Fluent Conference 2013 videos (review)

Conferences can be costly, especially when travel, lodging and food are considered. Many companies cover these expenses for attending employees, but many people still pay out-of-pocket. If you’re like me you have to make strategic decisions about which conferences you want to attend in a given year, and which tracks or sessions you want to attend while you’re there. Unfortunately I missed O’Reilly’s annual Fluent Conference this year, but my joy was palpable when I learned that all conference keynotes, sessions, and workshops were recorded. As a member of O’Reilly’s user group program, I was given a set of Fluent Conference videos to watch and review. The complete set includes over fifty-five hours of video that may be streamed or downloaded to a computer or mobile device. (I use a Roku player and a USB drive to watch Fluent Conference videos on my television.)  Each video is professionally recorded, and the sessions are produced in split format so that you can see the speaker and their presentation slides or demos at the same time.

Presently I have viewed all keynote presentations and over a dozen individual sessions. Every speaker has been competent and articulate, and the topics have all been interesting, and some, surprisingly in-depth. I have not yet evaluated the workshop sessions, though if the tenor of the general sessions is any indication, I fully expect the workshops to share the same qualities.

These are the keynotes I found particularly interesting.

  • Brenden Eich (Mozilla) talked about the maturity level that JavaScript has reached over the last eighteen years. He covered ECMAScript 6 features that will bring JavaScript into adulthood. He also demonstrated that, through libraries like emscripten and ASM.js, JavaScript can be used to run applications at near-native speeds. To illustrate, he played a round of Epic Games’ Unreal Tournament, which had been ported to JavaScript and WebGL, right in his FireFox browser.
  • Paul Irish (Google) talked about new Chrome web development tools, including developer workspaces that map browser assets to files on the file system and source maps that track changes between generated CSS and SASS files.
  • Bill Scott (PayPal) relayed his experience porting portions of PayPal’s checkout process to node.js, specifically how he was able to integrate a node solution into an existing Java environment in a piecemeal way to combat regression.
  • Breaking from technology and delving into practice, Kate Matsudaria (popforms) discussed how skill mastery requires an understanding of all abstractions involved in any activity, and why developers should understand the “magic” behind the tools that they love so much.
  • Mike Hostetler (appendTo) encouraged audience members to re-think their definition of “work”. Mike runs a completely distributed company in which “work” relates to goals and activity, not location. This subtle but fundamental thought shift creates enormous benefits for companies, employees, and even the world at large.
  • Lea Verou (W3C) walked the audience through the lifecycle of a web standard and discussed the different people and organizations involved in the standardization process.

These are some sessions I particularly enjoyed.

  • Todd Kloots (Twitter) spoke about the power of HTML5 pushState and the challenges that his team had to overcome while simultaneously supporting modern and antiquated browsers, specifically reconciling URL hash changes with pushState routing.
  • Trevor Burnham (Hubspot) deconstructed promises into their constituent parts and showed how they can be use to aggregate callbacks to fulfill async tasks.
  • Ralph Whitbeck (appendTo) talked about the current state of the popular jQuery Mobile framework, how the jQuery Mobile release cycle works, and what users can expect from upcoming releases.
  • Steven Sanderson (Microsoft) presented an overview of his MVVM UI library, knockout.js. Not to be outdone, Misko Hevery (Google) presented his popular alternative, angular.js. Both libraries specialize in view/logic segregation and provide bi-directional data binding mechanisms, though they differ in template implementation.
  • Eric Elliott (Adobe) discussed the prototypal nature of JavaScript delegation and contrasted it with classical language inheritance. He made a compelling case for rejecting classical thinking and embracing prototypes as a superior means of reuse.
  • Ben Vinegar (Disqus) warned about the dangers of cross-site scripting and demonstrated how the proposed Content-Security-Policy header can curtail XSS abuse by whitelisting scripts.
  • Eric Bidelman (Google) demonstrated how the new HTML5 web component specification will help developers sandbox custom, reusable elements that have their own markup, styles, and scripts. He showed how much of the proposed (but yet unimplemented) web component behavior can be achieved with the Polymer library in modern browsers.
  • David Bruant (freelance) compared two theories of garbage collection in memory-managed languages (like JavaScript), showed how each has its own pitfalls, and discussed what JavaScript developers can do to prevent memory leaks.

I’ve been to many conferences and plan to go to many more. Maybe I will even get to attend Fluent Conference 2014. But until then I can get the learning benefit from a world-class conference in my own home or a favorite coffee shop. The Fluent Conference videos are quality tools for developers and teams to keep skills current and ideas fresh.

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