My favourite parts of Upfront Mini 2015

Yesterday I was lucky to attend Upfront Mini – a smallish (150 person!) one day conference about Front End Web development – the parts that appear in your browser!

I particularly liked this part of the introduction:

First up was Lily Dart talking about how the skills of a good designer: empathising, taking responsibility etc are also the skills of a good leader:

I don’t write front end code. I wish I could, but my role is that well known sweet spot between systems administration, user research and sales, and so like everyone else – I was there to learn. Being able to understand, empathise and mentor customers and colleagues is a really useful skill and I strongly agreed with some of her points.

Her slides are here:

I enjoyed Sam Beckham’s talk about the Polymer library and Web Components.

Most of my front-end experience was gained 5-10 years ago, in xhtml 4.0 where you felt lucky if you avoided a frameset so I find HTML5 (and Web Components in particular) mindtwistingly futuristic – perhaps how the internet must feel to people who group in the era of letters and telephone operators.

By chance I read this great article about web components the night before the conference, and Polymer is a library (a HTML library actually – how about that?!) that makes Web Components easier.

In the most basic, layman’s terms (probably with inaccuracy and missed subtly), Web Components are a way to create snippets of html, and call them back later in a simpler form – perhaps slightly like creating a function in code. Say you want something to create a slider or something, but don’t want to copy all the setup code everytime you want to call it – so you can import the html library that defines it, and then simply reference it with a simple tag. It looks like this is the future.
Unfortunately, currently: Browser support = patchy.

Emma Jane Hogbin Westby’s git talk was interesting (here’s the slides and notes) – and fortunately a few days before, I’d also read this great article on git branching – so I was able to follow along and understand most of what was being said. because I don’t really touch code, and only touch git for hobby projects , I don’t have such a deep understanding of that part of software development. As a result of the talk and the article though, I now know a bit about where you might want to keep all the individual commits that make up a feature and where you might want to squash them into a single object.

Amy Philips’s talk about mobile testing gave me an incredible headsup about how little I know about testing. Basically, testing mobile software is super hard – because there are so many different platforms, software versions, levels of connectivity, accessibility settings that testing becomes super-hard! I now feel extra inspired to go listen to Gem Hill’s Let’s Talk About Tests Podcast and understand more about the subject.

Benjamin Hollway gave a talk about young people and technology – nothing out of the ordinary I thought – just another youngish developer talking about the issues of being young, and trying to get into the technology community. Then after the talk, it came to Q&A, and it was revealed that Benjamin was 17. I was floored. Of course, I should have spotted the clues, but to the organiser’s incredible credit, they hadn’t billed the talk as anything different, they hadn’t said the presenter was young. It was very well executed. The Q&A were lively, with some people clearly inspired to see 17yros doing impressive things, suggesting that perhaps agencies should be recruiting people pre-university. Other people were unconvinced, wondering if pre-university young-people would be able to concentrate through a 9-5 day. They were roundly put down when it was pointed out that most normal developers can’t concentrate through a 9-5 day, not to mention that school/college is basically a 9-5 commitment before that point!

I could empathise with Benjamin a great deal and was psyched to see another YRS alumni going on to fulfill their own dreams and forge their own path. I didn’t go to university, got a job straight out of college, and heard lots of people telling me lots of conflicting information at that time. I always love the conversations that arise when a conference supports a young speaker like that, and I really appreciate that Benjamin and the conference organisers made it happen.

I had a good time catching up with Katrina and talking to Nathan about design processes and how to build things, meeting Goose, working out scary tech halloween costumes with Chris, finally chatting to Nick in real life and Andy about marketing & deals.

As the first event in the upfrontconf/speaktheweb that I’ve attended, I really enjoyed it – the organisers – Simon, Rachel, Katie, Dan & Jack, deserve a high five for putting in all the effort to make such a great event happen. Thank you all!

Getting it wrong

This One Time I Screwed up (or Sorry I Was a Dick)

I don’t think there’s enough analysis and sharing of non-technical mistakes for others to learn from (see a dramatic hiking trip postmortem).

It must have been a year or so ago now, I was sponsoring and exhibiting at a conference. Also exhibiting were a company I’ll call FooCorp from an industry that I have a strong distaste for. As delegates piled in, FooCorp’s team fired up this well oiled process of handing paper to people walking in. As a one man band, I felt a bit outdone.

I’d used twitter ads at events before, and so quickly I fired up a campaign. Trying to be edgy, I said something along the lines of “if you don’t want to be leafletted, and have your email added to a database, come and find me for a chat”. I can’t remember the exact wording, and whilst I don’t think it went any stronger, I can’t find the original copy so I can’t be sure. I thought “heh, why bother leafletting when this is so much more efficient”.

Learning from mistakes
Learning from mistakes

One might think “I don’t care about any companies in this industry, so this is a good approach”. One might think “I have no relationship with these people, so it doesn’t matter”.

Those points may be true (though these days, I have doubts), but I hadn’t anticipated the thing that happened next.

The conference organiser came up to me and said “Tim, we need to speak”, to their absolute credit took me to a private area and lividly explained that I needed to:

  • immediately delete the tweets
  • apologise to the people in question.

A wise or experienced person might have anticipated that, whilst I didn’t have a relationship with the FooCorp people, actually, lots of people around me, whose mutual support I depended on, did have a relationship with the people, and would like to continue to have one after the event. They might want to continue to ask FooCorp people to sponsor events they run etc. I realised that I’d failed to consider this point of view at all. That was poorly thought through. :(

When someone explains reasonably to me that I’ve upset people, and can easily avoid this, I know that I should do as they say.

Apologising to people face-to-face is hard. Apologising to people, who support an industry you have a distaste for, is harder.

But what makes it even more heart wrenching is when you notice that at the end of the day, they’re real people, trying to do good things, to help their children and families have a better life, and that I’d needlessly upset them.

As it turned out, my heartfelt apology wasn’t enough to undo the impression I’d already given them and I’m pretty sure that any memories that remain of me are about “that awful man”. 

Were one anticipating this situation beforehand, one might assume one would be comfortable with that if it happened. Instead, I feel sad that I had to learn this like this.

And I have learnt from this.

I could be chatting with someone whose sector I utterly, totally cannot endorse, and I aspire to treat them with respect and humility. I reserve the right to continue to dislike their sector, even them personally – but if I meet or interact with them, I’ll treat them with the same respect and humility I show to my friends.

So I guess if either of the two parties in the story are reading this – you know who you are:

Conference organiser: I’m sorry for putting you on the spot in front of your other sponsors and for behaving poorly. I massively appreciate your approach to resolving this. You had a multitude of options, and you took the most professional route, and allowed me to do what I could to right the situation. For that, I’m forever grateful.

To the people of the company I’ve called FooCorp: I know I ruined your mood for the day, and I’m really sorry I wrote those tweets. I wish I could have done things differently now, but what’s done is done, and a lesson has been learnt. I’m sorry that my learning that day was at your expense. As you can hear, it’s a lesson I vividly remember many months later, and I hope it’s one I never have to relearn. Thanks for talking to the conference organiser and allowing this to be resolved in the manner it was. I really appreciate your professionalism under the pressure I know and regret that I put you under.