Posted on March 8, 2015
My colleagues at Carmen Data and I traveled to Oxford for the annual 1-day tech conference which is aimed mainly at front-end developer. Yes there were fridges full of free Redbull scattered around but other than that, here are some of my highlights from the talks.
One of the highlights and certainly most profound - because of it's emotional impact - was Alice Bartlett's (@alicebarlett) talk during which she showed a video from a user testing session with an elderly chap who was struggling to use a select box during account registration. The video highlighted how foreign some of the behaviour of this classic element is to a non-web-native. Alice introduced the video by explaining that the people who really need (she emphasised that it is genuine need) Government Digital Services are the elderly people living on their own or care-workers whose only free time may be a bleary-eyed 2am session after a 14 hour shift. The heart-wrenching guilt that everyone in the audience must have shared when witnessing how shafted some users are by our use of a select elements was contrasted against the piece of video that immediately followed, whereby the same man had absolutely no trouble using a text input (because of it's familiarity to real-world paper forms). The conclusion was to embrace the combo box which gives the drop-down functionality that some people enjoy, but also the free-text input that others need. Of course this required more code and possible back-end validation but this is OK because we, as web developers, should do the hard work so the user doesn't have to.
Addy Osmani's presentation was a key-note speech covering the latest features added to Chrome Dev tools. I say new features but about half of them would be more accurately described as 'ported' features because they have already existed in previously available plugins or inside the dev tools of Chrome's competitor browsers. I personally was getting fired up by tiny little features like the "Preserve Log" checkbox that will be incredibly useful for measuring performance over a full user session, even though the crowd reacted with silence to this feature. A bizarre experience on the other hand, was hearing the crowd around me go wild when he demo'd the new interactive 3D DOM viewer, which is an exact copy of the one that has been built into FireFox since 2012. Hearing the audience react with awe to something that they could have discovered 36 months ago with just a little exploring gave me the same shudder that I get watching a blinkered fanboy, desperately trying to gain the approval of a stranger by showing off their shiny new Apple product, yet when questioned, failing to provide examples of how they may actually apply the new features in their everyday lives. But that was just one small moment that stuck with me, on the whole it was a slick professional talk full of useful tips that shows Google Chrome Dev tools continue to blaze the trail for the industry, even if they do (and they clearly do) use the "Most Downloaded Extensions" statistics as inspiration when cooking up features 🙂
Mark Otto @mdo
Mark Otto is the bloke who wrote a lot of Bootstrap and hearing him speak about CSS was refreshing because he justified, in few words, things that I have felt at an instinctual level for a while but have struggled to explain why. For example, why I didn't share my colleagues enthusiasm for the use of pre-processors, despite all the tech-bullies at the hack nights menacingly waving their clenched fists at me when they discover I'm not using one. Why I like to put things in a certain order and how Mark has formalised the same preference to become a team standard. Why I make class names a little longer, despite the optimisation nazis forcing propaganda posters in my face with a sad illustration of a poor user, waiting for their dialup connection to fetch those extra 4 characters that make the difference between my colleagues immediately understanding my code, or having no frickin' clue what "bhvdi" might stand for!
All in all, my experience of jQuery UK can be summarised as making me feel senior. I understood the vast majority of what was said, and I disagreed with a healthy number of points based on my experience. Hearing very important people in the tech industry speak to an audience of 800 and introduce concepts which I have conceived independently, through my own practice, was validating to say the least.