. The villa acted as the main base of the retreat. It was close enough to civilisation that participants could easily access shops and other conveniences but not so close as to be a distraction. Ideally, we wanted to get the benefits of all being in one place without getting side-tracked by the bustle of the city – and it worked!

Our first day began with introductions and discussions of what everyone wanted to work on during the retreat. We assembled in the morning of each day to present our projects and discuss what we were working on that day. Talks were more spur-of-the-moment and casual, and no formal slides were expected (though sometimes still provided!). Our daily discussions sparked new hacking projects and collaboration between attendees. We shared breakfast and lunch in the house and walked a scenic two kilometres every evening to get to and from dinner. We shared a Google calendar with any upcoming events and where to gather to keep us in sync. But we did more than just code! For example, we went on a tour of Auroville to see some of its most iconic buildings. The most memorable was the Matrimandir, the city’s famous golden dome-like structure, a place for contemplation and meditation.

To help participants find a project to work on, KC, Puneeth, and I put together a list of suitable tasks in a GitHub project that they named HackaCamel. We recommend you check it out if you’re curious about the projects completed during the retreat or want to take on a project yourself!

We were oversubscribed for participants for this retreat, which was great to see and gives us an incentive to get a bigger venue next time!

OCaml Retreat: What Do the Attendees Think?

Here are some quotes from participants sharing their experience, what they found useful, and what the general atmosphere was like. If you’re considering whether you would like to go to an OCaml retreat, this gives you a helpful overview:

“My intention to come to the retreat was to know “What I didn’t know that I didn’t know”. Now that I have known what I didn’t know, I will start working on it. As a starter, I enjoyed toying with “Joy” using OCaml to draw. Now, I am trying to understand MirageOS and its unique capabilities. This, I feel is a new beginning to both me and our organization. Hoping to meet you again in the following retreat.” – Kaushik Hatti.

“Coming from a Haskell and Rust background, I struggled to see the additional value I’d get from OCaml, so this was a perfect venue for me to explore it. Getting the facts straight from the source was very valuable. Seeing the faith and energy everybody put into this language was very inspiring. Other than that, connecting to other functional programmers/learners in person after a long time felt amazing. Also great was being able to interact with people from my own culture with similar taste. Going forward, I hope to contribute to the community in the form of meetups in Singapore and future collaboration with the peers I met at the retreat.” – Karthik Ravikanti.

“I was very happy when I got the email offering a spot to attend the OCaml retreat at Auroville, as I was not sure if I was qualified for it. Being an OCaml newbie, I was not sure what to work on. The HackaCamel list of ideas to work on during the retreat (and beyond) helped me. I choose to go through the OCaml5 tutorial, Parallel Programming in multicore OCaml tutorial and OCaml Effects tutorial. I wish I knew more OCaml to ask questions to the various experts who were present. Hope to do it in the next retreat. My plan is to learn OCaml and contribute to its open-source projects this year. The retreat has provided enough motivation and ideas for this.” – C R Anish.

“I went to the retreat, not knowing what to expect. All I had thought of was that there would be no distractions, and this would be a good week to focus on getting something done. That was there, but the retreat was so much more than that. All the informal interactions - asking for help, discussing each other’s work, talking about X interesting thing - were instead the highlight for me. There was so much to learn from each other and with each other.” – Kaustubh.

"The OCaml retreat at Auroville was a memorable one, especially for me. I made my first contribution to OCaml during this retreat. I came to this retreat to learn how Okra works. Since I’m working on extracting the raw data from the engineers’ weekly reports, I wanted to understand how the tool(Okra) works, which could be helpful for me later. I was new to coding. So, Puneeth suggested starting with OCaml Joy. Thanks to Sudha and Kaustubh, I started learning OCaml Joy. It was fun playing with Joy. Later, I created a new PR with the help of Puneeth, Sudha and Kaustubh to draw a smile emoji using Joy.” – Ganesh (the only non-programmer at the retreat!).

You can discover more experience reports from the attendees in a post on the website created for the retreat.

Picture This

To really give you an idea of what the retreat was like, it's best we just show you! Here are a few photos from the retreat:

One of the participants stands in a big sliding doorway between the main house and the garden. He is drinking a cup of coffee and looking out over the lawn and trees.

A group photo of ten retreat participants. They are standing in front of an outdoor bar and smiling at the camera.

A t-shirt with a graphic design depicting the Auroville dome with a two-humped camel in front.

One of the participants is giving a talk standing in front of a projector screen with the text "unikernels and library operating system".

Until Next Time

Retreats allow developers to be face-to-face, motivating and inspiring each other to learn new skills and start new projects. Organising more in different places around the globe will encourage new people to discover what the OCaml community has to offer.

Would you like to attend one of our retreats? Or stay up-to-date with what we’re doing in general? Follow us on X and LinkedIn to get the latest updates from us!