My first ever FFCONF

Last week I had the privilege of attending my first ever ffconf conference. Having such a positive experience at the event, I felt compelled to write a post both for regular attendees or newbies like me which outlines what my expectations were, a few personal highlights and my key takeaways from ffconf 2017.

But, before I get started, what is ffconf? The outline from the ffconf website summarises the conference perfectly.

First thing in the venue!

ffconf is a full day of eight carefully curated sessions for an audience that cares about the future of the web, and who want their ideas challenged.

Ok, so now you know what it’s all about, let’s get started.

My Expectations

On the morning of the event, my initial expectations for the day ahead were a mixed bag. Yes I was certain I’d be inspired and from reading the talk outlines online I was convinced that the quality of the talks was going to be exceptional. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the diversity in the speaker content throughout the day allowed me to easily see why “carefully curated sessions” is included in the conferences synopsis.

So why a mixed bag? Despite all my positive expectations, I had some apprehensions. What if the talks go straight over my head? Am I going to be able to hold my own in a conversation at an event with such talent at every turn? Largely I blame my own neuroses for this or perhaps it was my lack of knowledge around a particular area of Javascript? Either way, with an open mind, multiple Danishes consumed and a coffee in hand I made my way to a seat in the fantastic venue, the Duke of York’s Picturehouse for the first speaker, James Kyle.

Let’s move on, around 40 minutes or so. James has just finished his talk around rethinking the web platform and it was brilliant. It was inspiring, understandable and accessible. A good start to say the least. Moving on again, around 30 more minutes, Bruce Lawson had just wrapped up the second talk of the day and much like James before him, he was funny, inspiring and best of all I could see team mymedialab writing down project ideas and notes immediately.

It’s safe to say that after those initial two talks, I was sold. My apprehensions had disappeared, ideas were in full flow and inspiration was high. This continued throughout the day with each passing talk which leads me on nicely to the next part of this post. Some of my personal highlights.

Personal Highlights

I’ve got so many highlights from the day, it might take me a while to list them all out. Therefore, in the interest of time, let me just touch upon three things which really stuck in my mind.

James Kyle’s take on education

One thing I particularly loved about James Kyle’s talk was his thoughts on education in web development. I loved that he touched upon how teaching can only be effective if it’s done with empathy. And that it’s often better and more rewarding to learn using something that ‘just works’ like create-react-app so you can focus on your app and its code rather than the dark art of build configuration and complicated tooling. As this is the way in which I learn, it was nice to see someone like James so passionate with the same point of view.

Bruce Lawson opening my eyes

There were statistics in Bruce’s talk which truly blew my mind. For example, we heard that in Nigeria the data needed to watch just 2 minutes of online video a day can cost more than sending a child to school for a month! We also heard that for mobile broadband in Pakistan it costs around US$1.48 for 1GB of data a month downloaded to a mobile handset. However, in São Tomé and Principe it can cost around US$169.38!

I couldn’t believe I wasn’t more aware of these issues. But perhaps, more importantly (and depressingly), I thought about how easily I could help prevent some of these issues for people in the future, simply by changing the approach a day to day task which I find trivial. I dread to think how many times I could have made that website or application smaller in file size and faster to load which could of really made a difference to less privileged users of the web.

It’s safe to say that I’ll be taking these users in to account in whatever I build moving forward. Thanks, Bruce!

Katie Fenn’s memory masterclass

Before Katie took to the stage I wasn’t sure that a talk about memory and how it worked would be for me. If I’m honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to understand it enough for any measurable benefit. However, it turned out to be one of my favourite talks of the day. Demystifying the way in which memory is handled along with simple code examples throughout allowed me to immediately think of ways to apply this knowledge to my own projects. It was a nice surprise and is a real testament to Katie and they way she structured and delivered her talk.

Key Takeaways

My experience this year at ffconf has led me to the following two key takeaways.

Share your knowledge and don’t hesitate to take action.

Each and every talk at ffconf instilled these two things in my mind. Sharing knowledge at any level allows for the continual improvement of the web and the experience for the people which use it. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or just starting out. The ideas and opinions which you have should be shared because you’ll be surprised at the traction that a simple idea can gather once it’s been shared with an engaged community.

However, sharing knowledge needs actions off of the back of it if we’re to improve the web and the experience for its users. Take my example from earlier. Bruce Lawson shared his knowledge with me about the state of the web for African users and how they can often be forgotten about during the development of websites and applications from within the western bubble. This knowledge is fantastic for us to know but it’s also useless if we do nothing about it. That’s why I’m taking action off the back of it as I’m certain many other ffconf attendees will be too. By acting, as a community we can chip away at problems like this slowly but surely.

The after party, not pictured: beer