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Darren Vong
Darren Vong

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My takeaways from JSNation 2019

Shortly after I shared my experience from attending React Amsterdam, the GitNation organisers invited me to come along to their sister conference JSNation (formerly AmsterdamJS), one of the biggest and longest running JavaScript conferences in the Benelux community, after they read my blog post!

Given that I currently work with JavaScript every day, and seeing a large number of core maintainers and founders from popular open source projects that would be at the conference, it was a great opportunity to ask questions, get new inspiration and so the decision to go was a no-brainer. And I am so glad I did!

In fact, as it was such an awesome experience, I want to share my takeaways from the event for memory’s sake and hopefully help anybody who is considering to attend the next one.

If the cost of attending is a big barrier to you, especially if you are an independent attendee like myself, GitNation works with sponsors like GitHub to provide diversity scholarships which let you attend the event for free. So if you are eligible, I highly recommend giving a go and apply, as it only involves filling in a short form.

Checking in

The main conference venue was Zuiderkerk, a former church built in 1611 and attended by the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt. It is centrally located just east of the Red Light District near the Nieuwmarkt. The church was easy to find, because not only it is quite an iconic building in Amsterdam, but also I was greeted with this JavaScript quirk as I approached the church’s entrance:

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Having learnt from my React Amsterdam experience, I reached the venue pretty much within minutes after the conference opened for registration, so there was no queue for me at all! Also, since this was a slightly cosier conference, and from seeing some of the queue pictures on Twitter at the time, I don’t think the queue ever got too long, so overall the check-in experience has been pretty smooth.

The day ahead

After completing the check-in, I collected my name badge, a JSNation branded goodie bag loaded with swags (which included a red JSNation mug) and the all-important programme guide for the day.

Before I had a chance to look through the programme, I was already too busy admiring how beautiful Zuiderkerk was:

Ready for the main track of talk!
Outside view of Zuiderkerk

Okay, I've technically cheated with this one (as it's taken at night)...

Deciding which talks to go to was challenging, as many high-quality talks were happening simultaneously in both tracks. To add to the challenge, the conference’s Node.js track of talks were held in Uilenburgersjoel, a former synagogue five minutes away from the main venue, which gave the conference this unique accolade:

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Luckily, to make switching between tracks easier, a small room playing the live stream of the Node.js talks in Uilenburgersjoel was set up at the back of the church. I took complete advantage of this as I tried to get a taste of the talks from both tracks.

Inadvertently (or was it intentional?), the room also turned out to be a quiet area for anyone who may wish to take a break from the crowd. Either way, big kudos to the organisers for setting this up, which allowed us to make the most of the conference.

For great visual summaries of the talks that took place, check out these wonderful sketch notes that were live drawn by Katja Budnikov, or this blog post by Mary Vorontsov for more detailed commentary of the talks in the main hall and another perspective of JSNation overall.

Alternatively, you can catch all of the talks using the following links:

Main Hall -

Node.js Hall -

Meeting new people

While attending a big conference like JSNation alone may seem scary, it definitely was not the case, primarily because the conference had a very active Slack channel and social media community, where I could reach out to other attendees who were in the same boat. Also, as cliché as it sounds, most people at the event were super friendly and opened to a good chat!

But above all, going alone meant that I had to go out of my comfort zone. Otherwise, I probably would not have:

  • Ended up hanging out with Anushree over lunch after we met from speaking with Kyle Simpson shortly after his inspiring keynote, talking about how awesome conferences are for the precise reasons I am writing about now;
  • Had a range of good conversations with Michel, Jarrod, Anushree and Henry over a stamppot dinner;

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  • Met Anna and Christina at the after party, telling them in person how much I enjoyed their talk made of Comic Sans slides packed with sketches of cinnamon buns and pets;

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… and more people I spoke with that I’ve most likely forgotten. If we’ve spoken and you are reading this, feel free to call me out 😂 remind me on Twitter or leave a comment below!

The main point is, by stepping out of my comfort zone and start talking with someone I didn't know, the experience became so much more memorable and rewarding than if I had the choice and only talk with people I know. So, if you are thinking about coming to the next conference, don’t let having to attend alone put you off! And if you are attending with a group of colleagues, I highly recommend finding time to split up so you’ll be more inclined to meet new people and enrich your conference experience.

If would allow me to make this title larger than any first level headers in this post, I would, as this was undoubtedly the main highlight of JSNation for me!

Conferences are great for learning and getting new ideas from great speakers, but what makes them irreplaceable from just watching them on YouTube afterwards? It’s the people you get to meet, the in-person interactions, and that extra bit of humanity that you won’t get watching the event from afar.

Personal goals - how did I do?

Back in my previous React Amsterdam blog post, I mentioned that although I enjoyed the conference, I probably did not enjoy it as much due to some things I wish I had done. Generally, they served as good goals to enhance my experience for future conferences (like this one). So how did I do? Let’s review them:

  • Take selfies/pictures with people I met - admittedly not all out of my own effort, but I managed both - see the tweets in “Meeting new people” section!
  • Talk with speakers after their talk - once again, the pictures showed solid proof of that as most of them I talked with turned out to be speakers in the conference! This really shows how open and welcoming everyone was, such that I could walk up and talk with someone without having to think about whether they were a speaker or not. After all, speakers are just another human like us, so this should be no surprise!
  • Attend a pre-conference workshop - this one is tricky as an independent attendee, as I couldn’t quite afford some of the sessions outside of the conference both in terms of cost and time off from work. 😞 Perhaps this might be something I can do if diversity scholarships can help out with this in future.

Overall, I am happy with the progress I made since the last one, and will certainly take this new found courage to future conferences I attend.

Ideas for the next one

Whilst no definite dates have been confirmed yet, JSNation will be back with GitNation for its 10th year in 2020, after hearing the organisers asking for suggestions for the next one during the conference.

Personally, here are some ideas I have to make the conference even more awesome and inclusive:

A dedicated quiet zone

This could be a room like the one used this year for catching the Node.js talks. Since a large part of a conference involves talking with new people, some (especially the introverts amongst us) may wish to take a break from the crowds to clear our heads, meditate and/or recharge ourselves. By meeting those needs too, the conference will undoubtedly be even more inclusive.

A gaming hangout area

Depending on if there are free space available, such a space may be made throughout the conference, or at least at the after-party, so we can socialise over some card games or a game of table tennis if speakers/attendees like Henry are around to bring them:

On the higher end of the budget, provide a game console with well-known games like Mario Kart, or an interactive VR headset with games like those shown by David Rousset at this year’s after-party:

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And so on… the possibilities are endless. I’d love to see what others in the community and the organisers will come up with if this idea is feasible!

Live captioning

In other words, have live subtitles being played during the talks! This might be the most involved idea of all, as it’s likely going to need someone (or a team in rotation) to type out the subtitles, or correct those generated from speech recognition software in real-time. Based on my brief Twitter research, this seemed to have worked well in ReactJS Girls:

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As with the quiet zone idea, this will greatly increase the conference’s accessibility for those who may not speak English as their native language, have hearing problems and/or for catching what the speaker said better in general.

Personally, I had a blast from learning less well-known features and how to fly some drones in Node.js to socialising with new people throughout the conference. Needless to say, I certainly hope I will be back for the next one to celebrate JSNation’s 10th birthday, and be spoiled with a similar experience again!

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