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The Conference Appeal

This past weekend I attended one of the most life changing events in my career so far; that was Front-End Conf, and this is my reflection from and recommendation for attending.

Reflection

Preparation

Front-End Conf came out of nowhere for me. I had heard about the major conferences that visited Orlando and the surrounding area, but it was probably my recent interest in the meetups at Envy Labs or sheer dumb luck that I stumbled across this great little conference before it sold out. It has been around for 5 years now, and more information on it's inception can be found here. I was also fortunate enough to receive a student pricing, which ultimately convinced me that this would be a perfect conference to attend.

I registered for Front-End Conf when it was first announced, about two months before the actual event, so I had of time to twiddle my thumbs and get even more excited for what I would experience come June 21st. During those two months, I basically kept up-to-date on who was speaking about what, making plans about where to stay, and rebuilding my personal site and designing new business cards for connecting with my fellow designers and developers attending FEC.

Day 1

On arrival, check-in was an easy and simple process complete with a badge and swag bag containing an awesome shirt designed by Sean McCabe, some sponsor promos and deals, a notebook, and a whole bunch of awesome stickers. Then it was on to the awesome breakfast spread. Breakfast was a great time to start meeting new people or connecting with old friends depending on where you sat.

After the delicious and fulfilling breakfast, everyone merged into the theatre to begin seating for the day's events. The stage was set and, as the first speaker was preparing, the audience prepped their note-taking stations. There were the analog users, including myself, with Moleskins or other types of notebooks writing down their notes or taking sketch notes, and then there were various electronic options from iPad/tablet to full Macbook/laptop experiences. There were 7 speakers and a live podcast on set for the day, and I will just skim over some of my favorite takeaways overall.

The conference started off strong with Matt Graham from GitHub, which the Wall Street Journal humorously called a "Little-known social coding start-up". He started a great discussion about the web community, especially around GitHub, and why we should all work together. I had played around on GitHub before but after this talk of being an industry craftsman and optimizing for happiness in order to create better tools for designers and developers worldwide, I was truly inspired to put more effort into my open source endeavors.

The next big hit for me was Jenn Lukas, the creator of Eff Yeah Hovers, who spoke about Hot Links and how awesome hovers can be for user experience. They don't have to be cheesy or annoying; when done right, they can be delightful and appealing. The joy exuded from Jenn speaking about these little additions to a site's design lit up the room, especially when the power went out and she continued on without much pause. The talk was finished off with a fun quiz created with CSS hovers, testing Chris Coyier, creator of CSS-Tricks and CodePen, on his facial recognition of Tom Selleck & Burt Reynolds. I highly recommend visiting Eff Yeah Hovers and learn to love them again.

After the amazing pizza lunch provided by Less Accounting, it was a real treat to witness a live recording of The Shop Talk Show, hosted by Dave Rupert and Chris Coyier. They answered questions submitted during the week leading up to the event, including one submitted by me, and created some light-hearted discussion and hot drama in the theatre. It is definitely worth the listen if you never have before, and you may just become a fan of the duo (also you can find my question at 13:40 of the podcast ).

The last great talk was done by Doug Neiner, a real JQuery genius. He demonstrated various uses of JQuery for the average users and the professionals alike. I was having my own gripes with the overuse of the JavaScript library, but I kept an open mind about what Doug had to say. During the next 50 minutes, which included slides and an impressive live coding demo, I was throughly impressed with what he presented. Doug not only admitted to some of the useless aspects of the JS addition but showed off some of the more powerful properties of the language to make front-end development just a little more efficient. I can't say I'll be switching back to using it anytime soon, but when I do, I know I will appreciate it even more after that fantastic presentation.

As the day finished out and everyone applauded the speakers one last time, it was time to prepare for the evening's activities, starting with the Drinkup (meetup with drinks, get it?) sponsored by GitHub at the bar down the road. Every attendee received a pair of drink vouchers but the real friendly ones got some extras from the non-drinkers or DDs. This was one of my favorite parts of the day, not just for the free drinks, but it was a chance to chat with more of the attendees and connect with some of the awesome speakers I had heard earlier. I can say with confidence that people in the web industry are some of the most laid-back and easy-going folks I have ever encountered. It was not difficult or awkward to just walk about to a random group of strangers and join in on the conversation, or approach someone relatively famous within the web design world, like Chris Coyier, start a nice discussion. Conferences are not just about the food or the speakers but the designers, developers, and workers of the web, that have at least one similar interest as you, who will teach a little something and help you connect with other people in the industry as your career progresses. My only regret on day 1 was not being able to join in on the karaoke after the after party because of my long drive home.

Day 2

The final day of the conference was something truly unique to Front-End Conf and similar to a BarCamp event. Prior to the start of the conference, attendees can sign-up to give a 10 to 30 minutes talk on the subject of their choosing; this creates a ton of new and interesting discussions with much less effort on the host's part. The venue was different from day 1, but it was much more intimate with the audience and speaker on the same level; the variety of speaker backgrounds really stood out as well. The talks ranged from philosophical to technical to demonstrations of the latest technologies; here are a few of my favorites.

JavaScript game development has peaked my interest lately, and Dan Tello peaked it even further with his talk about the subject. Making a browser-based game with JS is one of the best ways to hone your skills in the language because you cannot use JQuery or CSS to control animation. After demonstrating the 8-bit style running game Dan and his team developed for a client, he showed off a bit of his open source game dev project called blastEngine on GitHub. In the project there is a demo space-shooter game to hack away on, as well as a basic framework to start a new game. I highly suggest giving it a fork, even just to play around with the demo.

Justin Mezzel is an extremely talented illustrator and all-around fun guy to talk to, and this event was the third time I have heard him speak to an audience. His usual talk being about designing with a narrative in mind, he strayed away from that subject and focused on designing as a community instead. It can be hard in such an independent industry, where most people just sit behind a computer screen all day, to reach out and depend on others to succeed. He spoke of his independent streak and, while he was fairly successful, it was not personally fulfilling. It wasn't until he would wake up in the morning with someone depending on him and vice versa, that he felt that he was actually contributing to the world and empowering the industry around him. Definitely very inspiring and along the theme of community I had heard throughout the weekend.

At last, there was a great demonstration by a duo from a company called Mixture based in the UK. They were showing off their very powerful tool by the same name as the company, which helps front-end developers prototype, create, and publish their various web products all within one app. It is currently a beta product but still powerful nonetheless. I had played around with it previously for a web app project but the demo showed how much more functionality there is in the current stages and the plans for the final product. The most impressive feature was the ability to connect multiple devices on the same wireless network and live edit on all the screens. It is a very neat tool to test out on a side project and then follow up into production work.

My day was cut short due to the 4 hour drive to St. Augustine but it was still a full day of talks and connecting with more attendees, especially this guy, that left my satisfied with my purchase.

Recommendation

Overall, attending Front-End Conf 2013 was not only a fun and exciting experience but a productive trip as well. It was such a great first impression of web conferences that I cannot wait to find another of similar value and attend next year's event. I met designers & developers from Canada, the UK, and all over the United States that I can connect with on Twitter and make contact with later on in my career. It is not enough to just sit behind a computer and do good work anymore; being a people-person and making connections within the industry can lead to so much more opportunity later on.

Finally, I would like to thank Dan Denney, his wife, Cherrie, and the whole team who helped organize such an amazing event. I cannot believe how lucky I was to stumble upon this opportunity and the great experience I had because of the people who run it. I hope to one day contribute something as awesome as Front-End Conf to the world of web design and development.