Written on in Life & everything else
A while back, whilst shopping in Sainsburys – before I graduated – I saw @webdevconf talking about a web conference in Bristol; I bought my ‘Super Earlybird’ ticket on my phone, and then kinda forgot about it. It was only when I started receiving reminder emails that it caught my attention again, but it was a nice opportunity to spend a day talking, and listening to others talk about web stuff, and also to meet up with Jake Giltsoff whom I'd not seen in a while.
I've not been to Bristol since the Banksy exhibition (however many years ago that was), but it was as I remembered it – great graffiti everywhere, with the odd Banksy piece itself sprinkled in.
On the Thursday, after work I drove the length of the M4 (which happens to be one of the most boring drives ever) from Reading to Bristol to Jake's place, just in time for us to head out again to meet a few people at Atomic Burger – an amazing, unique (but apparently there's another one in Oxford) Burger joint that builds – because that's the only word for it – incredible burgers; I had this monstrosity which needed a knife and fork. It was also an opportunity to meet David Darnes whom I'd spoken to on Twitter before, and Luke Jones among other nice blokes that were there.
Jake, and I then met up with the guys from Simple as Milk – Scott Riley, David Pomfret, James Seymour-Lock – who I've been following on Twitter for a while, but never actually met. Chad Tomkiss was a new face for me, but was a real riot! It's often said about our industry that everyone is really friendly, and having put myself into those situations before I couldn't vouch for it, but staying with Jake meant I got to meet all of those guys (and more). They're all great, and were really welcoming to a new face. After a few (really dodgy) ciders from the Apple boat-bar-thing, Jake and I headed home to get a bit of kip before the conference itself.
WDC 2013 time
We got there (via Starbucks), and got our goody bags – sticker, advert book from one of the sponsors, a cool sharpie to fill in our name badge. As per most of this trip Jake knew most people, and I fewer, so I stuck with him and was introduced to Pete Coles who works at fffunction – another one that I've been following on Twitter for a while, but never met.
Being in a cinema was awesome because the chairs were comfy, and the screen was huge; but I couldn't help wishing that I had some popcorn.
Exploring Interactions – slides
Scott was first up, and amazingly looking really fresh from the night before. He began looking at the way in which our brain treats rewards for activities, and how the promise of a reward motivates our natural Dopamine more-so than the reward itself; and how this should be used to create better users. Video games give a great example of how interaction design, and using Pokémon as a case study is amazing way to captivate an audience of (self-confessed) geeks, but also an explanation of how we use interfaces better when there is a feeling of reward, and success.
“Charmander is just an adorable little arsonist” Scott Riley
From there, the discussion progressed to the notion that the small details like better written micro-copy hugely affect the users' experiences – using Twitter's “We messed something up” message, which makes the user feel a bit more reassured even given the error. Delving further by talking about how we need reassuring that things are happening, Scott talks about how loading spinners are our way of diverting the user from the fact that it's taking ages to do something – it's our way of diverting peoples attention. Similar to the way Disneyland do it:
“In Disneyland you're wondering if Princess Jasmin is single, not worrying about the queue you're waiting in” Scott Riley
It would be a missed opportunity not to talk about some of the more colourful language from Scott's talk, but like most of the people I've ever spoken to I agree with him in that it definitely does have its place in general speech. Carefully (and even haphazardly) used they enhance our vocabulary, and create emphasis where necessary:
“Words are colour, and people are scared of offending” Scott Riley
Scott cited goodfuckingdesignadvice.com as the perfect example of this emphasis, and then discussed someone at the other end of the scale who sent a pull request on Ghost's GitHub page to remove the word sexy from their templating file… Really?! Someone wanted the some-what charged word to be taken out of a comment. That's ludicrous, and an example of inoffensive language being mislabeled by those who look to tread on egg-shells. Having spent some of the previous night with Scott, and his mates, it was clear that there were no egg-shells in sight for any of them, and I love that.
The final part of his talk was about how we can apply the principles of the RPG – Complete a task > Get XP > Get enough XP to level up > Get stronger > Repeat – to everything. This time using the example of Fitocracy (a work out recording app), which is essentially just data entry; but when given these principles – rewards, levels, achievements – it makes us better users, and more invested partakers of these given activities.
