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UpFront Mini: The Best Bits

By Catherine McDonough

On October 6th was the first UpFront Mini conference, the younger sibling of UpFront Conference which took place on May 19th. 

It was held at the RNCM in Manchester and is the first 'proper' conference that I have attended, I got to experience some great talks and meet some lovely people.

In this post I'm going to summarise the 5 most important things that I took away with me.

#1 Be A Leader

The first talk of the day was by Lily Dart, a freelance UX Designer. Given that User Experience is one of my main responsibilities at v9, I was really interested in what this talk had to offer. 

Lily talked about how as a UX designer its essential to have a clear vision, to be empathetic, to provide direction and focus, and to collaborate. 

However, rather than focus on how these skills are essential to have when dealing with clients, she emphasised how these skills can be equally as important to maintain good working relationships with the rest of your team.

#2 Learn Polymer

Sam Beckham gave a fantastic talk introducing the basics of Polymer, a web-components kit created by Google.

I didn't know anything about Polymer before the conference - I hadn't even heard of it - so I found this talk to be very insightful and I can't wait to try out Polymer.

The main benefits of Polymer for me would be the Polymer Starter Kit.

You can download a Starter Kit boilerplate in minutes by using Yeoman which includes everything and the kitchen sink. Most importantly for me, the boilerplate uses Google's Material Design principles (which I love!), which make it pretty much impossible to create something with an unattractive design.

(It made that much of an impression it might even get its own blog post - watch this space!)

#3 'Git Rerere'

Git is a.. What is Git? 

'OK Google - What's Git?'

The response - "an unpleasant or contemptible person"... not the definition I was looking for.

Git is great.

It's a source code management tool - in simple terms it helps you to organise and keep track of changes that you and your team make to individual files of code. 

I could go on and write a whole post about it, but I think I'll let another member of the v9 team nominate as tribute.. (ahem Damon)

My knowledge of git is fairly good already as at v9 we use git for absolutely everything. This talk was really an intro of how to implement git in a team environment so for the most part it was consolidating what I already knew. But that's not to say that I didn't learn anything from this talk.. 

`git rerere` is a command which makes rebasing a whole lot easier. This command allows you to tell git to remember how you resolved a previous merge conflict which can save you a lot of time if you find yourself rebasing branches a lot.

You can rerere-read more about it here.

#4 Design Is Agile

Michael Le's talk about agile design showed many similarities to Lily's talk.

The talk mainly reinforced the fact that as a designer it's just as important to clearly present to teammates as well as clients.

In our office we're fortunate as we're a small team so we constantly communicate our ideas and thoughts, but like Michael pointed out not all teams have that opportunity - even he is currently working for a large corporation where designs and ideas are often lost in translation....

This calls for iterative design where a concept or a vision is created rather than a single set of designs.  By creating a single vision all parties are aware of the common goal rather than just presenting a design and telling clients 'this is what will be made for you' and telling developers 'this is what you have to make.'

Instead as designers we should be telling people this is what we are aiming for and by the end of the process you will have something which represents our initial vision. 

#5 It'S Ok To Be A Fake 'Techy'

My fifth and final highlight is taken from the very insightful talk given by Benjamin Hollway. 

He was calling for technology companies to encourage young people (from the whole education spectrum including primary schools) to learn to code and to not turn people away due to lack of 'relevant' qualifications.

This really resonated with me. With a Geography degree I can quite often feel like an alien/imposter in the tech world however at the conference after a quick show of hands it turned out there were many people who were in a similar position. In fact philosophy degrees proved to be the most popular - riddle me that!

Following the talk, quite a heated discussion seemed to take place as many people felt passionatly about this topic. The general consensus was that employers need to recall how they ended up in the tech industry. And to not neccessarily search for people with the correct further/higher education qualifications, rather to look for those individuals who have a passion for code that is strong enough to drive their learning and acquirement of knowledge. 

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