After a thoroughly brilliant long weekend of conference fun, I was finally back on a train this morning, racing via inevitable delays and route alterations back to the land of Essex. It seemed like as good a time as any to take up Jeremy Keith’s closing call to arms, and to share my experiences of the wonderful Responsive Day Out 2, so here is the story of my time in Brighton.
As I’ve talked about before, I was absolutely overjoyed to be asked to be a part of the event. Having had quite a long period of anticipation, the months and weeks in the immediate run-up seemed to fly past, and resulted in some rather bizarre stress dreams.
— Sally Jenkinson (@sjenkinson) May 5, 2014
Come Thursday 26th, I headed down on the train, ditched my bags at the MyHotel, and headed over to the offices of The Unit, who kindly allowed me to steal a desk and surround myself with people so as not to drive myself mad all afternoon. I mentally ran through my presentation a few more times, but it rapidly got to the point where I knew I needed to stop thinking about it. After work I went for a very quick drink with my good friend Paul Swain, Head of UX at The Unit, then raced back to the hotel to throw on a dress and head down to the hotel bar to meet the other speakers.
I’d never met any of the other folks, so it was really nice to be able to spend a bit of time chatting before the craziness of the following day kicked in. I’m terrible at just going up to people because I always feel like I’m butting in when people know each other (as evidenced by my quick introduction to Graham later in the night and then running away), so it was nice to have some proper time to sit down and get to know people. After a rapid drink in the bar we were taxied over to a private room in The Artist Residence, where my vow of abstinence from alcohol for the night went out of the window when we were handed cocktails, and Jeremy ordered one of every bottle of wine. Thankfully there was ample food to soak up (most) of the effects, and what food it was – the menu speaks for itself.
Everything was prepared by the chef Chris Bailey in front of the two speaker tables whilst we merrily chatted amongst ourselves. Down my end were Oliver, Stephen, official photographer Marc Thiele, Ida and Kirsty, and the conversation was both extremely educational and hilarious. Having heard Oliver speak so passionately on many subjects that evening it was no surprise to me that his talk went down so well the next day.
As well as Marc, there were other non-speaker attendees including Kate and Graham from Clearleft, as well as the lovely Anna Debenham, who was speaking last year but missed out on the dinner. It was particularly nice to meet Anna in person, although hopefully next time we can have a proper chat. Or an Animal Crossing :)
The next morning I woke up before my alarms, due to the pub next door emptying its glass into the bins at a ridiculous hour, which meant I was somewhat jittery. I headed down to the bar for breakfast, forced myself to have some toast along with my tea, and then went to get ready. I am not a speaker who can shut off nerves before I go on, and was grateful for my slot being second so that I could relax for the rest of the event. Nervously walking to the venue, I bumped into Stephen and joined him going in, which was actually a huge help – thank you Stephen! We did our setup, I nosed around behind all of the curtains, paced the stairs, tweeted a photo (standard), and then people started coming in.
— Sally Jenkinson (@sjenkinson) June 27, 2014
Stephen’s talk, as well as my own were both a bit of a blur. Overall I think I was happy with it, but I’m hyper-critical of everything I do, and if anything I need to somehow relax a bit more and be less on auto pilot. I think I have a tendency to over-prepare in an attempt to control things, and I’d like to work on being a bit more casual on the day. Part of this was that once behind the podium, you couldn’t see a thing. The lighting meant that the audience was all a big white blur, and my space in the middle of three laptops meant that I didn’t want to roam around too much, so it was quite hard to judge the mood in the room. I really enjoyed it though, and I’m extremely grateful for all of the nice things people said. Here’s a selection:
My slides are up here on Slideshare or here as a slightly better quality PDF. Audio was recorded by Drew McLellan and has been put up on Huffduffer, so you can listen along. Here’s my individual session, as well as the group chat afterwards. If you have any questions please do get in touch as I love to chat about this stuff.
Ida’s talk was after mine, and I thought it was great. It seemed to go down extremely well with the #beepcheeks twitter crowd, and I loved the visual style of her slides as well as the way that she told her story. Once that was done we all gathered back on stage for the group chat, with Jeremy immediately making me laugh and putting me a bit more at ease by asking his infamous Batman vs Boba Fett question. I kind of want to write a formal response to that at some point when my brain isn’t all over the place. Stay tuned, Batfans.
The next couple of sessions were also a bit of a blur to be honest. After running to dump my laptop back at the hotel, I gave up my reserved front row seat to go and sit with a gaggle of ex-colleagues and friends up in the rafters, and in between greeting people I’d not seen for ages and the adrenaline draining away, I don’t feel that I took in Rachel and Dan’s talks as best as I could. I’ll look forward to the audio for these to refresh my memory, however I remember that Rachel’s talk on CSS Grid Layout was something that I’m keen to go away and play with properly. As with flexbox, it’s great to have someone explaining the concept to you, but I personally only really understand the nuances and application once I’m able to tap away on my own. Likewise, I think that whilst the concept of element queries from Dan’s talk is one that is quite interesting, I’d like to understand more about the actual application, the issues, and compare an element-focused approach to different approaches to architecting CSS and SCSS. As in my book I’m very interested in focusing on things at a element level, so I’ll spend a bit of time looking into this.
Yaili’s talk followed to conclude the trio, which I thought was a great topic. As with Kirsty’s talk (which I’ll come on to in a second), I really enjoy case studies that aren’t perfect examples of reality. We’re all aware of the issues that projects typically face, and hearing about such a high profile responsive retrofit gave me plenty of things to ponder during the break.