“Gamify everything” Scott Riley
Scott's talk was a great way to kick off WDC 2013, and it was made better by having spent a bit of time with him the previous night, and confirming that he was even more of the awesome, quirky, probably mental guy than I followed on Twitter.
Linda Sandvik, Code Club
I'd heard of most of the speakers in passing, but Scott was the only one I followed and knew more about, so from here the talks were from people that I had little to no idea of what they did, and what made them awesome. Linda Sandvik made it very easy to see just what made her awesome very, very quickly.
Having been to a few conferences now, I've found that the case-study discussions tend to a be a bit drier (with a few exceptions), than the more applicable theory, and sometimes practice talks, but having heard a little bit about Code Club before this discussion I was intrigued rather than put off when Linda began her Code Club story.
So, a potted history of Code Club – based on what I can remember from the talk: Linda and Clare Sutcliffe had an idea at the pub, they thought it would be great to teach younger children the benefits of learning code, both to help our industry, but also to help the progression of logical thinking within littler folk. They then had more to drink, and it became a better idea. A bit more, and the next thing they knew they were starting to accept sign-ups (with no actual courses – which I think is ballsy and awesome!) for Code Club. It's funny how ideas get better and more real with a few beers in you:
“Ever been to the pub, had too much and then bought a domain name? Yeah…” Linda Sandvik
So with the idea, and interest they set out to create 20 Code Clubs with volunteer tutors offering to teach the course that was to be conceived. The beauty of the course, and the whole of CodeClub is the fact it's open source – curriculums, and all; lending itself to collaborative enhancement, as well as making it really easy for people to get to grips with. Linda discussed the idea of a github for teachers. How much easier would lesson planning be if there was an online repository of ‘open source lessons’? How much would the quality of the lessons improve if people were able to spend their time tweaking lessons rather than sorting out the basics? Much, and much again. An awesome idea, no doubt.
So from the 20 they set out with, they were up to 1281 Code Clubs just in the UK – and I've used were here because I've since seen Linda tweeting and know that it's an ever increasing number! Oh, and they're global as well.
I commented at the time on Twitter:
“I'm amazed at the scale & impact of @CodeClub. Looks amazing & is clearly hugely influential for budding developers aged 9–11. #webdevconf” Me on Twitter
and that is very true, but it seems that it's also hugely effective for everyone – not just budding developers; Linda spoke about teachers' reports that students that previously put their hand up when they weren't sure of an answer were instead trying to solve issues logically, and were less afraid of being wrong, but instead relished the opportunity to try and find the solution themselves. This is an incredible effect. Logical, and lateral thinking are important in all walks of life and CodeClub's ability to influence these children at such a young age is amazing.
I found myself wondering what effect a CodeClub might have had on me, had I been able to do such a thing when I was a youngster… What could it have done for my classmates who were less computer literate, or less interested? We can only wait, and see what these children-developers, and children-thinkers of the future turn out to be.
Linda, Clare, and CodeClub's story is amazing, and I'm now watching it with a much more interested view, and maybe one day I'll get involved more logistically myself – I can only hope that I find time to volunteer for such a project. If you want to find out more about CodeClub you can have a look at their website, or catch Linda or Clare on Twitter and ask them.
After two awesome talks to kick off the morning it was time for a caffeine injection for Jake and Pete, and a juice and muffin for me – we had a chat about the mornings' talks, how awesome both Pokémon and CodeClub are, and how popcorn would have made the cinema experience even better.
Luke kicked off the second session, with a talk looking at social interaction in web development.
There's more to come
I know that I'm getting really bad at not finishing posts, but this is another long one that I want to do justice, but I've got a busy few days so won't be able to add to it just yet, so I've published it unfinished closer to the event rather than wait for too long. Keep checking twitter for updates on how I'm getting along with finishing it!
There’s not more to come
This one was always doomed to failure, but I’ve learnt my lesson. I bought my early bird ticket for WDC 2014, and will this time be writing a much more concise, useful post about how awesome it was. Watch this space.