We Headed to Oxford for Render Conf!

Nick Stafford

Software Engineer

Life's too short to take yourself seriously.

I’m just going to come out and say it; Render Conference 2017 impressed the socks off me. I’ve been to a couple of conferences now (not that I’m an expert by any means) and though the others were good, I still wasn’t prepared for this conference.

I should have probably guessed it would be good, when I sat down and the stage looked like if Apple made Spaceships.

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Beginning with a pub quiz the night before, which was designed as an icebreaker session, the rest of the schedule was surprisingly capable of living up to such a strong start.

The format of the two-day conference was excellent, with a multitude of small refreshment breaks throughout each day. This ensured I was never over-filled with information or having to be seated for longer than was comfortable. Plus, the breaks gave me a chance to revert to my 5-year-old self, and play the game that defined my childhood. Yes, I’m talking some serious Sonic the Hedgehog 2 action on the Sega Megadrive (courtesy of Replay Events).

Admittedly the more important positive to the frequent gaps in the presentations, were the opportunities they presented to talk to other developers and ruminate on the presentations we’d just seen. In fairness to my childhood self, sitting down and playing the assortment of supplied classic video games did help with that. Nothing gets nerds talking to each other like relentlessly and un-rhythmically banging a digital drum to earn points.

I think it was particularly effective that once they were done presenting, each of the speakers were simply there to watch the rest of the talks like everyone else. So it was common to see them engaging with the rest of the attendees during the social portion. The ones that stick with me are Seb Lee-Delisle setting up his laser powered Duck Hunt in the mid-conference after party, spotting Ana Balica playing air hockey and running into Mathieu Henry.

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Speaking of the speakers (if that makes sense to say), the presentations were excellent. It was slightly tempered by my having seen a couple of them before. However, Umar Hansa had an entirely new set of Dev Tools tips to show and this was the first time I’ve seen Rachel Andrew able to talk about the CSS grids in the present tense (possibly one of the most immediately implementable talks of the whole presentation).

I was personally a huge fan of the talk by Patrick Kettner on keeping his baby happy. No, seriously – Okay, maybe that wasn’t quite the point. In reality it was an impressive presentation on how just using the cutting edge tools (that might technically make a product a progressive web app) isn’t actually the progressive way of working. Highlighting how with all the different technology today, we can and should be designing progressive applications that are capable of supporting less complete browsers and mediums, while still providing the optimum functionality.

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Another really fantastic presentation was the one given by Mina Markham on the work she did creating the Pantsuit pattern library (yes, that’s what they called it) for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign “Hillary for America”. It was particularly interesting (to me at least) to hear about the difference in working environment that she engaged in . The points of tighter deadlines, and having to deliberately choose priorities like maintainability over stability. Although, at a certain point in the campaign they had to make the decision that maintainability was less important as the campaign would be ending soon, one way or another. It was an insight into new design decisions that I hadn’t really thought of before and that were, to start with, seemingly at odds with the approach we work with at Web Apps. Here we try to ensure we get it 100% right even if we come across something unexpected that makes it take a little longer than anticipated. This talk made me realise that neither approach is “wrong” though, they’re both the best fit for the circumstance.

Overall, we had a great time at Render Conf and it was seriously informative. At this point wild horses couldn’t stop me from attending again next year. From laser shows to the surprisingly Extrali-esque Node.js solution described by Ben Ilegbodu, it was all quality content.

All images courtesy of White October Events