Lunch meant a trip to the Street Diner with seemingly the rest of the conference. In my part of the world we have The Duke of Pork, and I guiltily cheated on him with a pulled pork bap with pickles, plus a turkish delight brownie. Sufficiently calm now after lounging on the grass in the sun, we headed back for the afternoon sessions.
I thoroughly enjoyed the next set of speakers. As mentioned, Oliver is an exceptional storyteller, and when I talk about being less on auto-pilot he was a big inspiration. I would love to have the confidence to speak without slides, and whilst 20 minutes on any subject in the pub wouldn’t be a problem, I absolutely couldn’t trust my nerves to hold up on stage. Big props to Oliver – it was a fantastic talk. Kirsty discussed her individual experiences, and I thought these were really interesting. It takes a lot to stand on a stage in front of such talented people and to admit that you’ve made mistakes or that things could have been done differently, but these are extremely valuable (and reassuring!) for others to hear alongside all of the success stories. One of her slides also summed up perfectly how people tend to picture my freelance life in Essex…
(Not quite true. I hate pink.)
Stephanie’s talk was one where I instantly shrank a bit in my seat once she introduced the topic. I hadn’t been able to have a chat with her and had no idea that there were some overlaps with something I’d mentioned – in this case light-level in the CSS Media Queries Level 4 draft spec. Thankfully she didn’t show up any glaring errors in anything I said, and I think that we’re both agreed on the fact that some of the potential new technology needs to have some serious thinking around appropriate usage, and how best it can be introduced without doing more harm than good.
And finally, Ethan – “father” of responsive design, and Mr #beepconf himself.
When I watch talks, as you can probably tell from my comment about Oliver, I watch not only for content but to learn from the speakers. I’d been really looking forward to Ethan’s talk, and I loved how he came across – from his relaxed but polished way of speaking (regardless of how he was actually feeling!), to standing slightly to the side of the podium so that he could be seen. It meant a lot to me that Ethan came up to me after my talk to have a chat, and I regret that I wasn’t able to do the same. Despite one particular individual in the audience apparently totally missing the point, I thought that the talk was a fantastic closer, and nicely tied up many of the themes throughout the day by using Ethan’s experiences with Editorially. The reference to each of the speakers throughout the day was a great touch, and I’ll admit it, it was pretty fucking cool to see my little face up there and be namechecked!
After the talks ended I went back to change quickly, and then started the (seemingly inevitable when I visit my friend Paul) drinking. An initial ale with my ex-colleagues quickly descended into our gang for the night (Paul Swain, my other friend/client Paul, and my friend Gaz) racing to 2 for 1 cocktails, before seemingly sampling the beers and wines of pretty much all of Brighton’s many pubs.
After missing fellow speaker Dan Donald in one of these watering holes, after getting back to the hotel and seeing a tweet I joined him in the hotel bar for a final night cap, despite practically falling asleep. Dan, I apologise for my lack of decent company!
As you can imagine, Saturday kicked off slowly, and mainly consisted of me contemplating how much I wanted bacon, how far I would be able to walk for bacon, and when I would be able to drag myself out of bed for bacon. This bacon triangulation ended up with Gaz and I walking to the first place we found that did a fry up, and me crawling rapidly back into bed afterwards with a cup of tea.
After packing up (and in the process forgetting everything I’d had in the shower), I headed out to the beach for a bit of sun, sea air and listening to a couple of new albums, which definitely helped. On the way there I spotted this, which I like to think is because my Batman comments had a big impact on the local population ;)
Two hours later I was joined by my long-term #TS partners in crime Paul and Darren, and we commenced a day of tourist fun on the beach, pier, shopping, and an evening of go-karting at TeamSport (our previous plans to kart outdoors were thwarted).
Somewhere along the way, either the hangover, too much sun, lack of water, weekend adrenaline comedown, or my sheer determination to beat Swain at karting (I did. Best lap time of 35.5 seconds if you’re interested, which I thought was pretty decent considering the circumstances and not knowing the track!) led me to feel extremely sick and faint that evening. Dinner ended up consisting of half a Bounty, crisps and a cup of tea, and I was thankful to be allowed to stay over for an extra night rather than drag myself back home. Family Guy was watched, a pair of Swain’s pyjamas were borrowed, and multiple post-it notes were stuck all over Paul’s house for him to find in future.
As I headed home I sifted through all of the photos taken, made a note of all of the people I wanted to contact afterwards and all the posts I wanted to write, and I had that usual mix of post-conference exuberance and sadness. There’s a lot I want to follow up on, and thankfully due to the bittersweet nature of a project being bumped and having a gap in my schedule I’ve got a bit of time to do so. Alternatively, if you want to hire me please do get in touch! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If anyone is considering Responsive Day Out 3 (if it happens!) I would highly, highly recommend it, both as a speaker and an attendee. I would have attended regardless of speaking, and I’m obviously biased but I think that for the price point you’ll find it very hard to beat the calibre of speakers and their expertise. The location and venue are great (although some air conditioning would have been very welcome – the top rows were stifled by the end), and I really enjoy the format of how low key it is, plus the mix of short talks on a theme + discussions. As a speaker I felt very comfortable, looked after at all times, and that I didn’t have to worry about any technical hitches with the venue. Huge thanks to Jeremy and Kate for everything, as I know how busy you both are. I didn’t get to meet everyone I wanted to, but you should all come back for dConstruct in September as I’m sure that it’ll be even better than this weekend was.
Thank you again for letting me be a part of it!
Header image by Marc Thiele on Flickr, cropped.