Fear and Coding in Brighton : Full Frontal 2012

Remy Sharp - Opening Full Frontal 2012

You’ve spent the day sitting down in a cinema listening to some of the most inspiring people working in technology and not just any technology, specifically the web. Not only this but you are surround by 300 just-as-inspring people too who all share a common interest with yourself. I think that it’s this fact that makes leaving Brighton for another year, pretty difficult. “Just five more minutes” I think to myself as I pull my phone out of my pocket yet again to check the time, knowing that eventually I will have to leave because unfortunatly there is a finite amount of trains that can still get me back to London before the night eventually drifts into Saturday morning. Its hard to pull yourself away from conversation about not only the days talks and how eye-opening they were, but talk about the future of the browser, future of web apps or even “Where the web is going”. Talk about the controversy of subjects tackled throughout the day and how perfectly crafted the event was, lining up talks that not only complimented eachother but seamlesly blended together to form another great year at Full Frontal.

I’m not much of a live tweeter, I’ve tried and I just can’t get the knack of it. I’m also not much of a note taker, but this is not due to my lack of clear and consistent handwriting, it’s more about being engaged with the talk. I like to focus and soak up everything I can, hoping that my memory will serve me better than scribbles in a notepad.

I’ve said it before, but coming back to Full Frontal for the second time in row is a very different experience for me, as I feel like I’m a very different developer one year on. When I came last year it was my first real conference and whilst I had been to a few local meet-up groups previously and certainly soaked up any videos that had been posted online, actually attending a conference is a unique experience that cannot be replicated in any way. I came this year knowing a few faces, knowing the run-down of things roughly (other than forgetting to bring something with name on it to collect my pass, but luckily signing into your google+ account and showing your profile counts) and I kind of know what to expect from the talks, after all by this point I have been to a few of these things now…I was a little wrong about that second bit though. Whilst I knew that the talks would be awesome I still underestimated just how good they would be. Sometimes you flick through the program for the day and make some assumptions about how relevent or interesting the talk might be and it’s mind boggling just how much I had underestimated some of the subjects. I knew they were going to be good, but I didn’t think that they were going to be this good.

The Duke of York is such an amazing venue, having a conference in a cinema is a great idea because it’s kind of purpose built for them, and it’s now the fourth year in a row and it’s become something of a Mecca for developers, we all flock there in November and cram ourselves into the small lobby grabbing as much SWAG as possible, free pastries and coffee and then we go and wait for people to say words at us. It’s semi-religious.

After Remy’s opening remarks which included the standard fire safety talk – “Fire exits front and back, run in the opposite direction of where the fire is” – Brian LeRoux pounced up on stage to introduce James Pierce (Facebook) who’s talk, titled “How I stopped worrying and learned to love the <body/>” kicked it all off and set the tone.

It was quiet the controversial talk, but I think for a lot of people it struck a chord in the right direction. He began talking about the DOM and how the DOM API and JavaScript are not exactly the best of friends. We seem to be comfortable writing markup using HTML and the accessing it with JavaScript VIA the DOM API – and we usually use a layer of library to make this easier. “Who said View-Source was a requirement for a web app” he goes on to say as he talks about building the UI through JavaScript so that all our app really needs is a single JS include, this also makes interactions a lot easier to handle because we no longer need to walk the DOM to get a reference to an element since everything already has a reference in our code. He moved onto tearing about a very popular saying, “The web will always win”, taking swift blows at the fact that native is faster and that the “Web is wearing out” after 20 years of playing catchup to native. Whilst I don’t agree with everything, it certainly raised some interesting ideas, talking about how we might move forward into the future whether the web is the platform or not and you know that it was one of the talks that really remained with people because almost everyone was talking about it at the after party.

John Alsopp came in with a haymaker with “Is HTML relevant in the era of web apps?” a talk that was the polar opposite, but just as refreshing as the opener. Talking about how we are making things more complex for ourselves by adding layers of abstraction (CoffeeScript, LESS and SASS) and serving up a lot of Edsger Dijkstra quotes to talk about simplicity. A great talk from someone whose been around and see it all and it was a great idea to put these two talks upfront together, like bacon and syrup they are two great talks that together perfectly compliment eachother.

