Over the weekend I got to attend the DDD conference in Perth for the first time. Despite the small price tag and the fact that I had to get up early on a Saturday, not only did it not disappoint but I was blown away by the number of supporters, the calibre of the speakers and the overall experience. I’ve never really lost my excitement for the web (and even when it gets hard there are still cat gifs 😁), but conferences seem to reignite the spark I have for web and give me another rush of excitement for the industry I work in.
The DDD conferences are held all over the world and are a not for profit initiative to help make attending conferences more accessible. While I love attending conferences and learning new things, it’s, unfortunately, a very difficult (and expensive) thing to be able to do. Tickets to a conference range widely from $300 for a one day conference, to $3000 for a week, and that’s only the conferences that come to Australia. Depending on where you are, you’re then likely to have to fork out for travel and accommodation (being from Perth, this is usually the case as not many conferences come this far) and even if you’re lucky enough for your work to give you a training allowance, it may not cover the whole ticket and usually won’t cover the extra expenses (like travel). You then need to get time away from work, and if it’s a great conference (as they usually are), you have to work out between everyone at work regarding who gets to go and who has to stay behind and hold down the fort. Then take into account the fact that you’ve probably got things at home that need to be taken care of, whether it’s a pet, a child or a spouse that isn’t fully self-sufficient.
The DDD conferences aim to remove these barriers. Because it was in Perth, you didn’t have to travel or get accommodation and my dog was fine by himself for the day. They also hold them on a Saturday, so there was no need to take time off work (although you may not be a fan of getting up early on the weekend, it’s a necessary evil). And to top it off, the ticket price was a whopping $50 (food included) so even if your work doesn’t give you an allowance, it’s not too difficult to foot the bill yourself. Also, there was free food and coffee for the day, not hard to get your money worth on that alone.
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just about the free coffee. This year the conference crowdsourced it’s agenda and made the talks anonymous for the voting. Earlier in the year, the topics and summaries were published online with the names removed and the community was given the opportunity to vote for the talks of their choosing. So there was no chance to complain that the talks didn’t interest you if you don’t vote then don’t try complaining about the outcome. This voting process also meant that we got to see some amazing talks from local members of the community, some of whom had their first chance to give a talk at a conference. And being responsible for giving back to the community like that? DDD definitely deserves an award (or at least a really good high-five) for that.
There were 3 different tracks going on at any one time so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see them all, but what I did see was outstanding. The quality of speakers and the presentations they gave was incredible, more than worth the $50 I paid to see them and they all deserve a really really good high-five.
Five Key Challenges for software quality tomorrow — Gojko Adzic
Now I’m not a software developer, so a lot of this was more in-depth than my skillset but this was definitely a great way to start the day. But there were a lot of points raised which we definitely face in the world of web, in particular around browser support. Gojko told a story of an issue recently where a web app was giving some unfamiliar errors to a user. After much troubleshooting and remote support, he eventually worked out that the user was trying to access it using his Samsung fridge. I’ve heard of this happening before with people using games consoles or DVD players to try and access the web, but fridges are entirely new level. These days almost every device is expected to be smart or connectable and of course you should be able to access the internet on it. I do a fair bit of browser testing as well (except beyond IE10, I won’t go there), but there are some things we just can’t plan for. Maybe one day we’ll need to make sure we have smart fridges in our device lab though.
Death by Good Intentions — Nathan Jones
This was a great talk for me. It wasn’t so much a ‘this is what you’re doing wrong’, but more a ‘this is what I’ve seen done wrong’ and it was comforting to know that a lot of what experience in my everyday life is felt by other people. So many things that could be done better, or more efficiently but we’re being held back by tradition, or structure or just plain good intentions that have gone wrong. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s always comforting to remember that most of the frustrations you have are felt by someone else as well.
Flying Solo: lifehack your way to a pants-optional workplace — Sam Ritchie
Now this talk wasn’t even a question about whether or not I should see it, and also super relevant to me (having started my own business 4 years ago). Sam did a fantastic job with this talk, addressing all the things you should be aware of before flying solo, hints for if you decide to take the leap, the importance of stock images and even a flow chart about whether or not you can get away with not wearing pants today. I’d love to write more about how much I loved this talk, but I feel the pictures explain it better than I ever could.
