Notes from ffconf 2023


Last Friday, I went to ffconf in Brighton for the first time. It was a great, intimate conference set in an old cinema.

Here are a few notes and reflections from some of the talks.

Imposter syndrome, overworking and working environments by Amber Shand

Two-thirds raised their hands when the speaker asked if anyone had imposter syndrome. It’s a widespread and human mechanism to cope with being in a new situation, job or joining a group. Am I worthy of being here? Do I do enough?

One danger is that this turns you into overworking and burnout.

The speaker left us with one tool to use: self-compassion and making a habit of acknowledging small achievements like, for example, taking a walk.

Healthy pursuit for excellence vs. Unhealthy pursuit for perfection.

The Expanding Dark Forest and Generative AI by Maggie Appleton

Maggie’s talk is available as an essay. I loved the illustration and typography used across the presentation.

The dark forest theory of the Web builds on the dark forest theory of the universe. It states that many civilisations exist, but they remain hidden and silent to avoid attracting predators.

Maggie applied this theory to the Web. We are under the threat of generative AI producing an exponentially growing amount of content and fake realities. Language models are here to stay and influence our future. A funny anecdote: people are now finding traces of ChatGPT in published scientific papers.

Are we humans going to need to retreat to a dark forest? How will we prove original content and protect our ideas from being paraphrased by a swarm of bots? Will the Web become worst?

We need to talk about the front Web by Angela Ricci

Angela’s talk was about Front Web developement and how we must return to the root of HTML and CSS to preserve open standards, the separation of content and styles, accessibility and semantics.

Angela argued that the push for developer experience (think tools like React) degrades user experience.

I liked Angela’s metaphor on the Web:

  • HTML is the foundation; it should barely change.
  • JS is how the windows open and close, or the heating system works.
  • CSS is the paint of your windows and decorations that can change yearly.

I disagreed with the mention that we should not have ”Full Stack” engineers because they diminish the importance of front-end work. I don’t think we should dismiss Full Stack Engineer roles. I think they act more like glue or enablers between the two disciplines. So no, do not hire one Full Stack or one Front End and one Back End engineer, but hire one of each.

Embracing Neurodiversity in Tech: Building Empathy, Unveiling Strengths by Jonathan Fielding

This was a very practical talk. Jonathan taught us about various neurodivergent conditions and what we can do at the workplace to ensure everyone feels welcomed and can perform at their best. For example, there were some excellent tips on preparing meetings or writing tickets.

Jonathan closed by mentioning the curb-cut effect: ”When we design for disabilities we make things better for everyone”.

See the presentation on Jonathan’s website.

Entertainment as Code

People watching other people code is something I don’t quite understand. Salma Alam-Naylor took us into this world and told us how she set up a successful Twitch account with a growing community.

I love the notion of ”entertainment as code”. We often forget that coding is fun and that it’s not only a tool for business. Code brings people together and is another tool of expression akin to paint.