Earlier this year I had seen Jake Archibald talk about the AppCache and how much of a Douchebag it can be, now Andrew Betts who works for FTLabs and knows a fair bit about AppCache and the Dysfunctional family it’s a part of, brings what I like to think of as a sequel to it. Talking about how Cookies+AppCache+IndexedDB might give you a fighting chance in getting your app to work offline. It was a great reminder that things are still hard.

One of my most anticipated talks was up next, not only because of the subject matter and because Anna Debenhams article on Gaming console browsers was a great read and eye opener, but because she is a fellow Adventure Time fan who was no doubt going to have at least one reference to Finn and Jake in her slides. Thankfully almost every slide was littered with references and the talk was great, going over the past, present and fast approaching future with some interesting statistics on game console browser usuage. Anna also calls for a Game Console Browser Hack Day – somebody do it! One of the best talks of the conference and one of the best talks I have seen this year.

In the post-lunch spot was Paul Kinlan who very nicely briefed us on “Building webapps of the future, today and yesterday” a great insight into what you should consider when building an app and a reminder that browsers can actually do a lot more than we are currently exploiting. Offline should be considered by default (thinking more nativly), use AppCache and clientside templating to it’s stregths and whilst drag-and-drop may not be the best thing to demo at a conference, it’s certainly fairly easy to get up and running with it.

Rebecca Murphey - Full Frontal 2012

Making it to the stage with a broken foot and a case of laryngitis, Rebecca Murphey spoke about “Writing Testable JavaScript”. A great talk from someone I very much respect and admire. This talk comes at a very important time in the JS community as unit testing isn’t something built into the learning of the language, where with other languages such as Ruby and C++, it’s kind of second nature. Unit tests are important, especially as you move from single page webapps into large enterpris-y applications that use a lot of JavaScript and will benefit in the long run with established tests. Some great examples with words of wisdom and encouragement. A lot of love for Grunt.js too, a tool that I couldn’t live without currently. Favourite talk of the conference right here, simply because it felt so relevent to me.

Nothing could have prepared you, me or anybody for the next talk as a real numberphile (Steven Wittens) took to the stage to blow minds with some insane visualisations and explainations of things like bezier curves and how they are calculated. He made it look simple, he really did, I was convinced that I could come home and start making sweet-ass looking graphics. His slides were art, with fluid transitions and the use of webGL to demo sine waves and their use in making art in code. This guy is ridiculously smart and not only amazed but made us all feel like we just weren’t smart enough to be drawing with JavaScript. His WebGL library he used to help make the slides is on GitHub.

That could have been it, it could have ended right there and then and the conference would have been a great one, but no. Chris Wilson grabbed center stage and took us to class, a history lesson from the POV of someone who has seen a massive amount in such a short amount of time. He talked about Mosaic and IE and gave a great insight into some of the thinking about what work and effort really goes into building a browser. It was a true look into the past through the eyes of a great storyteller and once the story was finished, there was some parallelism with what we heard in the opening talk. This was about where the web was really born where the first talk was about letting go of the past and moving forward. It may have been just coincidental or maybe we were just in the hands of a great conference curator who knew how to line ’em up.

Quote of the conf : “We really did manage to out-blink the blink tag” – Chris Wilson talking about <marquee>

We got there, the end of another year at Full Frontal and I am sure I won’t be the first to say it, it surpassed last year. The after party got underway and there was fantastic conversation to be had, not only about the talks and how great they were but also about Star Wars, TypeScript VS CoffeeScript and Dr Who. There was also a delivery of Bacon Butties at some point in the night.

Full Frontal is the must-attend conference of the year, especially if you are UK based and there should only be a handfull of excuses for you to miss next year.

Thanks to the entire Sharp family for making this happen.

Published by Shaun Dunne

Front End Dev with a passion for the HTMLs and JavaScripts. Shaun can usually be found hacking and playing with anything to do with the web. Lover of APIs and tinkering with Mobile development, when he's not with the kids, Shaun can usually be found creating, tweeting or blogging whilst listening to Pronobozo.

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