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Cover image for Reflecting on London’s first JAMstack conference

Reflecting on London’s first JAMstack conference

philhawksworth profile image Phil Hawksworth ・11 min read

After a lot of work and eager anticipation, July 9th and 10th saw the first JAMstack conference to visit London. I had the delightful opportunity to MC the event, and after contributing to curating its content, I was supremely excited about how it would play out.

Now, after a weekend with my feet well and truly up, and having had a little time to reflect, I wanted to share my thoughts about the event.

The day before the conference

The day before the conference had two major events: the workshops and the welcome reception with lightning talks.

It was a treat to be at the conference venue (helping the team with the final conference day prep) to see that all 4 of the full day workshop sessions were very well attended and being enthusiastically received.

Seeing rooms full of activity, and chatting to a few participants during the breaks was great. Especially when people described how much they were enjoying and learning in their workshops. We had:

  • Jessica Parsons giving a detailed introduction to static site generators and how to use them.
  • Gerald Onyango exploring Netlify in more detail, covering intermediate to advanced topics including things like Netlify Dev and Netlify Functions.
  • Jesse Martin teaching about decoupled data architectures with GraphQL and GraphCMS
  • Vitaly Friedman with a tour of various front end development techniques and optimisations.

Workshoppers workshopping

There was a variety of depth and detail in the available workshops, meaning that people could get an introduction to the model and techniques, or dive deeper in to more involved topics. Those I chatted to seemed to have found the level and topics of most interest to them, and the spent a good day getting immersed.

The worst karaoke ever

After the workshops and ahead of the conference day to follow, we convened at a local pub for some refreshments and to meet our fellow conference go-ers. We also heard 4 lightning talks, selected from a CfP (open to all attendees). Choosing these 4 was hard. But also a delight. As we saw in San Francisco for the first JAMstack Conference, the quality of the lightning talk submissions was superb. A real testament to the community who are passionate about the JAMstack way of working. Limiting ourselves to just 4 talks was not easy.

We heard excellent talks from:

All were brilliant.

Christian Nwamba speaking at the reception

The evening was glued together with some fun quiz questions from Joe Karlsson, a Developer Advocate from MongoDB who graciously sponsored the reception drinks. Joe’s web development brain-teasers earned the attendees who answered most quickly some much coveted MongoDB socks, and flummoxed the few pub regulars present who commented to me that this was “the worst bloody karaoke they’d ever seen”.

Fair.

The atmosphere in the pub was lively, fun and sociable. A great way to meet some of the folks we’d talk to more at the conference the following day.

The big day

I’d been getting increasingly excited for the conference day. I have to be careful not to program the content too selfishly and just create my own “perfect conference talk playlist” just for me! But I felt confident that the content and speakers assembled would be enjoyed by all. Feedback has backed that up, with some lovely comments about the talks, which I also felt were all outstanding.

One curveball was that Chris Coyier, who was scheduled to speak, was injured in a mountain bike accident right before he was due to travel, and regrettably had to cancel. Chris, ever the professional, seemed more concerned with the prospect of disappointing people than with concentrating on healing his fractured elbows and wrist. Shudder!

Naturally, although sad to miss the chance to hear from and to meet Chris, everyone was understanding and thinking more of his recovery. We sent him a little “get well” message from the stage.

Stepping in at short notice, was Vitaly Friedman. The notion of Vitaly stepping in as a “reserve” is pretty astounding. He is a remarkable speaker with a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience to share. We were incredibly fortunate to have him with us and able to speak. More on that in a moment.

Community in the house

During the introduction to the event, I got the chance to ask the audience if anyone was a member of one of the many JAMstack meetups which operate around the world. It was wonderful to hear the cheerful voices of JAMstackers who participate in meetups in London, Paris, Porto, Berlin, Oslo, Istanbul, and Detroit. I have ambitions to see even more meetup organisers and attendees at future JAMstack conferences.