Web, Wellness and Getting Shit Done — Patima Tantiprasut
Having known her in the web community for a while now and hearing of her talk over east earlier this year, it was great to see Patima get up and talk in her stomping grounds, and her performance did not disappoint.
Can I say shit?
Breaking any rules on swearing very early on, Patima strutted across the stage and broke barriers about discussing mental health and making sure you look after yourself. I’m disappointed to say that this is still a taboo topic in a lot of workplaces and unfortunately some are even encouraging their employees to overwork themselves and let their own wellbeing take a backseat. With the introduction of new words like Deadgrind (there’s always going to be another deadline) and Shineybriation (the ‘just 2 minutes’ distractions of our workplaces), she reminded us that we’re mind-athletes and that means we need to look after our minds. No more YOLOing until all hours or pushing ourselves to the line and way beyond; make sure that we make ourselves and our wellbeing the top priority.
The Campsite Rule: Leaving the Tech Industry better than we found it — Kris Howard
I’ve seen Kris speak before and she never fails to disappoint. Teasing us with pictures of her recent holiday, she talked about the state of the web today, whether it be bad code, bad people, hacks or the politics (don’t worry, I’m not getting into that now). Sometimes it’s hard to keep going when you see everything going on in the world at the moment and for us it’s even harder because we can’t really take time away from the internet (it’s how we make a living). When all you see across the internet is hatred, discrimination, fear and just plain stupidity it’s hard not to just go and live in the bush somewhere remote or at the very least turn off the modem, curl up into the foetal position and cry. Taking advantage of her place at the end of the day, Kris tied all the talks together with a resounding point in the words of Robert Baden Powell, let’s leave this all a little bit better than how we found it.
A slide from the locknote by Kris Howard with the quote "Leave this world a little better than your found it." from Robert Baden-Powell While we all loved the picturesque photos from some of the amazing national parks in the US, the main point being made was that of Mentorship. Whether that means being a mentor or simply having one of your own, this is a very important part of the community and industry and something we need to keep doing.
When we first hear the word mentor, we think of some wise mage or at the very least some kind of formal mentor that we can turn to for advice. But there are so many different types of mentors that we probably have one (or several) in our lives already. As Kris discussed the different types of and characteristics of a mentor (inspirational, career mentor, tech mentor, champion and peer), I realised that not only did I already have one, but I had several people in my life that fit into one or several of these mentor types. I’ll be honest, this made me a little bit emotional when I realised how many people I had in my life that I could turn to and who had encouraged and supported me the last few years (not including my family of course who have done this my entire life).
To round off the wonderful closing locknote, Kris then also touched back onto the state of the industry today. Stealing a little from Patima’s previous talk on mental wellbeing, she called out those workplaces who don’t properly value their employees. A recent job advertisement was called out to have the following section:
Strong work ethic. All of us believe in our work’s ability to change human lives and consequently work not just smart, but also hard. It’s not unusual to see team members in the office late into the evening; many of us routinely work 70–90 hours a week.
While we all know that this happens, and most of us have probably done it before, to actually request and state that employees should be working 12+ hour days for most of the week is beyond insane (this number of hours is so many that I couldn’t even fathom how many hours a day or days a week it was). And this is one of the reasons why the industry is in the state we’re in today, because we’re expected to meet these requirements.
Don’t get me wrong though, this was a very inspiring talk and didn’t just raise the issues that we have in the web today, but encouraged and spurred us on to go and do something about it rather than pretending we don’t see it happen.
All-in-all this was an amazing day. To be able to attend a conference for that price tag is already incredible enough and to have it include such a high calibre of speakers is almost unthinkable. All-round it was a great result from a fantastic effort from the whole community. The team of volunteers who organised DDD not only did an amazing job, but saw their conference more than double in size this year (~150 last year and ~330 this year); the speakers got a chance to share their wisdom, thoughts, experiences and general musings with us (and we listened, most of the time) and I got a chance to attend another great conference and come back with an even longer list of things I wanted to try (seriously that list is growing at a ridiculous rate).