The great thing about living and working in Bournemouth, the fastest growing digital economy in the UK, is that you get a whole host of engaging, interesting and relevant digital conferences and events right here on your doorstep.
Re:Develop, now in its second year, describes itself as ‘an affordable one day tech conference right on the doorstep of Britain’s top rated beach.’ Their description is pretty spot on, with some great speakers and affordable tickets; early bird prices this year started from just £85 + vat. The conference is also small by the usual Tech conference standards, with just 200 tickets up for grabs, but this helps to foster a comfortable, intimate atmosphere, and by the end of the day you feel as though you have spoken to most of the attendees.
The list of topics being covered by the speakers is generally web/software development focused, but also casts its net wide. Subjects range from the more heavily tech focused sessions on pipeline architectures, Arduino & Application servers, through to more general digital industry related talks on things like user stories, accessibility and how to build a successful Startup.
The day kicks off with Kasia Mrowca with the first talk of the day – ‘User stories refactoring’ – and the case she makes for refactoring user stories is a strong one. For something so entwined in the agile workflow, user stories are something that have become inflexible, illogical and in extremes completely useless. Kasia’s call to reintroduce some common sense, questioning the status quo and only including what is absolutely relevant is refreshing. As a project manager myself parts of this talk hit close to home, and I especially enjoyed her comment that ‘Perhaps we could delete the entire backlog, and probably no-one would notice’.
The second speaker of the day, Lee Mallon, is covering a broader subject base – startups, and their failure or success. With nine years of failed attempts behind him, his latest project, Hindsight is doing well. Lee’s talk is light-hearted, informative and interesting. His list of the ‘Ten Commandments’ for starting a small business is great, with my personal favourite gaining the top spot at number ten – ‘Don’t be a dick’. With any luck #DBAD will be trending on twitter before the day is out.
Following Lee is Michael Heap, with a session on pipeline architectures, and while very informative, for someone with a less technical background, parts of it are a little over my head. The overall concept of pipeline architectures and the importance of decoupling functionality of various elements seems sound, and Michael does a good job of explaining some more technical aspects in an understandable and accessible way.
The next speaker up to the podium is Daniel Demmel, of UsTwo, on why we should be containerising everything. A slick slideshow uses the shipping industry as a solid and applicable model for how effective containerisation can be, allowing for simpler and therefore cheaper transport and transfer of just about anything. There is some really useful information on Docker itself, and the benefits it has over other virtualisation options. Then we are treated to a live demo of just how simple it is to get Docker up and running. It is a brave man that conducts a live demo at a conference, but in this instance it goes well. Daniel’s talk is well paced, interesting, and his impeccable moustache has at least half of the crowd mesmerised.
Lunch is a medley of grilled meats, fresh baked breads and various pasta and noodle salads. The quality of the fare is high, and there is no shortage of food – I managed a healthy plate of seconds!
First call after lunch is Andy Davies, with some fascinating insights into the importance of website performance and optimisation. The interesting story of how YouTube spent some serious time and money vastly improving the performance of their site, only for average page load times to increase when the updates were released into the wild. It turned out that the bump in website performance had made the site much more accessible to global users with much slower connections, sometimes in developing countries. YouTube was now so accessible that people with 2G were using it, and the increased average page load time was a result of a much wider reach and increased user base.
Sandra Szenti follows Andy, with more on website performance and load times. Her talk ‘Performance budgeting for a seamless user experience’, focuses on the theory of performance budgeting – a fantastic way of forcing all stakeholders and product owners to realise the impact that their suggestions for ‘just one extra bit of functionality’ have on a project overall.
The afternoon break is a chance to grab a coffee and a cake from the lovely sponsors, and then we are back in to the thick of it, with the talk I had been looking forward to the most – Joshua Marshall on accessibility – ‘This is for everyone: accessibility and you’. Joshua is a digital accessibility specialist, and a founding member of the Government Digital Service, responsible for making gov.uk one of the most accessible public sector websites in the world.
Lots of points within Joshua’s presentation seem so obvious and self-explanatory, but yet they are the points which are so regularly overlooked, swept under the carpet or actively ignored. Hearing them laid out in such a simple, easy to follow and logical manner feels almost embarrassing. As a digital industry it feels as though we have all become so concerned with all of the bells and whistles, the decoration, adornment and prettification, that we have lost track of the true power of the web.
“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” – Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
Joshua’s homework assignment for each and every attendee is to change one thing in your company that improves accessibility – a small but worthy task.
Holly Cummins is up next with her cuddly, handmade application server, definitely a first! The title of her talk is slightly left-field, with the talk itself focusing more on the internet of things (IOT) than on application servers or open-source electronics platforms. Some interesting points are mentioned on the levels of interconnectivity that we’ll achieve in the coming years. Will your cheese grater have a computer in it in years to come? Should your FitBit be able to communicate with your fridge when you haven’t exercised to lock away the sweet treats? It is an interesting, if slightly dystopic, view of the (so far) relatively harmless IOT, but definitely thought provoking.
The last speaker of the day is Joe Wright, with his presentation ‘Confessions of a Tech Lead’, an interesting insight into the life of a tech lead and the day to day decisions and workload that comes with the role. Joe’s talk is a great end to what has been a useful, entertaining day, crammed with interesting details, technical explanations, personal opinions, funny anecdotes, colourful language and thought provoking concepts.
It turns out that my fears of a dry, technical, lifeless tech conference full of stereotypical IT nerds were way off and completely unfounded. Re:Develop really covered all the bases this year, and a lot of larger, more established conferences could definitely take a leaf or two out of their book. All while offering fantastic value for money, tasty food and a great afterparty! Roll on Re:Develop 2016…