Others approached me later to ask about how best to start a local JAMstack meetup themselves (Perry, Netlify’s community manager, can help get you rolling, if you are keen).

Sarah Drasner - State of the JAMstack Nation

Sarah Drasner speaking

To open the conference, Sarah gave a talk which was not only a reflection on how the JAMstack category and community was growing, but also included a demonstration of how to create a JAMstack site with e-commerce integrations via Stripe. The example site which Sarah designed and built (with VueJS and Nuxt) specifically for this talk was a thing of beauty, and highlighted just how approachable an e-commerce project can be these days now that the ecosystem is getting richer and richer, with tooling and services ready to help this kind of site possible.

Sarah shared her code for reference, and this will be a wonderful accompaniment to the video when it is released soon.

Ives van Hoorne - The browser is powerful: building a code editor in the browser

Ives van Hoorne speaking

Ives, the creator of CodeSandbox, a browser based web IDE, gave an amazing talk in which he shared some surprising and inspiring insights about the inception and evolution of the CodeSandbox project.

There were some fascinating insights about the server costs associated with the project and how he managed to keep those incredibly affordable even while scaling from the initial 10, to more than 100,000 users. His secret sauce included a variety of ingenious ways of offloading the work to the browser rather than needing to scale lots of hosting infrastructure.

The craftiness of what he does in the browser caused some gasps. Fun.

Vitaly Friedman - Why & How Smashing Magazine moved to JAMstack

Even though Vitaly stepping in at the 11th hour, you’d never know it. Vitaly has a wealth of experience and a lot of resources to draw on for a conference talk. For this conference, Vitaly shared a variety of insights and techniques which were employed during the project to re-platform Smashing Magazine from a selection of platforms in including Wordpress, over to a JAMstack architecture running on Netlify.

He included a variety of front-end development techniques and performance considerations, and illustrated them with how they were applied in the context of smashing magazine. Then fortified with some before-and-after measurements. It made for a compelling argument for the approach.

Ramin Bozorgzadeh - WeWork's Journey to JAMstack

I love seeing case studies at JAMstack meetups and conferences. As people are assessing the capability and desirability of the approach, having examples of real-world applications of it are incredibly valuable, and tend to be really persuasive. (Also see the presentation from Citrix at JAMstack_conf NYC earlier in the year)

This talk from Ramin (VP Engineering at WeWork) was exactly that. WeWork have been steadily migrating from a variety of monolithic legacy platforms to a more modern JAMstack architecture for a variety of sites and services that they operate. In this talk, Ramin described aspects of that journey and talked of how the landscape has shifted during that time. With the arrival of many of the tools and services which now make up important parts of the JAMstack ecosystem, more and more opportunities are available to WeWork to step further into a JAMstack architecture and the impact on their efficiency, performance, and confidence appear to have been remarkable.

Una Kravets - CSS Houdini Today

Una Kravets speaking

Una, currently works as a developer advocate in the Material Design team at Google. I’ve often seen her speak about different aspects of CSS and have always been energised and inspired by her talks. This was no different. Una brings such energy and enthusiasm to her subject that it is truly infectious. This talk explored the emerging possibilities with CSS Houdini and was laced with practical code examples and demonstrations. Una also shared a lovely collection of demos and resources at https://extra-css.netlify.com/

Una's demonstrations included a variety of Houdini techniques but also described the browser readiness and progressive enhancement implications of using some of these tempting new tools… which made me rather happy.

Simona Cotin - Serverless can do that?!

Simona Cotin speaking

Simona has an impressive experience and understanding of serverless architecture and workflows. As a Cloud Advocate at Microsoft, she has developed a great ability to explaining concepts and demonstrate practical examples of building with serverless functions.

I liked Simona’s pragmatic and rounded understanding of the vendor landscape when it comes to serverless. And was nodding along aggressively when she described how the affordability of the serverless functions model can really help to provide a playground for experimentation, learning, and evolving mental models to then take onwards into production without large financial outlays.

