Web Summit 2019

For the past 3 years I’ve hit up exactly 2 conferences per year, usually ForwardJS in the spring, and then RubyConf in the fall. This year RubyConf was in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to visit, but this time around I just wasn’t feeling the song and dance of a dev conference.

Ryan was set to go to Lisbon for the marketing conference Web Summit, and since it was my birthday month, I decided to tag along and make this my annual birthday trip. At the last minute I was offered a ticket to Web Summit. After seeing how expensive the tickets were, I was determined to treat this as a real conference and get the most out of it.

Web Summit claims to be the world’s largest tech conference, and with 70k attendees this year, I believe them. The conference ran from Tuesday to Thursday. I arrived Wednesday morning, but was so jet-lagged that I slept completely through that day’s session. So I really only had Thursday, and I can say honestly say that was enough.

Ryan hard at work

Overall the experience was overwhelming. There was just… so much…There were 5 pavilions of exhibition, 23 stages, sponsored booths, multiple startup alleys, along with a massive arena for the big talk.

Many of the talks were short – 20 minutes or so, and there was no time scheduled in between them. Combine this with 70k wandering people all looking down at their phones, and you can imagine the stress of just getting around. The entire conference felt like Shibuya crossing, lol.

One of many food halls
Early in the day

Every talk I saw was packed, except for the one talk I went to on the lack of diversity. I really hope that’s because it was nearly the final talk of the day!

Next to last session of the conference

This was surprising to me because the tickets were so expensive, but food was no longer served, just coffee and water. This was probably due to the very public food fiasco back in 2015. I also noticed that there was less swag from companies than normal, but maybe that was because I went the final day.

There were however, lots of companies doing playful things to get attention. There was a basketball court, claw vending machine, boxing area, escape rooms, and an area where you could ride a unicorn.

Ride a unicorn
Floating boxing ring

Developer Presence

Ahead of the event I received an email from the conference stating that there were ~8,500 developers attending. There was definitely a developer friendly presence from Cisco, AWS, and Google, but I didn’t meet any devs in person while milling about. I did attend an AWS machine learning workshop, which I found useful. One of the things they were demoing was translation and sentiment analysis. It was very similar to the very manual work I did long ago at Beyond and Edelman.

Anyways, I won’t bore you with the sessions, but here are some overall themes I noticed:

There were a few case studies of brands trying things that might seem unintuitive because they actually align with their greater vision.

For example, I saw a talk with the CEO of Time Out explaining how the company expanded from one cutthroat market (media) to another struggling market (food/hospitality). It didn’t seem to make sense to enter the space, but for their greater vision of being a hospitality company, it did. With the creation of Time Out Market in Lisbon, they ended up creating a kind of circular market. First they identified awesome restaurants in a city, and then they invited those chefs to create a representation of the awesomeness of the local food scene, creating the market – another interesting place to visit. I don’t doubt their success – 13,000 people visit Time Out Market in Lisbon per day.

Time Out

Another example was Rent the Runway. They were already successful enough renting out fancy gowns for special occasions (weddings, etc). Why then did they enter the logistical nightmare of a clothing subscription service for casual wear? It made sense with their overall vision of being the company to get women dressed, and they were strategic about their expansion. They tested subscriptions with small groups, and expanded… then once they had proof of concept, they went all in. They went from 2.7 wears/year for their average customer to 120 wears/year for subscribers.

Web Summit was definitely a place for a brand to get ahead of their critics

For example Google hosted a talk called “Content Moderation: A Google Perspective”, H&M spoke about sustainability in fast fashion, and De Beers discussed its lab grown diamonds.

Don’t be afraid to build your own system. In the end it can be much more flexible.

Multiple brands that I wouldn’t think of as tech companies were building out their own systems. For Rent the Runway, they had to build their own inventory system because the systems that existed weren’t could not accommodate the rental model. In the end, this was worth it because when they pivoted they were able to customize and add on.

Ryan running the Rent the Runway session in the Samsung NEXT Classroom X

PVH, the brand behind Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, had a booth that discussed how they use custom software in their design and supply chain, creating “the store of the future.”

And last but not least, I was most impressed with the presence of Lush Labs. Their shipping container concept store showed off their work building an ethical POS system. Beyond just following the supply of inventory, they were even concerned with the sourcing of raw materials for the hardware, in order to make it less cruel.

Their consumer facing store app was also created in order to help limit the amount of signage/plastic within the store. Instead of having signs throughout the store, you could pick up an item and scan it in order to retrieve information.

Unfortunately they were running into snags with rolling this system out across different countries, usually due to legal issues, but now they have it active in like 6 countries including UK & Croatia. Pretty impressive what they’re going for, honestly.

