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!

Shouting quieter makes things better :: How I learnt to yell less and win more.

At quite a young age, I realised I enjoyed arguments; a second to face up one’s opponent of the moment – a chance to put them down with cruel language – an opportunity to let go and lose one’s temper.

Of course, it was all about being on the winning side, and with those wins being few and far between, frequently I’d end up crying in someone’s arms.

As I grew older, I started to notice how the person who spoke quietest, seemed to keep the upper hand – speaking quieter appeared to make the other party shout even louder… a seemingly illogical and bizzarre state of affairs.

It seemed that after all those arguments about staying up “and extra half an hour”, raising my voice hadn’t been helping at all. I decided to embark upon a new strategy…

At the same time, at school, we were being taught dispute resolution procedures for use in the playground. It was a basic mediation process, colloquially called “My Turn, Your Turn” whereby one would be approached/approach others who were involved in a conflict and go through some simple, structured steps something along the lines of:

– Alice, please describe what’s wrong?
– Bob, please describe what’s wrong?
– Alice, how does what Bob is doing make you feel?
– Bob, how does what Alice is doing make you feel?
– Alice, how can we resolve this?
– Bob, how can we resolve this?
– Alice, Bob, does it work for each of you?
– Alice, Bob, resolve it how you explained and then go back to playing football.

Essentially in abstract terms, this getting each party to listen to each other, communicate clearly and come up with a resolution themselves. The “My Turn, Your Turn”, segment referring specifically to requiring each party to listen to the other person without butting in or interrupting them.

At an fundamental level, this is really quite an effective method of dispute resolution.

As I grew older, I started to realise outside school, that if I held back on getting involved in arguments I couldn’t win, I could make sure I had ‘extra ammunition’ with which ‘to hit’ the opponent of the minute with when a better opportunity arose. Several examples delivered without shouting were more effective still, but I realise that by combining that with “My turn, Your turn” tips, one could add one’s feeling into your response, eg.
“but you let $otherchildname [who is the same age as me] stay up until late o’clock, 3 times on identical occasions to this, so I feel disappointed that you aren’t applying your own rules consistently.”

Clearly, a well laid out, persuasive argument like this, is much more effective than trying to shout louder than someone, and is much more effective. Extra bonus points if you noticed how that argument also accuses them of breaking their own “due process”, and frames it within the other persons world.

Fast forward many years…

I was asked recently why I didn’t get more pissed off by car drivers who cut me up whilst I cycle round the city. The suggestion was, that being on a bike was an advantage, because it meant you could shout at idiotic drivers. This made me blink a bit… How was shouting at them going to make any useful difference?

It turns out, when I was a child, I missed out on a key point; to try to leave the conflict resolved, so it wouldn’t happen again. Whilst shouting at cars may be helpful for letting off steam, really all it does is reinforce to a few motorists that cyclists are arrogant and dangerous, whilst reaffirming to a few cyclists the perception that motorists are twits that drive away without caring, neither of which constructively addresses the situation in any way.

When friend’s of mine my lose their tempers, I feel sad.

I find it upsetting because they haven’t learnt how to identify their stress, find the a self control and skills to step back from the argument and try to resolve or mitigate it.

To me, it seems incredibly rude (or immature) – I find that losing your temper seems to characterise poor judgement – and I do my best to avoid situations where people do.

However, when your friends lose their tempers, as much as you may not enjoy it, you’re in the best possible position to bring it to an amicable resolution. William Ury explains:

William Ury: The walk from “no” to “yes”

It does occur to me, that my perspective here must partly be influenced by arguing a point effectively as a child. When I read this article about “teaching your children to argue” – I did wonder what would have happened if actually, people were taught to effectively communicate their point, things would be a lot different today.

As Adora Svitak says:
“The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adults, but rather better adults than you have been”

The Pirates: Just a political party for a certain age group in Sweden?

At Learning Without Frontiers Conference, Keri Facer, Professor of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University said:

…in Sweden we have the first political party, that, if you like, is allying itself with a particular age group – the Pirate Party.

I don’t think this is true. I mean sure, in Sweden there’s a political party called the Pirate Party, but it’s hardly focused on a specific age group.

