The Chronicles of From The Front

CSS preprocessors for the best of both worlds


Today is going to be about Gunnar Bittersmann, our favourite guitarist, and his talk: “CSS preprocessors for the best of both worlds”.

Viel spaß, have fun, buon divertimento

Css is a hard beast, especially when a project scales up. Making a webpage is easy; making a good system of UI elements, easy to maintain and understand can get you crazy in no time. In this talk, Gunnar tells about how to use pre-processors like Sass to establish a new way of architecting css. He shows how to avoid the presentational markup and in the same time having a layer of reusable elements, keeping HTML clean and readable. This is a very important lesson for every developer: sometimes keeping CSS code well organised is the only thing that stands between us and post apocalyptic chaos.
Matteo C.

The content was been well balanced: identifying the ogre as the presentational markup and giving us the right weapons to defeat it. OOCSS is a wise choice to keep your CSS tidy, Atom design leading your CSS to a better structured architecture and SASS to make everything reusable. Just taking the best bits out of these would hugely improve your CSS architecture quality and cleanliness.

With great power comes great (development) responsibility


Last year Sally Jenkinson spent some wonderful words about From the Front, and we are grateful to her for those, but not as close as how grateful we are to her for being there. Her presence both as a speaker and as a person to the conference was invaluable.

"Sally's talk starts from the idea that technology is experience.
Under this light responsive design can be seen as technology and design working hand in hand to make life better and responding to situations.
That's an empowering and wonderful vision!
Even developers are in charge of user experience, and the problem is that often we do not recognise how true it is and what is the responsibility that comes with it.
While is easy to be lured by the new shiny, and fancy possibilities browsers, devices and languages offer to enhance our websites, Sally advised us not to use technology for technology sake, especially if that results in excluding part of our audience from accessing our websites.
At the same time, we ought to remember that, above getting the work done, it is up to us to recognise the opportunity for enhancements, and shall we not miss those opportunities!"

"Hard to summarise an inspiring talk like Sally's.
There a few sentences that are echoing in my head since I first heard them and that I found very useful sharing with the teams I work with. (my head might have rewritten some of them).
You should use technology to improve User Experience, don't use technology for technology's sake!
Don't let technology drive your UX strategy, but think outside the box, aim 'higher' and use technology for users' advantage.
We should be shifting our thinking in how we make our builds and how we prioritise.
Being a good developer is good... being aware of it, makes it even better.
The choices that we make shouldn't be based around getting the job done and meeting immediate project needs but we should also be thinking a bit bigger than that, and beyond ourselves."

Your customers WANT to pay your testing budget


New video from last year's edition: it's time for Andre Jay Meissner, one of the founders of the Open Device Lab initiative, Jay talks about testing, opens source, working with a community and helping the web community to grow and form stronger connections.

Inspired by Jay, during the conference we proposed to some friends to create a temporary ODL at the conference and we are proud that's still operating in Bologna!

"We know that we won't code the site right at the first try, problems may arise, nobody is perfect and we want our customers to understand that without tests we are going out in the dark, with half backed products.
Nobody will ever argue against the fraction of the cost of a car spent in crash tests, or the portion of the cost of ticket spent in security and simulation.
Jay gave us motivation and suggestions on how to make our customers understand that they really want us to test our websites (and pay for that)."

"The thing I love about Jay's talk is that, even tho it's about testing and responsiveness and process and..., it really is about collaboration: the Open Device Labs is a revolution that we can start and it's a benefit not for us only but the whole local dev community, isn't that awesome?"

We Make the Internet


We choose Jon Gold's talk to start releasing the videos from From the Front 2014 because some of the thoughts he shared on stage are somehow related on how we feel about the conference itself. There is no point in describing you the talk: just watch it and share with us the thoughts you have about it as we asked to do to some of the staff members.

"In the era of hipsters, makers and unicorns Jon starts an introspective journey trying to show us the intrinsic multidisciplinary nature of the design role. A nature we should be embracing not rejecting or consider weird. Contamination between roles will create better designers and better developers and it's the way forward for both the freelancer and the employee of a big organisation."

