Martini Lab A blog by Chris Williams

Front Porch Conference!

January 4th 2017 by

Screen shots of Front Porch Conference's web site. From top left clockwise: 2013, 2014, 2016, 2015.

My initial intention for the conference came from working for a mobile app agency after coming from an ad agency, and both had little regard for front-end development. Both believed that front-end coding is just an extension of a product already created. I was making websites that were little more than marketing material for apps and it felt that what I was doing for a living was regarded as an unimportant technology

Who has got time for side projects, right? In 2013, Front Porch Conference took place at Kessler Theater in Dallas. It was seven speakers in a single-track one-day event to talk about web development and design. It went pretty well. I was a mental wreck, but the event itself was good.

And then the next year, people started asking me when the next one will be. And that’s how it became a thing.

So with Mina Markham as my co-organizer, we crafted a platform for what we felt needed attention in our industry. Not just in the material but in the representation as well. Plus, we got to make great websites for the event.

Chris Williams at the podium at Alamo Drafthouse, Austin TX.

Austin’s event was underwritten by projekt202, my current employer. For them, it was both a marketing effort to expand their network of developers in the Austin area and foster a community in web development, something they’ve been quite committed to.

Challenging my comfort zone

2016 had two events, one here in Dallas, the other in Austin. I didn’t have my partner-in-crime, Mina Markham, either.1 By the end of the second event I was burnt out from all the driving, planning, marketing, purchasing, and hosting. Now 2017 is here, and while Mina may be available again, I am not sure if I’m mentally available. We’ll see.

In any case, digging through the old git commits, I pulled up the versions of the past events for posterity.2 I even have the old TypeKit settings ready. Looking back across all previous iterations of the site, Mina’s contributions are very obvious both in style and code. Even if this year is my hiatus from event planning, I hope she and I get to collaborate on something soon.

The Future of Front Porch Conference

There is something very troubling in the tech industry that I don’t think we can solve through discussion today’s best practices. We have a lot of innovation and improvements for building the web, but the web itself has become a hotbed of hostility and harm. While we developers try to make pages faster through AMP and other technology, those pages are directing users to false information presented as legitimate news. In my opinion, we have less of a need for improving our tech skills. We have designed systems that encourage and reward abuse toward others.

What is rarely considered in the process is the social and societal impact of our product being used by hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people every day. A Dao of Product Design – Faruk Ateş3

This is a design problem. That's something we developers do not think too much about. I mean, how often does the typical web developer evaluate a Jira task and think, “Can this be used to trick people into denying the Holocaust?”4 We are not taught to think beyond the scope of our tasks, and so we rarely apply that kind of critical thinking into the motives and affects of the jobs we’re given. In the case of a white supremacist website leveraging SEO algorithms, nobody at Google had that kind of situation in mind. But then, I imagine it’s hard to put ethics on the list of a company’s priorities when profit is at the top.

We have got a lot of new technology coming at us in 2017, and staying up to date on them is important. As developers, we also have the challenge to build products that make our users safe from harm and misinformation. Luckily, that is not too big a challenge for us front-end devs. We already think about how our users are affected by our code. Regarding accessibility, speed, mobile usage, etc. we keep user concerns at the forefront of what we do. Now we just have to figure out how to keep out the Nazis at the same time.

  1. Mina Markham was busy making history with Hillary Clinton.
  3. A Dao of Product Design · An A List Apart Article
  4. Jewish museum relies on Google grant to counter Holocaust denial search results