Future Insights Live 2014 Recap

I attended Future Insights Live last week and had a great time. The workshop I attended was educational and full of awesome tips, the sessions were uniformly good, and the people (as usual) were awesome.

Workshop

On Monday, I attended the Ember.js workshop taught by Jesse Cravens. It was truly a delight and I felt like I learned a lot in the workshop setting that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. There were a few things that I particularly enjoyed about this day long session.

First, Jesse was ridiculously prepared. He had a lesson plan that he followed with estimated time for each section and a desired workflow as the day progressed. Each lesson had code samples online as a standalone JSFiddle, which made it super easy to play along.

Second, the morning session focused almost completely on the concepts that lie at the core of Ember before building into the more practical / utilitarian aspects of application building with the framework in the afternoon. I appreciated this because Ember is full of framework magic and it was nice to see where things fall into place. Some people in the workshop felt that the morning session glossed over things too quickly, but I felt the pacing was appropriate and didn’t have any trouble keeping up.

Finally, Jesse encouraged experimentation and a certain degree of competition. He stated at the beginning of the workshop that we should each be playing with the concepts, either by forking the JSFiddle examples he had prepared or coming up with our own, and that the “best” app at the end of the workshop would win a copy of his new book.

Given my love of competition, I jumped right in (as soon as I could anyways, I had to repair a corrupted drive the first hour of the workshop) and built a small roster management application that included a multi-level master/detail view with editing functionality. I used static JavaScript objects (so there was no persistence) but it wasn’t bad for never having used / played with a JavaScript MVC/MVVM framework like Backbone, Ember, or Angular. I was proud of myself and ended up winning the book (although that may have been by default as I think I was the only one who built anything).

Anyways, the workshop was fantastic and I felt energize and excited after the first day.

Sessions

The quality of the sessions this year was fairly high overall. There were some misses that I just didn’t enjoy, but I don’t want to dwell on those. Instead, I want to talk about a few of the speakers that I really learned from.

Carl Smith – Lessons From the Lemonade Stand

If you have a chance to meet Carl, you should absolutely take advantage of it. He is one of the most positive individuals I have ever met in my life and he has been a keynote speaker the last two years at FILive.

It is hard to explain what you get with Carl’s talks so I won’t really try. That being said, I can tell you that his words have had a meaningful and positive effect on my life.

Kirsten Hunter

Kirsten’s talk was entitled Designing Irresistible APIs and it was excellent. She gave a great high-level overview of why you might build an API, how you should treat your API (spoiler alert: as a first class product) and the things you can and should do to promote adoption / usage.

I really enjoyed this session because Kirsten stayed at a relatively high level. The session was more about the “why” of APIs rather than the “how” and I feel like that’s a harder question to address. Everyone in the audience could probably build a little Node + Express app to serve JSON from URL endpoints, but not everyone could justify doing so from a business standpoint and that’s what this session was designed to help us do.

Another reason I liked this session was purely selfish. Kirsten pointed out multiple times that your API should serve your customer (whoever they are) and their use case rather than blindly and slavishly adhering to a strict REST / RESTful paradigm. I thought that was a powerful statement from someone with so much experience and it made me feel better about the APIs I’ve built in the past.

As an additional note, I spent about an hour talking with Kirsten after her session and over lunch and she is just a fantastic person with a lot of real-world experience and some interesting opinions on the tech industry. I really enjoyed my time with her.

Other Speakers

There were three other sessions that I feel deserve to be mentioned specifically. First, Developing in Public by Daniel Hengeveld was a terrific overview of the many artifacts of software development that aren’t code. He pointed out that the things around the code you write, including decisions you made, the reasons why, the documentation for the code itself, etc, is probably just as important a the code itself. I think this is an important point and one that Daniel made quite convincingly.

Second, Logs & Metrics by Thijs Feryn was a great look into log aggregation and querying, the tools you can use to perform those tasks, and why you might want to. I know I mentioned earlier in this post that I enjoy high-level talks more than implementation centric ones, but Thijs really knocked this out of the park. His examples were great and he provided just enough information to whet the appetite.

Finally, Pete Hunt’s React: Secrets of the Virtual DOM was a good look into the current tools available to bind data to views in the browser. It covered each of the major players and then, unsurprisingly, made the case for why Facebook’s React is better than all of them. I wasn’t totally convinced, but it’s always exciting to see Big O notation used in a conference presentation, so I was at least intrigued. I also liked that alternatives were presented, even if they were dismissed along the way.

People

While I love the workshop and the sessions, I really attend FILive for the variety of people that I get the chance to meet. It is such an eclectic conference that you end up chatting with people from almost every discipline in tech. I met a ton of great individuals over the course of the week:

  • A Flash and ActionScript developer trying to transition to rich Single Page Apps
  • A sole proprietor from Sweden who flew all the way to Las Vegas to learn from his peers in he industry
  • A Norwegian frontend developer who I had a great lunch with and hope to continue corresponding with
  • Several individuals who I preached the gospel of freelance to – we’ll see if any of them convert
  • Max, a former music manager (living on the road, etc) and now Phonegap developer – what an awesome guy
  • Ankit, whose card read Ninja-Wizard Extraordinaire (no joke, and that is awesome)
  • A pair of developers from Aruba who were super friendly
  • A designer and developer pair from Brazil (the first people I talked to – coincidentally the first people I talked to last year were from South America as well)
  • Many more people who I had a ton of fun talking to and learning from

The experience of talking to all of these people is mentally and emotionally exhausting for me (I’m somewhat of an introvert) but I’m so glad I put myself out there and approached more people this year. I felt so lucky to be in a room with my peers, each with their own opinions and expertise. It was amazing.

Exhibitors

The show couldn’t go on without sponsor help and I actually enjoyed talking to all of them this year:

  • The Internet Explorer team was there showing off some of the features in their new developer channel build of IE11 (some of which are really neat)
  • SiteGround promoted their hosting with a cool creative contest and also gave away a free year to attendees looking to take advantage of the power of their platform
  • Traitify demoed their personality testing software with a cool app that basically boiled down to What Superhero are You? and it was a great experience – I really liked this team
  • Firebase had two developers showing off their real time platform with a few cool demos and they were more than happy to answer questions (which I had plenty of)

The exhibitors collectively put on a great show and I was happy to talk to all of them!

tl;dr;

FILive is a great conference. If you can attend, I highly encourage you to do so. I’m very much looking forward to attending again next year and very much hoping that it will be in Las Vegas again.

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