Joe Hart

🤔Thoughts from FFConf 2023

I am sat on an early morning train back from Brighton to the big smoke, with a mild headache from a few too many ciders at the FFConf afterparty.

If you’ve not been to FFConf before, I implore you to in the future. I’ve been in 2016, 2017, 2022 and this year and it is consistently the most thought provoking, friendly and all round fun conference I go to.

This year was an typical mix for FFConf of the kind of talks that make you go “fuck yea, lets go build stuff, tech is awesome” and then some that invoke “oh god we’re all doomed”. Existential whiplash keeps you awake in the surprisingly comfy seats of the Duke of Yorks cinema chairs here.

The videos will eventually be online, I’ll update this post with links to them when they’re online, but for now I thought I’d try and jot down the things that stayed with me from the day.

The talk that got into my brain the most was Maggie Appleton’s The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI. In an age of hot takes and hype Maggie has a brilliant ability to cut through all of that to offer nuanced and insightful thoughts on where the internet as a whole is going.

The idea of the web being “a place to genuinely connect with sincere people” resonates with me a lot. I’ve been enjoying my time on Mastodon and BeReal a lot more than Twitter or Instagram recently. They are quieter places where I mostly just follow people I know in real life, or folks from across the internet who I deeply respect.

A small part of me always wonders if this is actually better, or if this is just tickling my nostalgia neurons that miss the PHPbb forum era of the internet where communities were small and more insular that the “public square” approach of most of the big apps today.

Maggie’s talk captured the sliding doors moment feeling around the state of AI at the moment, we can all understand we are at the beginning of something. Exactly what we’re at the start of is the thing we don’t know. Maggie painted pictures of various paths ahead, some worrying, some downright dystopian and some with just the right amount of hope to get me excited.

Both State of the Browser and FFConf had the “it me” talk in the line up this year. State of the Browser was burnout, FFConf had Amber Shane’s wonderful talk about Imposter Syndrome. I’ve seen a lot of talks and had a lot of conversations about imposter syndrome in my career, but Amber’s talk was the first to offer tangible steps forward to try and combat it.

Ire Aderinokun and Angela “Ge” Ricci’s talks were a double bill of the good vibes of use-the-damn-platform talks. Ricci’s line of “just use the damn selector” when talking about CSS styles was my favourite of the whole day. Ire’s talk gave a lot of good technical examples of html and CSS and how to keep it accessible.

This genre of talk pops up a lot at web conferencing and I always find them a mix of empowering and disabling. I totally agree with everything they’re saying, but I feel like we could do more to enable devs in companies and teams to make baby steps towards a better web. For a junior developer in a team of 20 devs building a React SPA the advice of “use the platform” is too nebulous and impossible for them. Small steps, like using actual <tooltip> elements rather than rolling your own, keeping to the principles of not adding content with CSS, building accessible HTML within a react app would be more actionable steps for devs.

When we as a community wax philosophical about accessibility, the platform and JavaScript frameworks I often remember these Werner Herzog quotes about Wrestlemania:

Why do I watch Wrestlemania? My answer is the poet must not avert his eyes from what’s going on in the world. In order to understand what’s going on, you have to face it.

You must not avert your eyes. This is what is coming at us. This is what a collective anonymous body of majority wants to see on television. A majority of people

The web developer must not avert their eyes from what’s going on with JavaScript Frameworks. These things do not come from no where, they appear from circumstances and pressures as solutions. The dissonance we feel when looking at them is that they are solving problems than the one’s we believe to be important. The misalignment of the modern web is not a technical problem, it is a cultural and economic one.

The post lunch slots were from Steven Goodwin and Jonathan Fielding. Steven did a gloriously clever talk that, to be perfectly honest, confused the hell out of me. He was explaining and building Ada Lovelace’s first compute program in JavaScript. It had maths, it had history and it was highly entertaining. It’s exactly the kind of talk I love. I am excited to find some time to sit down and figure out exactly what was happening mathematically.

Jon’s talk was a very practical look at neurodivergence in the workplace and should rightly end up on a lot of “talks new managers should watch” since it gave great insight and advice about how to understand and enable neurodivergent reports and colleagues.

The final two talks were are classic FFConf uplifting fun just before the afterparty. Ana Rodrigues’s talk about building a Karaoke web app using web speech API ended in my favourite kind of call to action: to go out into the world and build silly useless things. Salma Alam-Naylors talk was a great look at all the silly fun things the web can bring to streaming live on twitch.

Overall it was another great year of FFConf. Remy, Julie and all their helpers have consistently put together the best conference of any given year. The programming is diverse, exciting and thought provoking. The people there are open, warm and welcoming. If only the weather was as sunny as the feeling the conference gives me every year.

See ya’ll in 2024!