A student goes to #FFCONF

On Friday in a wet Brighton I went to FFCONF for the very first time. I heard about the conference from the compere at State of the Browser

When I mentioned the conference to a couple of people at Uni they both referred to it as the “JavaScript conference” which confused me because there was no mention of this on the website, or in the line up. It did make my anxiety peak, as JavaScript is not something I have had the opportunity to work with much. I would like to, but so far I have just not needed it for anything. I planned to use it in my final project for my Masters degree, however it turns out that all the functionality I needed was provided by WordPress PHP and I found it quite satisfying to delete all of the redundant folders I had created for my Vanilla PHP WordPress theme. 

Full disclosure: I went to this conference not in the best mental health state. The last few weeks of job hunting (also known as job rejection) had really taken a toll on me. So when I arrived and saw the hordes of people gathering in the foyer my brain immediately went into awkward mode, not knowing where to stand, and literally not being able to see where to stand! Safe to say when I saw a fellow former student from last year’s contingent hanging in the hallway I was more than thrilled (he is a very friendly welcoming person, so a perfect conference buddy). 

a lanyard for FFCONF

A quick overview of the talks:

Imposter Syndrome, overworking, and working environments – Amber Shands

The first talk was about imposter syndrome, beginning with this talk made it feel like the conference was curated just for me (don’t worry, I don’t believe I live in some kind of Truman Show), I started to think maybe this could be me in a few years and it really did help me to feel more relaxed and more assured I was in the right place. 

The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI – Maggie Appleton

I am sure I am not the only one getting bored of the AI chat, it seems repetitive and ironically mostly written by AI. But this talk was really interesting. The Dark Forest is a theory around why we have yet to hear from any living thing in the wider universe. Or as Wikipedia describes it:

“Many alien civilizations exist throughout the universe, but they are both silent and hostile, maintaining their undetectability by humanity for fear of being destroyed by another hostile and undetected civilization.”

The talk then goes on to explain why they think this is relevant to the boom of AI content on the web. I don’t want to go into more detail because it would be better if you heard it from Maggie yourself. 

In her talk Maggie also mentioned “digital gardening”, which she briefly explains as posting content that is not finished. I want to look into this in more detail as a person who does not think they have accomplished something until it is completed it could potentially be something that will help with this all or nothing thinking.

We need to talk about the front end web – Angela Ricci

Angela boldly told a conference room that was probably majority “Full Stack Developers”, that a Full Stack Developer shouldn’t exist. There was a very awkward pause, followed by a whoop and loud clapping.

I would hope it went without saying (but unfortunately I feel that it does need saying) that this was not meant to be an actual suggestion that there is no need at all for Full Stack Developers. But that actually a Full Stack Developer is doing the job of two people and that we are too often overlooking the skills required of a designer and a developer and that what is needed is collaboration between the two.

Web Accessibility – it’s not just about HTML – Ire Aderinokun

My uni course had woven accessibility into every module and therefore I have made a conscious effort to apply this into all of my projects so far.

When we build with accessibility in mind it feels natural to start with the structure which is the HTML. And this talk highlighted how it does not just stop there, it needs to be considered in our CSS and also surprisingly this could also mean using JavaScript. 

This was extremely helpful because I realised there were some things I had got wrong about CSS, for example the use of display none. So I came away from this with not only some practical notes on some changes that I need to make to some of my websites but also with a wider awareness that I need to think more mindfully about the CSS I use. 

Ada Lovelace and The Very First Computer Program – Steve Goodwin

If you want a speaker to talk straight after lunch I think Steve Goodwin is a good choice. I have to admit some of the stuff went over my head a bit (to be honest I think it was a confidence thing on my part). The talk was energetic and you can tell that Steve is passionate about the subject. He is a volunteer at the Cambridge Computer Museum, which I had not heard of, but his enthusiasm reminded me of my most recent trip to the National Computer Museum (I had been before about 7 years ago on a date with my current partner) where volunteers explained and demonstrated the Bombe machine. 

Steve talked us through the first computer program and then how he recreated it with JavaScript. I particularly enjoyed how Steve deconstructed what he (and I) thinks is the sexist view that Ada did not produce the first computer program. 

Embracing Neurodiversity in Tech: Building Empathy, Unveiling Strengths – Jonathan Fielding

Jonathan began his talk with his own journey to discovering he was autistic, and I honestly struggled to not cry. It was literally the very same journey I had when getting my ADHD diagnosis, the only difference being that my career up to this point was in the political and third sectors. And my diagnosis led me to quit all together and start afresh with my Masters course in Web Design. 

Jonathan stressed that he is not a medical professional, however he pulled his real life experiences together with some research to challenge harmful stereotypes over some of the neurodivergent conditions. Not stopping there but suggesting how to make sure that workplaces can do what they can to help people like me with our disabilities. The outcomes are much like we experience when we build accessibility into a project from the start, that is that it ends up benefiting everyone. And he shared a great graphic which depicts this perfectly. 

Info graphic reads "The Curb-Cut Effect. When we design for disabilities... we make things better for everyone. Shows a picture of lots of different people using a cut curb on the pavement.

Exploring the Potential of the Web Speech API Karaoke – Ana Rodrigues

I was not able to stay until the end at State of the Browser conference, and so I was pleased to see the talk I missed on this agenda. 

This talk is fun, showing the project that Ana has done simply from her own obsession with the band Rasmus.

The nature of this talk reminded me of the sentiment that was expressed by a talk at State of the Browser in 2022 by Sophie Koonan “Building Websites like 1999”.

Ana ended her talk by pointing out that she had not been successful in building what she set out to do, but despite this she had learnt a lot, which she then helpfully listed and referred back to Amber’s talk, where Amber shared her template for tracking successes.

I am personally motivated by learning and development, which is why despite the fact that I am now completely skint, I think I have made the right choice in changing careers. And to help with the constant job rejection I should download and use that template. 

Entertainment as Code – Salma Alam-Naylor

This followed on nicely from Ana’s talk. Salma streams her coding on Twitch, and through the story of how this came about, and what she does on her stream we were able to see how much enjoyment we can have from building things for the sake of it, and how doing that with a community can make it even more fun. Much like Ana it was clear to see that doing stuff for the sake of it also has benefits to our professional development.

This talk also made me think about my partner who by day is a Cloud Engineer for a FinTech company, but in his spare time he loves doing lots of random coding projects. Following this conference I have suggested that he should blog to document the stuff he has done. The latest project was actually inspired by Jonathan’s talk (even though my partner did not attend the conference). I shared with him the meeting pop up called “In Your Face” which is now an app with a yearly subscription fee, so he started making an app for himself.

One response to “A student goes to #FFCONF”

  1. Originally ffconf was created to fill my desire to see a JavaScript event in the UK back in 2009, but quickly as the years progressed I realised I wanted a _lot more_ from the conference, and I felt that a lot of JavaScript could be taken from blog posts or other videos. So ffconf has evolved (also why “JavaScript” doesn’t appear in the title) to be about the web and about people.

    It’s interesting (to me) that fellow student of yours would still see it as a JS event, but it’s also my trick to get JS devs to see another side to the web 🙂

    Hope to have you return in future years too!

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