Archive for Conferences

TXJS post-conference thoughts

Note: this was supposed to be posted right after the event that happened on April 15th, but other commitments came up.

I got back to Houston after a day in Austin for the 2013 Texas JavaScript conference. It’s more like a mini-conference since it’s a one day event. I was excited to join other web developers in this regional conference, but the content wasn’t what I expected.

Before I go much further I should mention that the conference itself was well organized. The Paramount Theater is a beautiful spot in downtown Austin, there was breakfast provided to attendees at the kickoff which was nice, and the speakers were for the most part interesting, engaging and fun.

However, the 2013 Texas JavaScript conference didn’t have much JavaScript content. The conference had a single track structure, which may have been part of the problem. Alex Sexton (the conference organizer) can correct me if I’m wrong here, but apparently previous years had a different structure with multiple tracks, so if some people were interested in some CSS/design-approach sessions, they could go to a different room and join those.

The 2013 conference grouped three short talks (around 25 minutes in length) into a one hour and a half time slot group, ending up with these final groups:

* Web Applications
* Node.js
* Rethink.js

If you were to look at the conference solely on these session topics, it may seem like a pretty technical conference. That’s not quite what it ended up being. While I was at the conference I kept thinking to myself “when are the *actual* JavaScript talks going to start?”. I thought that maybe I’m being too harsh on the conference, but at around 2pm when the Node.js sessions were about to start, I began to hear other attendees saying the same things.

Perhaps the real problem was that each talk was restricted to 20-25 minutes, so the speakers didn’t really have much time to do a technical session, but I believe it is possible if the organization behind the event tries hard at choosing good sessions.

I’m concerned that I sound too negative here, and I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m trashing the conference because it’s clear that some real work went into making a good event. Perhaps not being from the Austin tech scene I didn’t know exactly what to expect, and the original conference website didn’t give out a lot of details on what sessions were going to happen.

Maybe that’s a bigger problem these days, where a lot of regional/indie conferences don’t quite list out the sessions that are going to take place, but rather the “all star” speaker line up.

In any case, let’s review the sessions and grade their relevancy to this JavaScript conference:

* Keynote from Harper Reed – interesting information about what happened with the Obama campaign tech operations. Great speaker, with lots of funny and insightful quotes on big scale development. I think Harper mentioned JavaScript in passing once, when he said he was excited about the Node.js conference.
* “HTML: Do we really need the L?” – “Uncle” Dave was a very entertaining speaker, but he clearly didn’t have enough time in 20 minutes to go over all of the technologies that are part of HTML5, so this session was mainly a quick overview of the different things that are available. Again, not much to do with JavaScript.
* “OOCSS and Preprocessors in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” – This was a very interesting session on CSS development methodologies, and SASS in particular. I actually learned a lot on best practices about potentially switching to SASS. Nicole is a great speaker, and this was one of my favorite sessions, even though it had nothing to do with JavaScript.
* “CSS is for Computers” – Another session that seemed extremely constrained at 20 minutes, but it was interesting in that it helped me think more about the merits of switching to a CSS preprocessor. I’m sold on the idea after this session, but again (not to harp on this), nothing to do with JavaScript.
* “Beyond Front-end Developer” – Interesting session with some potential “what if” questions on what our jobs will look like in 10 years or so. JavaScript content here was also extremely low.
* “Apps that Build Themselves” – This was one of the sessions I liked the least because it seemed like we were reviewing a specific way of building a web application, without really going into specifics. The speaker went through the use case of building / deploying JavaScript applications that are self-contained. It’s sort of interesting that they can use this platform to just build applications dynamically, but I’m not sure that I learned much from this session. On the other hand, it’s actually one of the few JavaScript-centric sessions of the conference.
* “Culture change for creating better user experiences” – Really cool session on the work happening in England to change how their government provides their services to citizens. This was one of my favorite sessions, but again, this had nothing to do with JavaScript.
* “Faking Browsers for FFUU and Profit” – Jed is a very entertaining speaker, and this was clearly the most fun session of the day. Great relevant session for JavaScript developers.
* “The Evolution of Node” – Interesting session on what is happening on the Node project, and what we can expect from it in the next several months. Again relevant to JavaScript developers.
* “Streeeams, probably” – Great session on the specifics of stream development with Node.js. Very relevant to JavaScript developers, and it had excellent technical content.
* “All Open Source Everything” – Wow, this was one super insane session that had nothing to do with JavaScript, and I’m not even sure if it had anything to do with a technical conference in general. Sure, it had some relevancy to a discussion on developers valuing their work more, and choosing appropriate open-source licenses, but man, this was a real head scratcher.
* “Execute” – Pseudo-inspirational session on building on your product ideas and not being afraid to fail. It could be interesting for some people out there of course, but I’m not sure I have not already read some derivation of this same content out there on the web countless times before. Not at all relevant to JavaScript.
* “I can smell your CMS” – Funny and entertaining speaker talking about interesting stories about web site development and what some badly designed CMS systems can mean to client companies. Not relevant again to JavaScript.

This is pretty much it. Out of all of these sessions, and including the keynote on it, I count 4 out of 13 sessions that actually had any technical content relevant to a JavaScript-centric conference.

