Best of 2013 Conferences

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All the conferences I attended this year were wonderful, and it was an honor to speak at each and every one of them. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites that I felt deserved special accolades for delivering a superior experience or for being a great place to start talking:

Best Conference(s) for New Speakers: WebVisions NYC/Portland/Barcelona

If you’re new to speaking and starting to see some success, WebVisions is a set of conferences you want to break into. The Portland-based event organizers Brad Smith and Jennifer Jones prioritize new and fresh talent and intersecting different fields to ignite genius. You’ll actually have an edge over established speakers in the submissions process. And because there are so many locations, getting accepted for one event can easily turn into getting accepted to all of them.

Bruce Lawson speaking in front of a slide of Bruce Lawson posed alluringly in front of an HTML sign.
Bruce Lawson being the sexy bitch that he is at WebVisions Barcelona.

The USA locations are fantastic, but WebVisions Barcelona is not to be missed. This was my first trip outside the US ever, and it was a fantastic experience. I didn’t think I’d make it to Europe until 2014, but this conference opened the windows to other European conferences because of the people I met. The web developers and design community in Barcelona were so different from the ones I’m used to. You should try to get in on this conference set to broaden your horizons.

Best Small Conference: Gotham JS

Gotham JS is a small conference in the big city, and it has a lot of heart! With uner 300 attendees and lots of afterparties, you can get to know everyone in attendance. I was the only woman speaker and also the only person speaking more about CSS than JavaScript! I was worried, but the organizer, Gray Herter, assured me that everything would be wonderful. He had good judgement! The crowd went wild when Tuna walked across the screen, and everyone was so enthusiastic afterwards. It was a lineup carefully selected to excite its attendees.

Jesse Freeman talking about developing games with HTML5 Canvas at Gotham JS. SO COOL.

Best New Conference: Blend Conf

I consider Bermon Painter a friend, and that’s why, even though I was overbooked, I agreed to speak at his first conference, Blend Conf. Many speakers made time for Bermon, and he did great things with the lineup. There was a real focus on diversity an equality both in the speaker lineup and in the conferences policies. Ashe Dryden gave an excellent keynote on why diversity matters. You know Bermon really cares about his community.

Interesting notes: The final day of the conference was the “blend day” where developers had to attend a design or UX track and vice versa. I gave a talk about JavaScript for Designers, for instance. There was also a “no electronic devices allowed in the sessions” policy, which meant I had to spend a bit of the conference in my room, as I had slides to prepare for CSS Conf EU. But many people seemed to get into this rule, and I’ve met people still practicing it months later at other conferences.

Six people singing at karaoke!
Karaoke time at Blend Conf!

In possibly the best afterparty of the season, no less than five speakers performing Gangam Style at karaoke (and I’m pretty sure Jina Bolton was among them!), and I performed My Donna from Hair.

Best European Conference: CSS Conf EU

CSS Conf EU was probably the best conference I went to in 2013, period. They had an anonymized, meritocratic talk selection process that resulted in a naturally 50/50 ratio of women speakers to men. They took a chance on spectacular new speakers like Ana Tudor. The after parties of CSS Conf EU, JS Conf EU, Reject JS, and a NodeCopter conference were all linked, so you could come meet with different groups every night, whether or not you were attending their conference. The final party was on a boat. (Also, there was a tiny wittle prosecco in my speaker bag and an umbrella. So. Perfect.) I loved how this conference interconnected with other conferences, selected a stellar lineup of top talent and new ideas, and ran a tight ship. Not a single ball was dropped. I don’t know how they did it.

Me in front of the CSS Conf EU banner on a sunny Berlin day, dappled in tree shade.
Because I'm scared to post pictures of people not me, here I am in front of the CSS Conf EU banner!

Most Enjoyable Conference: CSS Dev Conf

When the first CSS Dev Conf put out a call for papers in 2012, I swore I’d do anything to get invited to join my CSS heroes in Hawaii. Not having much luck with my responsive web design talk proposals, I decided to embrace the things I knew I could do but hadn’t attempted yet: animate things in the browser with just CSS and HTML5 audio and make a coherent music video. I forgot about my submission until a month before the conference when they cheerfully emailed me that, aloha, I’d been accepted! I had one month to spin straw into gold.