Let me explain: actually, there are Pirate Parties in over 40 countries, inspired by the Swedes. In Germany, I was there for the run up to an election which saw the German Pirate Party get 14 seats in the State Parliament. So whilst Sweden was where the movement started and has had some success, (Sweden is represented in the European Parliament by two Pirate Party MEPs), the concept is hardly isolated.

In the UK, we have a Pirate Party. If you’ve read this blog before, you may have noticed that I’m currently the Education Spokesperson and that I contested the parliamentary seat of Manchester Gorton in the 2010 General Election.

I think it’s also worth thinking about the other point that Keri made; is the Pirate Party allying itself specifically with a certain age group? Rick Falkvinge – the founder of the Pirate Party movement – puts forward an interesting explanation:

Rick Falkvinge at the Pirate Party Conference 2011 in Glasgow

As Rick says, “it’s a little bit more than that; let us explain” and I hope this post has helped people to understand and clarify the original statement. :)

Well done Laura Dekker!

Some of you may remember Laura Dekker – the plucky young dutch girl who, as a 14 year old, was involved in a massive legal battle with the dutch child protection agencies to allow her to sail round the world single handed.

Laura,  who has been sailing from a young age and was born on a yacht, has had a bumpy ride. After she was told she wouldn’t be allowed to go for another two years, she ran away. She didn’t run away to the next town, the next county or even the next country; this badass ran away to the Caribbean!

Anyway, eventually she prevailed in her legal wrangling and on the 21 August 2010, aged 15, she began her voyage which was predicted to take two years. I blogged about it at the time in fact, she showed great persistence in the face of legal, logistical and natural challenges simply by getting to the start line.

Laura Dekker, speaking at the Hiswa Boatshow, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Laura Dekker speaking at the Hiswa Boatshow, Amsterdam last year - CC-BY-SA - From Wikipedia

Whatever her critics said about her, her ambitions, her parents; don’t matter now.

As her website says:

January 21: at 3.00 pm local time Laura will reach the Island of Sint Maarten to complete her circumnavigation after her departure from Sint Maarten on January 20 2011.

Laura will become the youngest sailor ever who sailed around the globe!

…and she’s done it. Well done to her!

It’s been a long trip, but she showed that persistence and tenacity, no matter your age, can literally, take you round the world.

A tribute to Richard Rothwell

Many reading my blog will not have heard the name Richard Rothwell and thus will have very little idea of his significance in the early days of DFEY.

I first encountered Richard, like many others, via the Schoolforge-uk (SF-UK) mailing list, with his posts on free software and LTSP related subjects.

Ben Webb and I, on hearing he would be speaking at Manchester Free Software group in May 2008 about Sustainable Education Solutions, went along to see what we could gather.

As probably one of the only Manchester Free Software talks that was not been videoed (release of the videos is a separate issue!), it was a talk that I vividly remember regretting it was not being recorded mid-talk. I regret this to this day.

Some may know that Richard was a important (I think Chief) Examiner for one of the exam boards in GCSE ICT (I think) and at the time, I was having a really hard time with my AS ICT Applied double courses.
I really enjoyed his talk which, whilst focusing on his deployment of LTSP in secondary schools, gave some very insightful ideas into what an school which fully embraced free software could turn out like.

He mentioned that the idea of running the network on LTSP came from two technologically adept 15 year olds.

He explained how they approached him with this distro that did basic LTSP, and so he took them out of lessons and got them to demonstrate how it worked to him on two old machines. Once the potential became clear, as I understand he deployed LTSP on a largish network with minimal resources, saving oodles of money and using recycled computers.

To me, a place where IT staff not only listened to the students, but interacted and were willing to look into ideas shared by the students is amazing, but for them build this system *around* free software is a utopia.

I think Richard persuaded me that there were better places out there, and it was worth working hard to work towards those.

I hope this is what I’m doing now.

A true legend, remembered well.

Richard sadly died on Friday 17th July.
There is a tribute website set up for him at, where you can leave your condolences.

Reflection #1 on Byron Review

Parents are worried their children will not be able to tell the difference between Reality and Virtual Reality (in a game or online).

– Byron Review

In actual fact, the children grow up knowing the different expectation in social behaviour for the two different environments where as the parents never have.

Tim Dobsona few seconds ago….

So as you might have guessed, I am going to post a series of reflections on various child/youth + tech related reports…

This post references paragraph 1.19 of the Byron Review