Last week was my first time attending WDCNZ despite my hometown of Wellington playing host to the conference for the last few years. Wellington is pretty spoilt with great conference options and I often end up going to Webstock, which is great for the soul but isn’t really a technical conference. Since 2014 has been a year of a lot of learning for me, I decided to continue this theme by attending an event with a clear web-technologies focus.
As is often the case over the course of the day I noticed a couple of themes emerging from the talks I’d listened to.
Small is good
I was interested to hear the challenges that Mark Dalgleish encountered while developing Bespoke.js. After releasing the first version of his “DIY presentation micro framework” he realised that Bespoke.js was still trying to do too much for what the core needs of a presentation framework really are. So, he decided that the core would only be responsible for setting up the presentation, providing a simple control API and managing events. Then he did some rewriting to make the framework more accepting of adding plugins to handle extra functionality. This way anyone can write a plugin for their own needs and share it with the community.
This theme was echoed later in the day by Substack, who talked about applying Unix-style modularity to building your own tools and plugins. He encouraged people making their own software to build it out of small components that do one thing well. That way, if you don’t like one part you can just throw it away and make something better! Substack was a very funny and whimsical speaker but his point was that you can make great, even beautiful things out of the sum of small, simple parts.
Education, learning and making stuff.
Education! The other main theme of the day was about technical education, and equality of opportunity to partake in this community. It’s a topic close to my heart even though I took a fairly conventional path into the tech industry. There was a panel on the topic where the university sector, hacker schools and school-level education in programming were all discussed as both tools and obstacles to joining the tech community. It was an interesting forum, but I wished (as with all public discussions like this) that someone would talk at a much higher level about socio-political trends in tech culture. Reducing the barriers to learning about the web and programming is a good thing, but I don’t think that simply adding more people to the pipeline is going to fix the structural oppression that we see in our industry.
Making stuff! Sarah Hui gave what was probably my favourite talk - taking us on her journery from robot n00b to having a fully operational nodebot beverage carrier which she drove onto the stage via her iPad. Sarah is a front-end dev (and all round awesome lady) and it was uplifting to see the passion with which she’d approached the challenge of working with hardware and the connecting interfaces - including learning to draw circuit diagrams!
Learning! Jen Myers spoke about having a beginner’s mindset so that you keep the feeling of being new at something close to your heart, teaching and learning with empathy. She also talked about redefining what we mean when we talk about being an “expert”, because so often the most knowledgeable people are also the most humble, and aware of the limitations of their knowledge.