ForwardJS SF 2018 Recap

ForwardJS was the first developer conference that I ever attended, and it was a pleasure to be able to attend again this year. Forward has been releasing batches of the recorded talks on YouTube, so I thought that I would share a few of my favorite talks from this year’s conference, along with the video and slides when available.

Design Systems at Scale

Sarah Federman – Experience Designer & Developer @ Adobe


  • My favorite part of going to conferences is learning from the trials and tribulations of other developers. This year I caught a few talks which explored how larger companies enforce consistency at scale. The keynote for the event, given by Sarah Federman of Adobe, was a perfect example of this. She presented Spectrum, the company’s design system.

Migrating the Frontend Stack from Python to React @ Yelp

Mark Larah – Full Stack Software Engineer @ Yelp


  • Mark Larah from Yelp shared his team’s journey in migrating its Python Cheetah template front-end to React components. Important questions they asked themselves before migrating included:
    • Is it worthwhile? Comparing benefits vs. time & cost
    • Can they migrate without disruptions?
    • How will it impact performance?

One Progressive Step at a Time – Inside Progressive Web Apps

Anas Raza Firdousi – Software Engineering Lead @ Apple

  • When I attended ForwardJS a few years ago, it was all about React.This year “progressive web apps” or “PWAs” kept popping up in talks. Anas Raza Firdousi from Apple gave a great intro to progressive web apps, taking the audience step by step through building a basic PWA.

Pinterest ♥ Mobile Web

Zack Argyle – Tech Lead @ Pinterest


  • The most fascinating talk I saw was from Pinterest. Zack Argyle shared how Pinterest rewrote their entire mobile web experience to be a PWA in only three months. While this change brought major performance improvements for mobile users, there was one major caveat. Before taking on such a task, you’ll need to have the resources to be able to maintain two separate sites. In Pinterest’s case, they needed a minimum of 20 developers just to maintain their new mobile site.

Optimizing React Applications

Roy Yu – Lead Software Engineer @ Chegg

Video & slides not currently available

  • My current project at work revolves around React and Redux, so Roy Yu’s talk on React optimization was a must see. I loved the talk because Roy emphasized the importance of developers fully understanding what is important to their customers, and using data to make the case with PMs and clients for the time and space to conduct optimization. The talk was also immediately actionable, with a plethora of tools suggested for identifying potential optimizations.

Codeland – Well I guess I’m a developer now

When I was in my program, I loved reading other bootcamper’s blogs. Seeing their challenges, progress, their wins big and small… it got me through. One inevitable, disappointing and all too common phenomenon that I ran into again and again was that the student would be consistently blogging, then they’d graduate, look for a job…. and then the blog would just stop. Even worse, the posts might have stopped before graduation. I never knew what happened to the person, whether things worked out or not. I could be creepy and scour LinkedIn to see if the student became gainfully employed in web dev, but I never went that far.

Well, my last post was from December, so this blog is in dangerous territory of becoming yet another abandoned bootcamper blog.

So here’s a quick catchup. Plenty has changed since the end of 2016. The first few months of my apprenticeship were rough. Everything was so new, and I didn’t know how I was doing, so I was working double time to “catch up.” After I got some positive reinforcement and felt a little bit more comfortable with the development process, I stopped taking work home with me every night, and things improved. It was also a weird time because it was the holidays, and it was hard to get to know my new coworkers when everyone was out of town for the month.

Long story short, I survived my apprenticeship and was hired on full time as a software developer in mid April. It was a great relief, and a nice cap to the last few years of work. I changed my career! That’s nuts! One surprising aspect of my job is that I’m working 90% of the time in JavaScript, which seems like some cruel joke from the universe considering my personal feelings about JS, but it’s not too bad actually. JavaScript is less terrible when you know what you’re doing, I’ll give it that.

My progress on this journey has been capped by conferences. I went to my first programming conference (ForwardJS) while I was finishing my program in Spring 2016, and my second (RubyConf) just as I was starting my apprenticeship. Last month I attended Codeland. It was sponsored by the CodeNewbie podcast, which is a super supportive podcast for … you guessed it, programming newbies.

Quincy Larson of FreeCodeCamp on how to write a technical blog post people will actually read

This was the first year of Codeland, so I didn’t know what to expect. This was definitely a gamble, especially since I was weighing going to Codeland vs hitting up RailsConf in Phoenix the next week.

Codeland turned out to be a really strong event, despite a few logistical hiccups. Most obviously it was a super diverse crowd in every sense – age/race/gender/experience. The vibe was really great, inclusive, positive and supportive, none of that weird aloof super nerd awkwardness/ competitiveness I’d seen at other conferences, no clique-ishness. Oh, and it was woke as fuck.