That was my first Big Conference. It was the first conference where I sat riveted, eagerly taking notes while my idols gave talks in front of cozy rooms filled with people just like me but from completely different places. It was the first conference where I partied hardy and partied long. The first conference where I learned to surf to keep up with my newfound CSS friends (and the ocean tried to kill me for it–lesson learned!) The first conference where I got a speaker’s goodie bag. I almost didn’t believe it was in my room. It had a box of macadamia shortbread cookies in it, and to this day, when I eat macadamia nuts (which I fell in love with at this conference), I am flooded with all the warm feelings I got, meeting Pam Selle, Kyle Weems, Chris Coyier, Paul Irish, Estelle Weyl, Jina and others for the first time in my life.

Yes, I have some good memories of this conference. And the second time around did not disappoint! It’s still a small yet diverse crowd, cozy yet metropolitan. They had it at the Stanley Hotel (the one the Shining is based on). And I did come away with one small “ghost story” involving dead fish. There were two tracks, and while the timing was a little tight, I think it’s something the organizers won’t have any trouble adjusting. They had a bang on crew working around a bad (or maybe haunted?) sound system, and the connectivity was perfecto. Range of talks topics left nothing to be desired, and attendees were well provided for, from shuttle service from the airport to rustic snacks between sessions. My only complaint was that the shuttle took 3 hours because the floods washed out all the main roads, but I can hardly blame the organizers nor the hotel for that one. I did get a beautiful tour of Colorado on my way out at least.

This conference is much like From the Front in its coziness: You really get to know everyone here, and there’s no feeling of separation between speakers and attendees, which is how I like it. Hot tip: book a few days before and after for socializing and relaxing, and make this conference the endcap in a long season. Many people come early and stay late, and if you’re socially inclined, you can make lots of longterm friendships here.

Sam Richards giving Miriam Meyer bunny ears in the Stanley Hote's Lodge at CSS Dev Conf.
Sam Richards and Miriam Meyer: what better companions could you ask for?

Would Ride Again: Frontend Conference Zurich and From the Front

These two European conferences deserve special mentions for very different reasons.

Frontend Conference Zurich was a wonderful event. As a speaker, this conference was the closest I have ever come to the red carpet treatment (and it’s standard for all their speakers!) They really went above and beyond, meeting speakers at the airports, handing them wifi hotspots and Uber credits. The hotel experience was very posh and I felt quite spoiled. Between the complimentary breakfast buffet, conference lunches, afterparties, and speaker dinners, I paid for very little of my own food (which is good because Zurich is more expensive than Manhattan!). This was the closest I got to “all expenses paid” this year. The speakers and sessions were excellent. The venue was excellent. There were many more women in the audience than I’d experienced at any other conference. But there were far fewer women to men speaking than were in the audience. The ratio in the audience was great–so why was it off with the speakers? I figure if CSS Conf EU can do it, Zurich can, too. I have high hopes for this conference.

Four people holding teacups, having a good time.
Sipping tea with some of my favorite people: I cannot recognize the man on the left but I liked him, Denise Jacobs, and Chris Mills.

From the Front felt like I was attending a conference with family. Maybe it’s because we were in Italy and that’s just how things are done. Maybe it’s because I already knew a number of the people there from WebVisions Barcelona. Maybe it was the rockin’ Blues Brothers theme of the conference. I don’t know. But there were a lot of wonderful people on, behind and in front of the stage. It was small conference where you could get to know everyone there. The speaker dinner was a many-course delicious dinner with wine that didn’t stop flowing. I had no room left in my tummy by the time the main course arrived, but I tried valiantly to enjoy it. The after party had a Blue Brothers tribute band. The hotel was a small “mom and pop” affair. It was a cozy, warm crowd from some of the harder to reach areas of Europe. I would recommend this conference to anyone who can go. It has small budget, so they won’t be covering your lunch or giving you a giftbag of wine. But the organizers take care of their speakers and attendees with the utmost diligence and attentiveness. Single track, all the talks were top notch. You know they put a lot of thought into this event. Definitely on the same level as CSS Dev Conf in warm fuzzies and great talks.

Six people goofing off around a table with many wine glasses in the middle.
Aaron Gustafson, Nishant Kothary, organizer Marco, Bruce Lawson (lovely), Seb Lee and his wife. (I hope I got all those names right.)

More to come!

I have a few more posts on the way: a list of rising star speakers from under-represented groups, a post about how I’m changing my conference attendance in 2014 and why, and (if I have energy enough to draw a comic) another post about visible and invisible quotas and how they shape discussions at conferences.

It was a great year. It took a lot of energy and time and money, but I would do the whole thing over again. I feel that it would be great if each of us could take a year to travel the world and exchange ideas with other developers and make new friends. I didn’t expect 2013 to turn out this way, but I’m glad it did! It’s been the experience of a lifetime.

Lastly…

Thank you to everyone who took a chance on me and made this conference season happen.

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