A Fantastic Day at UpFront Conference

Matt Chambers

Software Engineer

Ya can take the lad outta Yorkshire but ya can't take Yorkshire out the lad.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect heading to UpFront Conference, as this was the first kind of ‘techy’ gathering I’ve attended outside of university lectures. However, if all tech conferences are of the same standard as UpFront, then I’ll be definitely wanting to attend more!

The conference took place at the impressive Bridgewater Hall in Central Manchester, a short tram ride from our offices in Oldham. UpFront caters towards the front-end development community, bringing in quality speakers who are at the forefront of the field.

First item on the agenda for the jam-packed day ahead of us was registration, and whilst it probably wasn’t intended as an icebreaker of sorts, the massive selection of freebies was one way of getting shy, unacquainted programmers to get chatting. There were the usual notepads and pens but also socks (which are more than welcome in my house) and rubber ducks in the style of Darth Vader, courtesy of main sponsor UKFast.

Already a good start to @upfrontconf, let's see what the rest of the day brings!

A post shared by Matt Chambers (@miainchambers) on

Each of the speakers knocked the ball out of the park, and it’s tough to pick out any one speaker. Kicking off the proceedings we had Christopher Murphy, who gave an incredibly insightful presentation on taking ‘a calculated leap of faith’ which was probably my favourite talk of the day, not least because he confirmed my thinking that procrastination is not such a bad thing.

He encouraged us all to think of our passions and skills and where they overlap, which is a project that we should be doing We then wrote these down on a piece of paper including our Twitter handles and have a snowball fight! It was definitely a great start to the day.

— Up Front Conf (@upfrontconf) May 19, 2017

Charlie Gerard and Daisy Smith absolutely blew the socks off me with their innovative and passionate talk on Creative Coding in Javascript. They had created some awesome psychedelic visuals as well as standard 3D shapes to show us just what JavaScript is capable of in this area. Whilst more of an expressive and experimental area than functional, this was still super interesting to learn about.

Also on the roster was Mathias Bynens with a great talk on Unicode problems in JavaScript regular expressions and how ES6 helps to resolve these issues. Heydon Pickering with ‘Writing Less Damned Code’ – something we could all probably do! Minifying, compressing and caching are all well and good, but if something doesn’t need coding in the first place – don’t! Sara Soueidan shared some of the lessons and techniques she’s learnt to build practical front-end solutions for creative design challenges, emphasising on being accessible but still full of features. Sara’s parting comment stuck with me particularly as it is something that we as developers often neglect and only come to as an afterthought.

Let’s build components that care about people.

Monika Piotrowicz gave us a thought-provoking presentation on UX Fluency. What is Front-End Development? Chaos! We have to work with designers and the back-end team as well as utilising our own skills in both of those areas, an understanding of all 3 of these areas introduces some clarity into the chaos of FED. Again, the importance of user accessibility was raised and just how mindful we really need to be about our users and their experience.

It would be a sin to forget the stellar performance from Szabolcs Toth. He used the command line and Node.JS to brew an actual coffee, using an actual coffee machine! I could definitely do with an app that brews me a coffee as soon as I woke up in the morning. Introducing us to the Internet of Things, Szabolcs was able to do this by connecting micro-controllers (Tessel 2 in this case, but it also can be done with the likes of Arduino and Raspberry Pi) and sensors, to brew the coffee. Leaving us with the inspiration to go away and hack and tamper with hardware – I can imagine some pretty cool hacks being created.

One of the highlights of the day for myself was the ‘Lightning Talks’ session which I believe has been done every year of the UpFront conference. This session gave a chance for the attendees to get up and speak about something they find interesting or want to share. UpFront do a great job of empowering people and giving them this platform on which to progress themselves but also provide more speakers for us. We had some great presentations from Jo Morfee, Chi-chi Ekweozor, Bethan Vincent and Azizur Rahman.

Although the day was full of so many great sessions, the tea breaks were equally as welcome. A chance to stretch the legs and get a brew whilst connecting with the other attendees was another highlight of the day. The conference was closed by an emotional video from Eric Meyer, he told us of the importance of gatherings like UpFront, and that we’re not just professionals or companies or unions, but we are a community.

The recurring themes of the day around accessibility and gender inequality/imbalance in our industry put a smile on my face. These are the kinds of issues that we need to be speaking out about and it’s becoming more apparent that there are people standing up for these issues, I’m glad I spent the whole day in a room full of like-minded people in that respect.

All in all, a brilliant day was had and I went home trying to comprehend all the information I had just taken in and put it into practice. As first conferences go, this blew my expectations out of the water, and I will without a doubt be back for UpFront 2018!