I understand having a small mix of non-technical sessions, or even having technical sessions on other things that are related in some way to a front-end developer, but less than 30% of relevant content seems a bit much (or little?).

It was an interesting conference, but depending on what you want out of it, I would sometimes recommend just using to get your fix for some technical content.

Cocoaconf Dallas post-conference review

It was my first time at one of the Cocoaconf conferences. They take this approach of a pseudo-regional conference by taking a shorter conference on the road (3 days including an optional full day workshop/tutorial) to different cities.

The conference itself was great: good content and engaging speakers for the most part. The hotel/location itself was slightly weird, but that’s so minor I wasn’t even sure I should mention this.

There were about 100 attendees at the conference, which was nice to keep everything small and focused.

YSlow wishlist: JavaScript API to export performance results

Here’s one thing that I wish YSlow (or even HTTPWatch or AOL Pagetest) supported: a way to dynamically export the results of the performance grade results. In a perfect world I would run a set of Selenium tests on my development environment, and get access to YSlow’s results from the Selenium API.

Selenium RC allows you to write unit tests in PHP (or a bunch of other programming languages), and get access to the browser as it is executing your test. If you could get access to YSlow’s results from JavaScript, then you could export that information directly to PHP, parse it, and store it. Add a few scripts to build some simple reports and you are done: performance metrics that you can track and act upon.

I was going to suggest this feature at Velocity last week, but there was no time for questions on most of the sessions. Here’s hoping this doesn’t happen next year.

Velocity conference: great content, weird format

I just came back from O’Reilly’s Velocity conference that just ended a few days ago. It was a lot of fun, with some good original content. Steve Souders, one of the organizers of this conference, asked for feedback multiple times, so here’s my opinion on it.

The good:

  • Very cool demonstrations of HTTPWatch, Fiddler and AOL Pagetest. I played with two of these tools before, and having the author’s there showing you a couple of the features was really helpful. AOL Pagetest seems like a pretty cool tool too.
  • The announcement of Jiffy (and the Jiffy Firebug extension) brought in a whole new perspective into measurement of performance data, and that is a huge deal.
  • Awesome content on Bill Scott’s session about the performance work that his team did at Netflix. Good advice in there on large XHTML pages and event handlers for sprite images.
  • Session from Eric Schurman (no blog?) at Microsoft about their performance work on improving the interaction of Live Search, all the way from a lot of AJAXy features, to a more simple approach. I asked him about the tool that generated some of his nice performance graphs, and he said that they are thinking about possibly open-sourcing it.
  • Good content on image optimization from Stoyan Stefanov, something most people often forget. We have a build system that does this automatically, but we should also have something in there to make sure we use PNG8s instead of GIFs whenever possible. Added to my TODO list.

The bad:

  • 15 minute sessions? Are you kidding me? It was such a rush to get these sessions finished in time, that in the end there was no space left to even ask a question. All of the good performance sessions were either 15 minutes in length, or just 10 minutes (for the demonstrations of HTTPWatch, Fiddler, etc). I’m sure there must be a reason for this, but it seems completely wrong.
  • The actual space in the second room was very small for the number of people in the sessions. It seemed like most of the performance talks happened in the small room, and it was packed to the brim. Also, not much ventilation in that room.
  • Seems a bit expensive to be paying ~$1400 for a two day conference, when the MySQL Conference was the same price for 4 days worth of sessions.
  • Why was there a 45 minute break in the second day, right after starting the day? The second day started at 9:15am, and by 10:30am there was already a break. Let’s get some sessions going.
  • Can we go without the spammy keynotes in the future? I have no desire to go through 30 minutes of a Sun executive telling me about this server with 1TB of SSD memory that will be available “pretty soon” for commodity prices. “Great as a memcached server.” Excuse me? This is a joke about the memcached server, right?
  • Even further, can we do fewer keynotes in the future? The first day had 7 keynotes, and while some of them might be interesting, it’s not interesting to everyone. Let’s change some of those into regular sessions, so the people that are interested can go to them, and whoever is not can skip them. For instance, Eucalyptus seems like a cool project, but giving it 30 minutes (as a keynote no less!) while the session on Varnish only had 15 minutes was completely wrong.
  • Where are all of the talks on memcached, gearman, TheSchwartz, nginx? I want to know more about these tools, and not just the basics that I could read from the documentation. I want war stories and tutorials on how to get started, and some reliable advice from big deployments. Where’s Brad Fitzpatrick?
  • Enough with the “clouds”. Please. Think of the children.

The conference was still very good, but the biggest issue was the amount of time reserved for the performance sessions that I was looking forward to.

I will try to get approval to go again next year!

Google I/O event coming up

Google I/O is a self-proclaimed developer gathering happening in San Francisco at the end of this month (just two days though, May 28-29). It seems like a really cool event with lots of sessions about Web stuff in general.

The downside is that there will be around 70 sessions in a two day window, each with a time limit of 1 hour. So it seems like it will be kind of rushed, and I wonder how many attendees will miss a session because 4 other interesting ones are happening at the same time. Maybe expanding the number of days would have been a bit better.

It doesn’t look like I will be able to go as we will be finishing up on an upcoming release of our product.

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »