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!

Engineering Culture at Autotrader

We’ve just come away from the AutoTrader “Science Fair” and we’re full of thoughts, ideas and reflections and wanted to get them down somewhere.

We heard about the event at Barcamp Manchester last weekend, and decided to go along to get a better understanding of how AutoTrader works. I know AutoTrader as a customer – we bought the van off it – so it was interesting to understand how things work behind the scenes.

An open evening! Whoever thought of this mag-fucking-nificient idea should be knighted. What a great way to help people find out more about you in a low pressure, chilled way (with free drinks!).

It reminded us of school open evenings (in a good way) – lots of people, hands-on-activities and posters. It felt a bit cramped in places – there were some areas where we thought pushing the desks against the walls might have been a better use of space.

Clara is a developer, so whilst I would have found it fascinating to talk to their editorial team and learn more about their inbound marketing efforts, talking about technology is common ground to us both. So as we only had 45 minutes to spare, we decided to immerse ourselves in their ‘technical’ room.

AutoTrader organises its teams in ‘Squads’ – autonomous, cross functional product teams who take complete responsibility for an area of their business, which meant that when we asked one of their devops people who would be the best person to talk to about Front End, there wasn’t a clear functional stand. Each AutoTrader squad has design, product, marketing, development all together – creating user stories, picking them off one by one, and working through them. One of the things we found surprising about all this was that they don’t tend to have a purely front end function in their squads – it tends to be something that their Java developers have or develop on the job.

We had a great chat with Jan and Gareth in the Dealer Portal Squad, who were super helpful in filling us in on how the system works, and how their system’s AngularJS app works (with Flux, doing some cool sounding event based things!). We found it interesting how none of the squads we spoke to really seemed able to talk about how they handle their CSS – even “Do you use a CSS pre-processor?”. It’d be really interesting to understand more about Autotrader’s approach to the front end – especially since they seem to work in a cross functional way.

One of the recruitment tools we admire the most is two videos that Spotify’s engineering team put on YouTube. These two videos outline Spotify’s engineering approach, company structure, and explain how things get made and product gets shipped. All explained concisely & knowledgeably and beautifully illustrated. To an outsider, it’s dizzying to be introduced to AutoTrader’s two dozen or so squads on the floor of their office, without a clear understanding of how the company works, and how their development processes work within it. Before we saw the Spotify engineering videos, we didn’t have any feeling about Spotify’s tech team. Now we feel they have a great (yet modest) engineering culture that we’d try to be part of if the opportunity arose. Perhaps there’s something for AutoTrader to learn there.

To be honest, we’re inspired. Perhaps not to work at AutoTrader (sorry!), though we now know the company a lot better (yay!). We’re inspired to take this open evening approach and suggest it to the companies we work for, and the ones we know across Manchester. This seems like such a great way of getting people to understand what you do, that we wish they happened more frequently, in more companies.

Thanks for having us AutoTrader!

-@tdobson
-@czmj2