It's been great to see the rise of Remy Sharp. From mild mannered developer to awesome community contributor, recognized author and conference organizer, Remy's star has truly shot up and he continues to be one of the great leaders in the web development world.
The main thing is that Remy gives back as much as he gets and it's great to be able to catch up with him in this Q&A.
Q: You run one of the best front-end conferences available (Full Frontal). Attendees show up, have a great time, & go home but most won’t understand what goes into putting on such an event. Here’s your chance to enlighten all of us on the challenges of conference logistics and planning.
My wife is an events organiser. Boom.
That’s completely true (and in fact she’s available for hire from leftlogic.com!), and all came about one snowy day in England in 2009. It’s now our fifth year and it’s pretty smooth running (even though every year we say we’ll get more done earlier and I’m not sure we do).
It’s months of work, planning, development, scrambling, herding, but really it’s supposed to just be magic. The event is supposed to run without a bump so you don’t notice the event planning. It’s like a good film, you don’t notice the soundtrack or the editing. If you do notice it, it’s because it’s bad and rarely otherwise.
The work is really split between me and Julie (my wife) as:
Remy: find the content, then the speakers, get the sponsors on board, build the site(s - we have three), and bang a drum about tickets and get them sold - i.e. bums on seats.
Julie: get the speakers to the event, book venues, sort out print and schwag and EVERYTHING ELSE.
It helps that we’re best friends and have known each other all of our adult lives, and actually enjoy working together. Rest assured dear reader, without my wife, there’d be no event (yes, she’s awesome, and that’s the last of my soppy stuff).
Q: What are your expectations of sponsors and how can a sponsor maximize their return on investment?
I don’t ask a lot of my sponsors, except for their cash to help make the event happen. Since we run our event out of such as small venue, we can’t offer anything like the expo halls you might see at a big event like FOWA.
What we do offer is exposure to quality developers and a passionate community. I’ve known sponsors have hired new talent from Full Frontal, but also it’s about getting their brand associated with these kind of independent events.
One of sponsors, WebApps UK were relatively unknown to myself and my industry colleagues when they first sponsored us in 2010, but they kept coming back, raising their profile and now I see their name at more events, and spot their brand, and immediately relate that to high quality knowledge, and desire to support smaller companies in the UK.
I believe a large part of the return on their investment is brand awareness linked to an active, hacker-like, community.
Q: When you review speaker submissions, what’s your vetting process for selecting the speakers for your event?
If they’ve spoken at Full Frontal before, they’re not allowed to speak again.
If I already have a lot of speakers from the US, then new submissions from the US are less likely to get through - simply because I want to promote Brighton first, then the UK, then Europe, then the US with it’s content. There’s a great deal of US events, so that US speaker isn’t missing out on the chance to share their content.
If the proposal is product based, then I’m likely to discard it - this is a small event, and there’s no time for product pitches.
Other than that - passion in the topic is what gets my attention.
Q: Looking at the conference landscape, it seems like the same folks are presenting over and over. Are they the only ones submitting or are they just genuinely more interesting than everyone else?
I have a few rules that I try to apply to Full Frontal speakers. Very simply “big names” won’t be asked to speak. I get to see their talks quite often around the circuit—as do others, so I think it’s fair to pass on those folks to start with.
Secondly, and more importantly and challenging for me, is no speaker is allowed to speak again at Full Frontal. Not because we instantly hate them, but to make my job of curation harder.
Most of the speakers come from direct curation, rather than submissions, so I’m focused on finding content that I want to hear, then I go looking for the speakers that are talking about those topics.
Q: Generally speaking, if someone is interested in speaking, how can they improve their chances of being selected?
I don’t tend to pick speakers. With the exception of the first year (when you’re unknown as an event, you ask speakers you know of), it’s the content I picked. So if you want to improve the chances of being selected as a speaker for my event, it’s best to read my mind to work out the topics I’m interested in during the year (or that half year) and customise your talk especially.
Or, send a proposal that you believe in. If the passion is infectious, then it’ll be impossible for that talk not to appear on a lineup somewhere, sometime. So it doesn’t really matter what the name of the speaker is, it’s the content that’s important (or it is to me).
Q: What are the top 3 things that speakers do that drive you batty?
Nothing really. The only thing that bugs me a bit, but doesn’t even come close to batty, is delaying getting travel sorted. We often book travel for speakers ourselves, but obviously cost increases the closer it gets to the event date - more importantly: panic increases because we want to be sure our speaker’s travel is all sorted. But that very rarely happens - and when it does, there’s usually a good reason.
No, I don’t think I’ve ever been annoyed by anything a speaker has done during Full Frontal.
Q: Gender diversity has been a hot button of late. Is there really an issue and as an event organizer, what do you see is the driving cause of this debate?
In my humble opinion, the thing that’s likely to be driving most of the debate is that there’s truth to the issue. There’s not enough diversity of people in our industry, gender, ethnicity, disabilities and so on (and by no means to lighten the "so on" group).
Q: Some have suggested that event organizers should select a proportionate number of male and female speakers to increase diversity at events. Is this a viable solution?