Content? The talks and workshops were strong and varied. I got to make a pizza ordering Slackbot in one workshop. Talks that I had no interest in turned out to be actually interesting and there were things that I could relate to, even if I hadn’t used such and such technology (and it’s a good thing too, since the conference was single track aside from the workshops!). The high quality of the content I’ve gathered is because the speakers worked with the conference staff quite extensively to hone their talks. A+, good job guys. Also, the food was divine. One quibble – no Codeland shirts? ; o

There was a segment on coding bootcamps, pros and cons, with reps from 3 of the bootcamps that happened to be sponsoring the event. What, no Flatiron??

A very well put together program for the event, with info for each talk, supplemental resources, and space to take notes. Here is an ad from Dev Bootcamp, and I agree wholeheartedly. Apprenticeships are awesome – but incredibly rare.

It was strange to be at a conference and be more experienced than some people I met. I got to talk to a lot of people about bootcamps and it felt good to share my experience. I’m a ‘success story’ I guess, although to be honest I don’t know if I would suggest a coding bootcamp for a person just starting out on the path. But that is a whole nother blog post…..

Notes from Forward JS

AKA baby’s first JavaScript conference

I’m not the hugest fan of JavaScript, so how did I find myself at Forward JS, a JS conference? Well, I’m on a number of email lists,and last week Girl Develop It was offering a great discount for Forward JS – $19 for the one day conference (no workshops), down from the original price of $249. I do love a bargain, and I figured that I would learn something, so I impulsively purchased a ticket.

The event took place at the Regency Ballroom. I think I saw CocoRosie play here a long time ago. One guy I talked to mentioned that he had his high school prom at the Regency. They do everything!

I tried to hit up as many talks as possible, but I got tired as the day wore on, and left before the afterparty.

Here’s what I saw:

How Your Brain is Conspiring Against You Making Good Software

  • Jenna Zeigen, Engineering Manager @ Digital Ocean
  • The keynote was pretty interesting. It was all about cognitive biases and how they affect development – from building teams, to coding to project planning. It pushed for greater diversity and inclusion, which seemed to be a theme of the conference.


Forward themed tampons! Yeah diversity! There were a lot more female attendees than I was expecting, and maybe half of the speakers I saw were women. It felt really good, and positive.

Coffee break – Coffee & Stroopwafels – Apparently last year they promised stroopwafels and there were none? They were delicious. Various tech companies had booths set up in the social hall, and I ended up learning about some cool technologies like IBM’s ez API builder, API Connect.


Bringing Dynamic Back

  • Raymond Camden, Developer Advocate @ IBM
  • This session was all about finding ways to make your static site more dynamic. I gave static a try with Jekyll and didn’t end up sticking with it, but this talk was still pretty helpful.

There’s a Bookmarklet for That!

  • Justine Lam, Web Developer @ ShareProgress
  • This talk was a lot shorter and more straightforward than I was expecting. I think it finished in 20 minutes when there were 40 minutes scheduled. Justine made bookmarklets look easy, so I’m working on my first one. It’s a bookmarklet to replace all images on a webpage with photos of Bill Clinton playing with balloons. I call it “Billoons.”


Lunch Break

React/Omniscient and Immutable – the Gateway Drugs of Functional Programming 

  • Erin Depew, Front End Engineer @ Bit.ly
  • This one was incredibly popular, probably because it was about React, but also because it was held in the room where lunch had just ended, and there were so many people already seated that maybe they just decided to stay?
  • I got to see how Bit.ly uses React along with Omniscient and Immutable, and all the challenges they’ve run into along the way. I haven’t used React yet, but the talk was easy to follow. There wasn’t much emphasis on functional programming, which is what I was expecting from the title.


React Native: Learn From My Mistakes

  • Joe Fender, Senior Developer @ Lullabot
  • Another React talk (there were 4 total), things to consider when using React. I had a harder time following this talk. Guess it’s time to learn React!


Practical Performance Tips to Make your Cross Platform Mobile Apps Faster

  • Dr. Doris Chen, Senior Technology Evangelist @ Microsoft
  • I was excited about this one. It was basically tips and tricks for speeding up your apps. She was trying to condense an hour talk into 40 minutes so she didn’t quite make it to the end, but it was still enjoyable. One of the better tips: you don’t have to put event listeners on everything, just set it on the parent, and let bubbling up take care of that for you.

IMG_3756 2

Coffee Break – Milk & Cookies

By the time it was cookie time, I was exhausted. While I could have checked out another hour or so of lectures, I decided that it was a good time to call it quits. Overall, I’m really happy that I went. I met some interesting people, and the energy was good. Everybody, male/female, young/old was there to learn. Do I like JavaScript any more than before? I don’t know. It’s a useful language, that’s for sure.


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