"From the Front always believed that through discipline contamination we'd be better persons and professionals. And we always tried to reflect it in the content we proposed. Jon's talk expresses in an amazing way the need to break boundaries and get influenced, exposes the limits of being defined by our job role or by the specificity of what we are currently doing. This is From the Front."

"2014 has been the year of some brilliant — to not say deadly funny — guys like Jon Gold @jongold, mentioning Modernism everything and Bauhaus as an example of multi-disciplinarity that has to flow in every developer that does our job. Oh, I’ve also learnt from him that when recruiters ask for full-stack web developers they are also looking for “unicorns” or “people who make internet”. Cheers Jon for all this gold (pun intended)!

Brand new order


Today we are announcing the save the date for 2015, but that's not the big thing.

The big thing is that we have a brand new staff, with 3 people joining and selling their soul, lives and first-borns to From The Front, but let me introduce them in their own words:

Matteo Lissandrini

During the day I'm a PhD student in Computer Science, searching new ways to mine useful knowledge out of large amounts of messy data. During the night (and the weekends) web development is what keeps me sane: fighting CSS quirks, finding Javascript bugs, or wrestling with server side code.
My dark little secret is that I believed XHTML 2 was actually a good idea.
I was so lucky to win the ticket to attend my first From The Front and it was love at first sight!

Fabio Venni

Born and raised in Florence, I’ve been abroad for around 11 years (first London, then Amsterdam, now Barcelona). I started playing with the web thing around 1995 and I loved it straightaway. Over the years I’ve been working in the fashion, publishing and travel industry; I love to solve complicated problems and manage complex ones with a mix of data and design. Hating Helvetica since 2002, white water canoeist, I love cooking and photography

Francesco Zaia

Born at a very young age, and proud son of a video games technician, I grew up with solder wire and resistors on my bedside table.
Despite my engineering degree, I realised quite soon that network management wasn't really my biggest aspiration, so I steered into web development. I traveled a lot around Italy for study and work, did a lot of good work at Yoox as Front End developer and then team manager. Happy expat in UK since 2013, currently working at Moonfruit as Senior Front End developer.
Fact: I’ve been the opening speaker for the very first From the Front edition; doesn't matter if it was just a large meetup at that time, and everyone was half-drunk. I bring good luck.

Give them a warm welcome get prepared to a new, amazing, From the Front adventure

Call for Papers is tough


Origami Cranes

Since we started From The Front we always thought transparency was important.
We never got to a point to be as transparent as we could/would, mainly due to the lack of time: we are all volunteers and bringing on the table everything would cost a lot of efforts.

But sometimes it is worth to stop and share some of the processes that goes along in the team, to discuss them publicly and to try to learn from any potential mistake.

The call for papers is one of the most delicate things for a conference organizer.
Back in 2011, when we created Back to the Front we didn't consider to run a call for papers: until then we had to go find the speakers for our meetups, we invited some personally, some others were colleagues and friends and it was natural to us to follow that path.

But starting the following year we started having people asking to join our line-up. In 2012 we decided to join on board two speakers we didn't think of without a proper call and both Linda Sandvik and Denys Mishunov were absolutely amazing.

That is how we embraced it and run a proper, formal call for papers process.
We didn't think to get more than 50 proposals this year.

We needed to figure out how to deal with the proposals enhancing diversity and avoiding to be driven by our own bias.

We anonymized all the proposals, only Marco, in the team, was aware of the speakers' name (and knowing his memory issues that wasn't a big deal either).

We started discarding all the ones that we thought were not matching the direction we did want for our event: we didn't want anything that was explicitly related to a brand or product, we value a lot our audience and we know it's a melting pot of different professional backgrounds (from designer to javascript hard core developers, SEOs and UX experts, PHP programmers and even people non techy at all) and we try to include topics that would not kill the mood of a huge part of them even if only for one session.

That's always the tricky part: find what is acceptable to run in front of that amazing community we helped creating over the years. The risk on the other side is to never be able to get deep into anything. In the last few years we think we managed to propose a somehow balanced landscape, but there is always this thin line we have to walk on.

