A drawing of Ana holding a phone and taking a photo of a cat who is washing itself. The cat says, suprised, oh, hello Ana.

Personal highlights from FFConf 2019

It's been a while since I've written a blog post. Life got a bit too busy and chaotic after July/August and I didn't think this would happen to me but I think I accidentally burned out. Although I was away most of October I still think I didn't fully recover. So, at the beginning of November, I started to really look forward to FFConf because every year I always leave feeling inspired and energised.

I've been to FFConf since I moved to the UK and I've mentioned it in passing in previous blog posts. It has been a place where I made "friends forever", where I got a lead to my current job and where conversations are natural, human and don't feel like a job interview.

This post will be a reflection post where I will share lots of personal thoughts and notes that I took with me so they may not reflect the content of talks. Sophie has written a fantastic day recap that may be align more with that if that's what you're looking for.

Empathy

In order to #EngageEmpathy we have to do a serious mental effort. Empathy is a very important topic to me because I've felt the consequences of the lack of it from people around me in the past. It was the second time I've seen a talk by Sharon Steed and I was, once again, very moved by it.

We all have our unique perspective and background and how we interpret and feel things presented to us. Sharon told us her story about living a stutter and how often empathy wasn't there was she needed but also when it was. I have a completely different life experience from her and still, everything she said could be applied to me and my own experiences.

My instant reaction was to laugh when Sharon said that "empathy is the thing you should be doing not to not be the asshole". But I am sure we have all been in situations where we saw an exchange (or even participated in one) where something was said that was unnecessary and that wasn't as funny. Maybe a co-worker who once made a "joking" comment about you leaving work on time or a bit earlier didn't bother to think that you may have a personal reason why.

That was a mild example but unpleasant exchanges are likely to happen in a workplace where patience, perspective and connection are lacking. When I was working with people who lacked these and I made a mistake or fell short of their expectations, the "finger pointing" culture was very present and it impacted everyone's morale.

I'm still thinking about the definition of empathy. Sharon presented questions that I never considered: you choose empathy with how you define it so: how do I define empathy?

The penny dropped for me here: I've been moving what I define as empathy as I grew too. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wasn't as empathetic as I am now compared to 10 years ago. I began to think about how sometimes, some friends of mine, disappoint me because they said or acted in a way towards me that I would never do right now, but maybe I would have done/said the same 10 years ago?

But the good news is, and like The Good Place has been telling us, we can change and engage in empathy every single day. But at what cost? In the past I've felt exhausted and exposed from educating people about empathy, especially when explaining to them how their actions (or inactions) have impacted me.

I've done my personal reflections alone in the past couple of years. My personal experience with empathy had to come from within, from a lot of self forgiveness and from a lot of "letting go". I've become more empathetic towards others once I learned more about myself.

I admire the work of Sharon. She has made herself vulnerable so that others can learn and bring a new attitude to their workplace which will benefit so many people. Sharon shared key empathy behaviours that we can all individually practise in our daily lives, in and out of your workplace, that can have a wonderful ripple effect.

Imagine being able to feel safe to ask your colleagues what you need and being in an environment that puts people first? Open communicators, safe and included humans deliver wonderful things.

Vulnerability is the gateway for all kinds of things.

– Sharon Steed

Being vulnerable allowed me to take and receive. And I don't mean opportunities (although that too). It allowed me to grow emotionally.

At last, Sharon said something that moved me and completely changed how I interact with my friends:

We don't listen to what people say, we listen to our opinion.

– Sharon Steed

Becoming a web developer in this day and age

I was really looking forward to see this talk by Amina Adewusi and slightly terrified too. It has crossed my mind multiple times recently how I genuinely don't envy junior developers right now. This talk was a quick reminder how privileged I am and how I was lucky that I joined the industry quite some years ago.

While now more than ever there are more options to learn to code, these still don't cater to caregivers and/or people who don't have an exorbitant amount of money to pay for courses. Not to mention career changing folks who can't study full time.

And after all those challenges, the job search is another challenge. I share some similar stories with Amina - most recruiters don't have empathy or understanding of how your personal time works when doing technical challenges for job interviews. The first and only time I've ever used a recruiter, my phone number was shared with four other recruiters who rang me non-stop from 7am onwards emotionally pressuring me to complete coding challenges.

I genuinely loved how Amina gave a talk to junior developers while also giving tips to those already established in the industry about how they can help. I also recommend Jo's talk from the previous year at FFConf where the focus is how an established developer can be of help to junior developers.

Before becoming a web developer I considered other careers while I was in university. Sadly, these all shared a similar trait to web development: they are "new" and very gatekeeping. When I studied web and graphic design, photography and video, I started to get the impression that "new-comers" aren't necessarily welcome. Professional photographers started to get really upset when young people started to able to afford digital DSLR cameras and photo editing software.

People have a hard time accepting that this an industry that is changing daily and that it is very possible to be "junior" at it and be very good at it. I see this gatekeeping especially from senior folks who believe that junior developers skip "essential skills" with bootcamps and therefore shouldn't be immediately hired. People who believe this are projecting personal frustrations with their own wasted time in now obsolete technologies along with their own insecurities and fears of not being able to catch up. We are all "junior" developers the moment a new javascript framework comes out anyway.

