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ffconf 2019

November 20, 2019

This year was the 11th edition of ffconf, a web conference in Brighton, England that’s gained a stellar reputation over the years. Here’s what the organizers Remy and Julie Sharp have to say about it:

The event aims to inspire, inform and educate people who work on the web who want to make the web a better place.

This was my first time attending ffconf, it absolutely lived up to the aims and reputation. There were many careful and kind details encouraging comfort & connection, and the excellent talks were strung along an experienced and curious curatorial voice. There’s a complete archive of talks here, audio and slides are up for this year, with video coming soon. I recommend taking the time to explore the talks in full.

I’m going to write about what constructive outcomes were cooked up for me, then about the host city Brighton and finally on my experience of the day itself.

Construction Zone

Here are the constructive actions that I took away and the talks that informed them:

  • Prioritize using whatever experience and influence I have, to open the industry to under-represented demographics. Progress in this regard has been woefully slow. Society is worse for it, as the demographics of society are not represented in the producers of the fundamental tools of the modern age. The effect will only intensify as the screens multiply. ffconf was a room full of people with the ability to make positive changes. Amina Adewusi’s talk did not just cover why, it had a whole lot of how, which I’ll be using as a reference.
  • Keep choosing to communicate with empathy. Communicating with empathy is a fantastic idea just like love is a fantastic idea. In practice though, love is a choice you keep making every day, just like communicating with empathy is a choice to make in every conversation. Sharon Steed
  • Lobby for stronger electronic data regulations and support alternatives to unethical software. Hundreds of companies are actively building profiles of you, the data may be “anonymized” but a study this year found that when a profile reaches just 15 demographic attributes, it can be re-identified with 99.98% accuracy. Human futures are being sold for commercial and political gain. It doesn’t have to be this way! Laura Kalbag (Look at all the sources with Laura’s slides 😍)
  • Follow my passion and see where it takes me. Focus, joy and remarkable outcomes will be found! Charlotte Dann & Suz Hinton
  • Determine what value my work will bring to clients, then negotiate a reasonable cut of that value. Aligning incentives by using value based rather than time based pricing is better for everyone when it’s appropriate. Harry Roberts
  • Don’t take the reliable functioning of any software for granted. The lighthouse tool built in to Chrome dev tools was entirely broken for the entirety of Anna’s practical tip packed, performance debugging talk. Chrome dev tools! I would not have thought that possible but we all bore witness. Holy moly. Anna Migas
  • Pay attention to the actions of tech companies, not their marketing. Laura Kalbag & Suz Hinton

Brighton

I was born in Brighton but moved far north at the ripe old age of 1 and had returned only as a tourist for a few days here and there. Conferences can feel like a little bubble, unrelated to the city in which they are held. ffconf couldn’t be further from this. It’s the most at home I’ve ever felt in Brighton. Walking between the beautiful venue, Duke of York’s Picture House, a working cinema since 1910, and the after party venue, Oh So Social, a lovely bar that opens right out on the pebble beach, took attendees all the way through the city. Breakfast, lunch and evening-before social events were also arranged, the opportunity to connect with other attendees was omnipresent.

The night before the conference, ffconf promoted the 2019 International Show ‘n’ Tell edition of the local web tech meetup, Async. The venue was a 200 member, independent community workspace called The Skiff, that had a welcoming, busy atmosphere. The quality of the many 5 minuteish talks blew me away, you won’t regret taking a peek at the projects listed in the sign up gist.

One project that had my jaw dropped particularly low was a natural language, all unit handling, calculating notepad by James Hugman. turo.io is such a pleasure to play around with, take a close look at the bmi example near the bottom and try messing with the units. So fun and intuitive. Oh hey, look, I can save progress just by bookmarking the page, I wonder if it uses locaHOLY CRAB THE WHOLE WORKING DOCUMENT IS KEPT IN THE QUERY PARAMS!

Conf Day

I was lucky enough to sit next to a developer that had very recently completed a career transition, their attendance was made possible by the ffconf scholarship program. We found that we had a few surprising biographical details in common and were fast conference buddies for the rest of the day.

One thing that made sure we got to know each other was the 90 minute lunch break. It’s one example of the many small details that made the conference a great pleasure to attend.

The 90 minute lunch had some significant positive repercussions:

  • Everyone had 90 minutes to connect with other attendees.
  • Hundreds of attendees, many imbued with the financial freedom of a corporate per diem, descended upon the local restaurants.
  • The morning’s talks were given some room for mental digestion & discussion.

The speakers for the day were on the front row alongside the audience, hopping up when it was their turn to speak. Before each speaker, Remy, who curates the talks, spoke briefly about why he had asked them to speak and what topic he had suggested. When the day wrapped up, Remy and his partner Julie as well as their 2 kids took the stage. They were both very visible throughout the day as well as a handful of other helpers also in the ffconf shirts.

The 7 hours of the conference was followed by about the same amount of time with attendees and speakers at the social. As the group thinned out, a couple of local past attendees snuck into the social and finished out the night with us. That made perfect sense to me.

Looking forward to ffconf #12!