“With all major platforms making it free to handle 100,000 invocations or more, serverless platforms allow us to explore and be creative”
Simona Cotin

Jake Archibald and Surma - Setting up a static render in 30 minutes

Jake and Surma speaking

Closing the show, Jake and Surma gave a typically detailed, polished and entertaining talk about the techniques they used to create https://proxx.app, an updated clone of the ever popular Minesweeper game from Windows’ hay-day.

Created for Google I/O 2019, (and deployed and hosted on Netlify, I’m proud to say) Proxx was built as an example of web application development with an eye towards broad device support and performance. It is a wonderful example of smart and thoughtful engineering. It is playable on modern web browsers (employing lots of snazzy modern browser APIs) but also on feature phones. Jake and Surma talked of their visits to India where they learned more about the consumers, developers and constraints there. Truly a market not to be ignored.

“400 million feature phones will be sold in India this year.”
Surma

During this session, we heard of countless clever techniques to reduce the initial burden on delivering and interpreting JavaScript, and of a variety optimisations and insights that were practical and instructive.

Brilliant.

Hanging out in Cafe JAMstack

Lightning announcements and launches

One of the things that make JAMstack so exciting is the blossoming ecosystem of tools and services. The feeling of exploring the sponsor booths at the event feels different from many other events to me, as each vendor feels like an active and growing member of the JAMstack community, enabling new and interesting ways for us to architect our projects. There is a feeling of collaboration and togetherness from the sponsors that I don’t often experience at similar events.

But I might just be getting misty-eyed.

So at this installment of JAMstack_conf, we decided to try something a little different. While avoiding long paid product pitches (which never land well at conferences), we wanted to give some vendors an opportunity to make an announcement or launch a feature in a short 10 minute session. The idea being that these would be announcements the audience and industry would value and be enthusiastic about.

We had 3 of these sessions in a pretty intense 30 minutes. They all involved some sort of live demo, or live on-stage release of a feature. I found them exciting to watch. There were:

Sanity.io

Knut Melvær announced that Sanity are open sourcing GROQ, their JSON query language used extensively across Sanity’s decoupled content management. Knut demonstrated using GROQ live on stage and talked about some of its wider applications. The spec and more details are available to explore,

Stackbit

Stackbit’s Ben Edwards demonstrated how Stackbit can combine different static site generators with decoupled CMS tools, apply a theme, and then deploy to a variety of hosting providers. All automated and simple. It’s really impressive. Then Ben went on to announce the launch of custom theme support on Stackbit so that you can roll your own themes and apply them to different static site generators through their system. The live demo was really impressive and is a reminder that this product is something to keep an eye on. Especially if you work at an agency.

Netlify

Netlify also took one of the lightning slots to announce a new product. Matt Biilmann, co-founder and CEO launched the often requested, Netlify Analytics which provides server-side analytics to measure the requests made to the Netlify CDN for any Netlify site (yet, without a server for you to manage). This removes the need for client-side JavaScript or to send data to a third party for analytics. You can read more in the announcement post on the Netlify blog.

Matt Biilmann prepares to announce Netlify Analytics

In typical style, Matt not only announced the feature, but also performed its rollout live on stage by using Netlify’s own deploy publishing mechanism to deploy the update to Netlify’s UI, and then show the newly launched analytics charting traffic levels to jamstack.org.

Gutsy and fun to watch!

To the future

The London edition of JAMstack_conf really felt to me like it was building in momentum. The first edition, in San Francisco was less than a year ago in October of 2018. Since then, due to the loud voices in the calling for it, w’ve now also had events in New York in April, and this one in London.

Something is happening!

Now our attention turns to San Francisco where our flagship conference event coming in October. And then to 2020. I’m excited to see which cities we aim to have JAMstack_conf visit then!

JAMstack_conf London

Listen out for early bird tickets and more information via the JAMstack_conf Twitter account: @jamstackconf

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Really exciting rundown of how the conf turned out!

 

Thanks Gift!

We wish you could have been there with us.