Maybe for someone else’s conference, but not mine. I don’t have quotas to make, I have content to deliver. If the content is delivered by a speaker, and it’s content I want to hear, I couldn’t give a two bit crap if they’re female and in their 70s.
My conference is content first, speakers second. I honestly don’t care how someone else runs their conference. If they’re openly sexist, or racist, or something else that’s generally a dick thing to do, then you’ve bought yourself a cross from me.
I honestly believe the problem can’t be fixed at this level, you need to go back to the source and the education of children. Which is why I love CodeClub and similar initiatives (and plan to regularly contribute anything that can help).
Q: The top tech news is always about companies in the United States, especially Silicon Valley. What’s the European landscape look like in terms of web development?
Brighton (where I work and live) is a great city to be in because there’s such a strong web community in such a small place. I think one year for about 6 months, I could go out every Friday (long before my son was born!) and stumble across a peer from the web and engage in great conversations over a drink (soft or otherwise).
So, I’d say, my feeling is Europe is less about the big hitter companies and more about the individuals connecting over the topic of web (both development and design). A lot of the news I see is about the smaller companies from all over the place in the UK and Europe.
Q: I know you’ve worked with a variety of clients, some I’m assuming spread out worldwide. How can developers on different continents efficiently collaborate considering the various timezones? What are your best-practices for this?
Hmm. Very, very good question. I’ve not solved this myself. But it’s only really a problem when I’m working with San Francisco. When I’m working with European companies, the time difference it’s much and it’s never a problem.
San Fran is trickier because their morning is my dinner time. But once the calls are out of the way, I tend to sync up using email or late night IM (i.e. it’s easier to sneak in some instant messaging in front of the TV, than telling my wife she has to tiptoe around me whilst I have a call). Obviously Basecamp is an alternative to email, and that works for some projects.
I also have one client where most of their devs are working out of Brazil, and there’s a decent overlap where we work out of Campfire - though I like the idea of using IRC for this, Campfire is set up for their company, but the point is: group chat.
I think the important thing is making sure any potential issues are communicated clearly, as early as possible and resolved quickly and (again) clearly.
Q: JSBin is such a great tool for rapid prototyping and experimentation. How should developers integrate it into their daily workflow?
There’s three main workflows I know of and use:
- Rapid prototyping of a particular problem
- Ping/pong bug fixing - I replicate the bug, I send to you, you fix, and send back
- Teaching - creating problems that can be solved with a jsbin
I really love that all I need to do with jsbin is drop some code in, and without anything else, I get the output and a url I can quickly test on another device (and I don’t even need to know the url of this bin, because I can just point my phone to http://jsbin.com/rem/last for instance)
Q: Why would someone use JSBin over JSFiddle?
I believe at the point in time, it’s really preference when users choose one live pastebin from another (and the same goes for codepen). There’s a lot of features in jsbin that users don’t know about, and that’s really our fault for not showcasing those properly, but the big thing (I already mentioned) that I love about jsbin is the live rendering. It always throws me off when I’m sent to jsfiddle and I make a change and I have to remember to hit run.
There’s tons of stuff I want to add to jsbin too - including the ability to export all your bins in a big zip file, asset hosting (I know codepen added this recently - but I did point Chris (Coyier) to the original TODO I had for this item, long before codepen even went live :-) There’s a rough brain dump of items here: https://github.com/remy/jsbin/blob/master/docs/roadmap.md
Q: With jQuery for Designers, you’re trying to teach designers some coding principles. Many designers I’ve met don’t have an understanding of programming concepts. In your experience, how have designers adapted to slinging code?
I’m not sure I’d say I was even trying to teach coding principles, more that if you’re going to copy and paste something, it helps to understand a bit of it so you know what to change.
Really that was one of the core aims: jQuery is extremely well suited to the beginner on the web (and equally powerful in those more capable hands).
Q: Should designers be coding at all? How does the lack of experience impact a project’s code quality?
Your designs are going to be better if you understand the medium in which they’re consumed, but also implemented. It’s like a good photographer, they understand their material and tech, not just what looks like a good image.
Quality of code is important, but ultimately it’s the experience the user has, and no user has ever fallen in love with a service (or equally hated a service) due to the quality of code.
Trust me, a lot of my projects are pushed out of the door quickly, the quality isn’t amazing at all (actually, that’s really my British modesty kicking in - the quality is good - but it’s not in my nature to boast) - but it does gets the job done, and that’s the important part (to start off with - and of course and teams grow and tech gets more complicated, it needs to be better - but we’re talking about a designer learning a bit of code).
Q: Where’s the sweet spot in terms of collaboration between designers and developers?
When they’re sat side-by-side, working together in real-time.
I can’t honestly say I get to work like that very often, but in all my experience, when it has happened, great things have happened, and work is so much smoother and more responsive (in the sense of change).
Q: You were a member of the jQuery Project. What was the single most valuable thing you got during your time on it?
The connections I have with those people now, long after I’ve left the project, like the Good Rey Bango. (NOTE: I did NOT pay him to say that. :D )