Notes from UofI WebCon 2014

This past April, I attended the UofI Web Conference.  This was the first conference I’ve attended that was directly applicable to my current job… and it was excellent!  What follows is a quick brain dump of my notes from the conference.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Testable JavaScript in Action

Tools used:

Sadly, the biggest lesson I got from this was to make sure you had a working dev environment set up before hand, especially if you have a windows machine.  Trying to install Ruby and Node as the speaker is kicking off was a frustrating experience, especially when Node required a reboot to add itself to the windows Path.

Also, a word of advice to any future presenters of workshops: put a link to your setup instructions on your presentation splash page so that people who get there early and forgot to install the software can easily do so.

Opening Keynote  – Chris Coyier

Sessions: Web Project Success – Lessons from History

Speaker George DeMet gave an interesting presentation, using historical events as analogy to managing a successful project and meeting your clients needs.  Whether it’s having a micro-managing supervisor like President Lyndon Johnson (who apparently personally selected bombing targets in Vietnam); not being flexible to a partner who changes the rules of the game like the Russian Army’s abandonment of Moscow under Napoleon’s advancement; or breaking down into smaller work groups to enable success like the Constitutional Convention, the problems of management have existed for far longer than our nascent industry.

It was an interesting perspective that has helped me decouple management issues from technical issues and served as a reminder that if we are not constantly collaborating with our clients, then we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Sessions: Start with a Smarter Concept Diagram

Concept diagrams are a way to capture important relationships. At a very basic level, you are basically linking nouns together with verbs.  For example:

(Concept Modeling) -[is a]-> (process) -[results in]-> (concept diagram)

Through this process, you document your understanding of a particular problem as you work your way through it.  Here, it’s important to actually draw it out.  Visualizing is key.  However, you don’t need to capture every single relationship, just the important ones.  This document can turn into a client deliverable, or you can throw it away without showing anyone.  I’ve seen developers do this attempting to understand spec documents, color coding what’s in the spec vs. what’s built in the system to identify gaps.

“Use Concept models for yourself.  Ultimately, they are the most selfish, introspective, and self-indulgent artifact.”  – Dan M. brown

The act of making, drawing, seeing helps the learning process and that clarity is empowering.  I’ve done this, to some extent, before, but this talk helped give me a better framework to work within.  I’m definitely adding this one to my tool set. Thanks to speaker Scott Kubie for a great presentation.

Finally, this was one great question from the Q&A afterwards:

Q: How do you justify this in your freelance time?
A: This is knolling the work surface, sharpening the ax.  This is prep work to make things easier.

Sessions: AngularJS – A live demo

While there was a lot of introduction to the mechanics of Angular (what the $scope is, directives, Unit testing with Jasmin & Karma, …) it’s clear that this is a pretty slick framework and facilitates REST-full applications really well.

One thing he did suggest was using Postman to help debug rest apis.

Some other asides:

  • Angular apps don’t play well with search crawlers.
  • Angular has jQLite built in.

Some good questions from the Q&A:

Q: How do you construct and organize an Angular JS project?
A: Check out

Q: Is there a benefit to using angular over jQuery?
A: My code has a lot more structure now.  If you are worried about leaving jQuery plugins behind, people have written Angular directives for them.

Sessions: Before Code – How to Plan and Visualize Your Project

From the Q&A:

Q: How do you integrate this with an Agile approach at your company?
A: We want to participate in that process, but right now we still do a chunk up front – although design and development are getting into agile.  Still happens with us because we sit in the same space as our designers.

Online tools:

  • OptimalWorkshop / OptimalSort
  • Balsamiq

Other Conference Slides:

Like any good conference, there are always sessions that look amazing that you can’t get to.  These are the slides I managed to collect from all the other speakers.




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