After that we started figuring out a path across the submissions, a series of scenarios that could have empowered the content as we wanted to shape it and then we uncovered the speakers' name.

This is the most critical step: right now we know who submitted what and we need to figure out if they could meet our expectations not only in terms of content but also in terms of delivery.

Sometimes it's easy, because the speaker has at least one video that we can refer to, but then some speakers don't, and they are the most interesting ones, but we need to be careful: we do really value a lot our attendees and we don't want to spend our budget on a talk not worth to be there, we are a no profit and the risk is not just ours, the risk is community shared and we do feel that pressure.

We came to the conclusion that a human touch is always the best solution.
In the next few days we will get in touch with a few potential speakers, we will have a face to face chat over skype/hangout either to get more informations about their speech and to get a sense of how they could deliver on stage. We know it's not the same to be on hangout and on stage, adrenaline could boost or paralyze anyone, but still we need to start somewhere.

Let us know if you would have done it differently, if you think this is not enough, if and what we could have done better or in a more sensible way: we are sweating exploring how to handle a call for papers in the best way, we do it for the community, we need help from the community

Let us introduce: Nishant Kothary


Nishant is a designer, writer, community manager, events organiser, change agent, and all-around renaissance person.

We are thrilled by the perspective he will give to the concept of being on a mission from the web given his polyhedric background and his ability on stage.

He's been an Amazon program manager and a Microsoft evangelist and strategist for several years and recently he started his own startup Minky. His favourite web work includes 10K Apart, Lost World’s Fairs, The New, MIX Online, A Website Named Desire, and Build.

He’s been featured in Smashing Magazine, UXMag, and MIX Online and he writes a monthly column on A List Apart titled The Human Web. Much like his talks, the column focuses on how human behavior affects the process of designing software.

Follow him on twitter @rainypixels

Let us introduce: Aaron Gustafson



Aaron has been building websites for nearly two decades and, in that time, has cultivated a love of web standards and an in-depth knowledge of website strategy, architecture, and interface design, picking up several programming languages along the way.

He served as Technical Editor for A List Apart, is a contributing writer for .net Magazine, and has filled a small library with his technical writing and editing credits, the latest of which is Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement, a book that "not only provides the clearest, most beautiful explanation of progressive enhancement I've ever read, it's also packed full of practical know-how pumped directly into your neocortex through Aaron's warm and friendly writing style. If you aren't already using progressive enhancement to build websites, you soon will be." --Jeremy Keith, Author, HTML5 for Web Designers

Follow him on twitter @aarongustafson

Let us introduce: Sebastian Golasch


Sebastian Golasch works as a Senior Web Developer at the Cologne based agency denkwerk.

After some time developing backend applications with Java, PHP and Ruby he became a citizen of the JavaScript world.

For the last two and a half years Sebastian has been working on the development of cross platform JavaScript applications in the front and backend area. In his spare time, he likes to contribute to open source software and advocates for a better understanding of JavaScript as the lingua franca of the Web.

He recently released DalekJS, a UI testing tool.

From "have you ever heard the joke about the 6 javascript devs trying to change Java code, written by two "non programmers", no?, good, because it isn't funny at all […] So my dear reader, here we are now, introducing a new testing tool for your Webpages, one that hopefully makes you love testing"

Follow him on twitter @asciidisco

Let us introduce: Paul Annett


Paul Annett recently announced his new job at Twitter.

Before that he was the Creative Lead for the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) at the Cabinet Office, working on, revolutionizing the way people interact with public services online, and previously he was Senior Designer at Clearleft in Brighton.

His experience in designing for massive audiences as well as the 10 designs principles, he helped defining during his experience at the GDS, are by themselves a guarantee of the inspiration you could get from him.

Moreover, even though he might be unaware of that, those design principles have major responsabilities leading us defining of Frontend Brothers' theme: "On a mission from the web".

We are definitely thrilled to see how he is going to blow our minds this time.

Follow him on twitter @paulannett