ffconf 2019

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I went to my first ffconf earlier this month. Eight talks, lovely people to hang out with and a new friend!


The morning kicked off with an incredibly inspiring talk from Sharon Stead on Empathy and Collaboration. Recalling experiences from her own life, she illustrated how vulnerability and empathy can be keys for successful collaboration. Indeed, it was the sharing of vulnerability and struggles that made this talk so inspiring.


The thing is, we are all different and we work best in different ways.   Often we can struggle to work at our best in ways prescribed by others.  I related to this strongly.  As someone who processes stimuli deeply, I can easily become overstimulated, and open plan office environments can be draining for me after a while. Whereas others would struggle to work by themselves in a quiet enviroment.


Her story involved struggling in a collaboration to release a product. Then eventually asking to work in a different way, which resulted in success. In order for this to work, it requires a feeling of safety and inclusion so that individuals can ask for what they need.


One of the key empathy behaviours suggested by Sharon, possibly the most important, is realising that you don’t have context on others’ lives.  Starting there we can start to communicate with one another about what we really need.


Next up was Amina Adewusi talking about what it takes to become a developer in 2019.  My new friend looking for her first developer job was nodding in recognition at these experiences.  Particularly all the ‘Junior’ developer roles requiring 2 or 3 years of commercial experience.

As an industry we haven’t made much progress in diversity in the last decade, going by statistics on ethnicity and gender. And these stats don’t even cover demographics such as faith, caring responsibilities, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and more.  Again the acknowledgment that we are all, in fact, unique.  For alternative routes into a career in development you can choose either a Bootcamp or self-taught and Amina looked a the pro and cons of each.  The theme of this talk was being able to ask for help and the generosity of those in the tech industry who give their help and advice. It was also a call to all, to mentor others.  I was astounded and impressed at how she had cold called got in touch with people and asked for help.  


Next was a humorous and useful talk on git from Alice Bartlett.  I learned a couple of tips, and will never see the message about being in a detached HEAD state in quite the same way again!  Feeling confused by the git documentation and in need of a laugh? Check out the git man page generator! https://git-man-page-generator.lokaltog.net/


Last before lunch was Laura Kalberg on tracking and privacy.  I appreciated that the talk started with a reference to Strictly last week (yes I am a fan). Then the click-bait at the bottom of the article. It is truly horrifying what is tracked. Technology companies claim we have a choice, yet it is not real a choice.  There is no such thing anymore as online life versus real life.  Opting out online can be severely restricting. So what can be done?  There are things we can do to protect ourselves as individuals, but it shouldn’t rely on individuals having to be tech savvy.  What can we, tech industry professionals do? Build ethically. Build zero knowledge tech, i.e. tech that doesn’t rely on reporting a tonne of information in order to provide a service to users. Some rather beautiful examples were shown.


Lunchtime was superbly organised.  My new friend and I went to Al Campo for lunch with others who were there on their own.  We shared a table with attendees from London, Sweden and Norway. I feel so lucky to have such an great conference on my doorstep!


After lunch, Harry Roberts gave us an insight into the business of being a performance engineer.  Some great tips were: Asking the right questions, taking the time to measure as much as possible and maximising the work not done.  This last one in the context of website performance is about concentrating on the things that are going to bring the company tangible benefits rather than things that can take a lot of time for minuscule returns but I think this is a tip we can all do with where we have too many things to do and not enough time!


Following on was a practical talk and live demonstration of debugging performance from Anna Migas. Alas, Chrome dev tools Audit tab failed but it was great to see some useful elements of Chrome dev tools Performance tab, request blocking and Layers with relation to interaction performance. Thankyou Anna!


We were well catered for during the conference.  I was on the green tea all day and appreciated the fruit, but my sugar demon came out for cookies and ice cream in the afternoon break. I bagged a rather smart looking notebook from one of the sponsors, Unmade, and wondered who they were.  I didn’t need to wait too long to find out.


The next talk was from Charlotte Dann, on generative art.  I love how she took us through a journey of following her curiosity.  It started simply with making some patterns with CSS, printing them out and sticking them to the wall. We saw video of a Pen Plotter in action (and in my head I was reminiscing about the Spirograph, one of my favourite toys as a kid), then via jigsaw puzzles and Conway’s Game of Life, we got to the point where she realised she had accidentally made jewellery, and the journey of realising it into physical form.  Well I’m sold! I want some of this beautiful jewellery for myself! Go to https://hexatope.io/ to see what I’m talking about.   Other companies in this space of products made using generative art include… Unmade.  So now I know!


The last talk of the day was from Suz Hinton on Alternative interfaces for hardware.  Suz ‘made up’ a rather daft and random seeming protocol, and then revealed it’s actually real. It was ESC/P by Epsome and allows devices to talk to printers. Then using javascript web usb API she did a live demo taking a photo with a webcam and printed it on one of those receipt printers shops have. Once again I marveled at how powerful javascript has become. This make it easy to prototype interfaces to devices and makes it accessible for people to do.

The last part of Suz’s talk I feel like I don’t have the words to summarise but it’s really important.  It’s about ownership and how our rights and privacy have been eroded.  What was designated as ameteur radio space since the 1980s is now owned by private companies. Frequency jammers are illegal in many countries and yet this is what Amazon Sidewalk is doing. A call to action for “having less mass produced surveillance bullshit and more harry potter magic”. Just go and listen to the last 10 minutes of her talk. https://ffconf.org/talks/nerdverse/


With minds reeling from all this, we headed down to OHSO on the beach for a beverage or two. OHSO was looking very smart (and most importantly, warm). It was a welcome way to decompress from such an information dense day. I’ll be digesting this over the coming days and weeks.  I feel inspired to communicate what I need and encourage others feel safe to do the same, and get around to reading Surveillance in the Capitalist state. Thank you Remy, Julie, all the speakers, everyone I met and all involved at ffconf.  Hope to see you again next year 🙂