I thought I'd also share some useful links that I captured from Amina's slides:

You have the power to make the web a better place.

Work tools

During the day we had three "a bit more technical" talks. One about Git by Alice Bartlett, a guide to use browser tools to improve performance by Anna Migas and another performance talk by Harry Roberts leaning more towards a business/freelance view.

It is with some shame that I do admit that I make some things that Alice mentioned in her talk. Alice mentioned that, when doing commits, describing all the work made by linking into a ticket isn't a guaranteed method since, at any moment, those tickets or ticketing system may be deleted. This made me realise that I haven't stayed in a job long enough to have seen this happen, so I've been making that mistake for quite some time. Not only that, but until this talk I relied on pull requests to write a lot about the changes being made and I shouldn't do that.

This would have been incredibly useful to have on a welcome book for anyone joining a company that contribute to a project using Git. In fact, it reminded me how in previous jobs I wasn't properly informed of how the team "did their commit messages" and how a documentation guide wasn't available anywhere and yet I was still expected to have known. Empathy, am I right?

I love how performance talks can all be so different and you always learn something new. In Anna's talk, I was reminded of some CSS tricks that I didn't remember (like font swap!) so I really recommend catching up on her work or recorded versions of her talks.

Harry's talk focused on goals when working to improve performance in an angle I hadn't considered before. Until this talk, I was one of the those developers who saw performance as a final number to improve (when tackling the issue from a "done" perspective) without asking other questions. Some of the questions he asks actually make perfect sense:

  • How do you know your website is slow?
  • What key areas of the website should I look at?
  • What will it mean for the business if your website is faster?
  • How will you measure?

Harry also shared a great point that I do by default and completely forget when talking to others: capturing data is really important. Before, during and after. He also shared a good point: we need to normalise talking about performance before building something (and to me, this includes even before the design phase) as it seems like a lot of performance work is actually fixing things that were preventable (similar to accessibility).

Surveillance and more horror stories

It was hard to name this section since surveillance and poorly designed tech is a topic that really upsets me. As a woman, I've experienced the fallout of poorly designed features that do not take into consideration people who need to be safe while also being able to have a social life like everyone else.

Laura Kalbag's talk (along with all her work) is really important now more than ever. Laura shared very scary facts on how some corporations have access to an infinite amount of data that although "anonymised" it can easily be "de-anonymised". It scares me that this important information is only being shared with people who are already in a very niche community and how this isn't part of broader education. As Laura pointed out, lots of people have no way to understand what they are consenting to when signing up for services. The same way I didn't give consent for Google to own my FitBit data and yet here I am.

I am an anxious person who usually expects the worst. I am also someone who hasn't seen Black Mirror because I find reality quite... overwhelming as it is. But it bothers me not knowing how far off are we from fiction? It bothers me not knowing when "data" can be used against me. As a woman, I immediately imagine worst case scenarios like, for example, getting different prices when you're on your period. This was an exagerated scenario... I mean, right now the worst that is happening is that these companies are messing with our democracies.

Laura shared some tips of how you can try to protect yourself online along with tips of how you can help have an impact in the tech world that we all develop to:

  • Be independent
  • Be an advisor
  • Be advocate
  • Be the questioner
  • Be the gatekeeper
  • Be difficult
  • Be unprofessional
  • Be the supported

And also very important: Host and own your website!!

Here are some useful links shared by Laura:

Silence is complicity.

Creativity

It is hard to disguise this but: this is my favourite part of the day and the one that made me fall in love with FFConf. This year we were in for another treat! It isn't often that you see a conference promoting fun projects. It is really important to me because in the past I've put off working on silly personal projects out of fear of being mocked and not taken seriously. But FFConf always bring inspiring people over who are in fact, very successful!

Charlotte Dann did an amazing talk that explored her background in jewelry making and how she transferred her fantastic skills and creativity into web development. I pretty much had my mouth open the whole time seeing her process of building something from creative coding into pieces of jewelry. I wish I was as cool as Charlotte. It is hard to put into words how it re-sparkled my mind into making things.

And the day ended with Suz showing us how to use web apis to interact with slightly more unusual devices. In this case a game boy printer! It was amazing! I would like to give a go at something like this in the future - although I'm almost sure I've exhausted all my "cat based" ideas.

Suz Hinton closed the conference with an important message. She talked about big corporations are abusing and taking control of things that belonged to everyone with the example of the 900 MHz band that is designated for amateur radio. An emotional message that touched me as well. I was unaware of this particular example and it was heartbreaking.

I want less mass-produced surveillance bulls**t and more harry potter magic.

– Suz Hinton

I want the web to be a medium to create things and/or to communicate and express yourself. You know... like paper for example. To create paper planes, to draw on, to write, to send letters. I miss the wholesome web I once knew. I do not want the web to be a tool for oppression, control and manipulation. Some days it feels impossible to reach the people outside the web community.

I left wondering what else can I do but keen to do something.

Thank you FFConf. I want to see you again next year!

  • Mood: Sleepy 😴
  • Doing: On a train
  • Thinking: It doesn't make sense that you say "in a car" but not "in a train".
  • Listening: nothing