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)!

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