Front Trends 2012

Last year I was contacted by the organisers of the Front Trends conference in Poland to ask if I would be willing to speak at the conference, and to speak about “Web Standards”. Although I wasn’t completely sure on the subject of my talk, I said yes and then started to think about what would be helpful to speak to the audience of professional front-enders about.

As so often happens, the ideal topic for the talk showed up quite naturally. Through things I have seen while supporting Perch, in the course of our own client work on the Greenbelt website in particular and in various conversations I have had recently a theme of understanding problems and solving them appropriately has developed.

In a post on the Pastry Box in April I thought about how our core languages of HTML, CSS and JavaScript were the things we could be sure of in a fast changing world of technologies. On this site I wrote about not solving problems before you have them, and also made some notes on the process of developing the Greenbelt website. I tried to pull together some of these thoughts in my 30 minute talk.

It was a really friendly, international crowd at Front Trends and my presentation seemed to be well received and also fit well amongst the thoughts of several other speakers. In my hotel room after day 1 I tried to include references where appropriate to speakers from the first day and pick up on common themes.

My slides can be found on Speaker Deck although they probably aren’t very useful on their own. I believe that the presentations were all recorded so if those go up I will no doubt tweet the link.

The Conference

My talk was just 30 minutes of a very enjoyable two day event. I was speaking in Day 2 so could sit back and enjoy the first day. It was fun to hear Vitaly Friedman speak about the Smashing Magazine redesign. It’s the first time I have met Vitaly, despite being a Smashing magazine contributor in the last couple of years.

Chris Coyier gave an entertaining presentation on the things we don’t know when developing a website. I referenced many of the articles that Chris has written on his CSS Tricks website when updating the CSS Anthology recently, it was great to actually meet in person.

I spent much of the conference hanging out with Harry Roberts and Jamie Mason. Harry thought his talk in day one might be in direct opposition to my talk in day two with my web standards focus. As it turned out our approaches are far closer than it might first appear. Harry is a senior UI developer for BSkyB, working with a large team, whereas I tend to work on projects with a very small team or where I have complete control of the front and often back-end. Our contexts are very different and it was interesting to hear what works well in these larger teams.

Another person I met for the first time was Lea Verou. I was really impressed by her live coding style with only the relevant CSS needed for people to understand the technique shown on the slides. This works really well and the demonstration of CSS transitions and animations was interesting as I haven’t yet really played with these effects in any great depth.

Where so many conferences beg the question, “where are all the women?” Front Trends had a very diverse line-up and there were also a lot of women attendees too – although the line for the ladies bathroom was notable by it’s absence! It was fantastic to be on the bill with so many other technical women. In addition to Lea, we heard Divya Manian speaking on Designing in the Browser. Tali Garsiel gave a fascinating presentation on How Browsers Work Internally. I enjoyed hearing how a browser actually takes our HTML and CSS and renders it – and the things we can do to improve speed and limit redraws when making changes using JavaScript. Rebecca Murphey struggled through her sore throat to give an interesting presentation on how to organise non-trivial JavaScript applications and we also heard from Jina Bolton and Tiffany Conroy.

The beer

Front Trends was the first conference I have been to where there was beer available during the sessions. There was always plenty of coffee, tea, water and a range of juices at all of the breaks however and while some people were enjoying a beer in the sunshine it didn’t seem problematic. I chose not to drink as I think the warm sun and a beer would have left me sleepy in the afternoon, and not drinking wasn’t an issue at all. The only negative that I put down to there being alcohol available was that the noise from outside did increase as the day went on, with people sitting outside to chat and not realising they could be heard even at the front of the auditorium. The sunny weather may have been as much to blame however and the relaxed atmosphere did make the conference feel very low-stress and fun. I think a good balance was struck all in all and another time perhaps it just needs someone to tell people to move away from the auditorium to chat!

Warsaw and Poland

Speakers were looked after very well and put in a hotel near the Old Town area of Warsaw. This meant that even though I only had a little time after arriving and on the morning that I left, I could still explore this part of Warsaw. It really is very pretty and interesting as much of it was rebuilt after WW2, you can see the photos that I took on my walk around on Flickr.

I would love to go back to Warsaw and spend more time being a tourist. There were lots of great places to eat – even vegetarian and vegan food – and thankfully for a non-Polish speaker most people spoke English and restaurants had English menus. There is also good, inexpensive public transport, which is useful as Warsaw is a lot bigger than I had imagined.

Front Trends has been a real highlight of this year so far and I think the most enjoyable conference I have been to in a long time. The atmosphere was fun but the content was also excellent, and I’d recommend attending future Front Trends events to any web developer.

Jonny Nott on the 01 May 2012:

Loving your slides anyway!

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