by Eve Porcello
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being the MC for ReactJS Girls Conf in London. Thanks to the organizers and to Steve Ballmer. The ReactJS Girls organization started a year or so ago, and they've put together meetups and community events in London and Berlin specifically aimed at bringing together a more diverse audience of developers. The event had only women speakers and welcomed anyone to attend.
TL;DR: This conference was amazing. The organizers nailed it right out of the gate.
The conference had a diverse mix of attendees, a robust code of conduct, good food, and a nice venue. It also had the feel of a real community driven event: a bunch of people gathered together to make friends, to celebrate the community, and to learn.
As MC, I had to be waiting in the wings, ready to hop back onstage at any time. This meant that I got to watch all of the speakers, and at ReactJS Girls Conf, there were a lot of great speakers. Here's a rundown of all of them in the order that they presented:
Emma is a UX Engineer at LogMeIn who is really talented at sharing what she knows on Twitter, via her coaching platform Coding Coach, and on egghead.io. She was up first and gave her first talk ever! Emma gave a fantastic talk about building Design Systems with React. Design Systems are a popular topic right now, and this talk had a great balance of introductory material and more advanced tactical suggestions for how to implement your design system.
She defined a Design System as being made up of a Design Language, a Component Library, and a Style Guide. She also discussed how to conduct a UI Audit, an inventory of all of the components used in all of your products. Once the audit is conducted, you can prioritize how to build reusable components for use across your applications.
If you want someone to come give a killer talk every single time, you should probably call up Jenn Creighton. Jenn's talk, The How and Why of Flexible React Components, garnered universal praise for its humor, fantastic illustrations, and deep dive into component design.
She talked about building flexible components as a way to avoid the "Apropcalypse", that disaster that happens when you add a ton of props to a single component. She recommended simplifying by letting the API inform component design and also recommended not putting business logic in components.
Erin is a polished presenter and always is fun to watch. She gave a talk about how she used Storybook and React Native when working at Major League Soccer. Creating animations is really tricky, and Storybook allowed her to create some cool interactive features for the native apps.
She also described the Carbon Design System from IBM. This is a component library with something for pretty much everything that your UI would need. This is a really awesome resource for learning as well as using.
She also let us know that in order to look smart as a speaker, you should add graphs to your slides. Her graphs showed us relevant facts like the population of Iceland in 2010. Extremely hilarious.
Laura was up after the first break to talk about screenshot testing in React Native and her experience doing this with a tool called Percy.
I had never heard of Percy but it's pretty interesting for UI testing. The idea behind Percy is that you can automate visual testing to your existing development tools and reduce the amount of visual testing that is necessary. Instead of having to manually test everything, Percy takes screenshots of each browser/device to see what differences exist.
Her talk wasn't posted but you'll have to take my word for it: it was great.
Monica is a full stack engineer at Meetup and the organizer of the React Ladies group in NYC. She talked about how to automate your workflow with React. This started by looking at traditional React application architectures and moved into recommendations about scaffolding. In other words, how do you set up people for success with React projects? Provide them with a template to get started with like Create React App, Ignite, or React Boilerplate.
There is no one more synonymous with excellence in accessibility than Marcy Sutton, and getting a chance to watch her speak and it was really interesting to see her go through the process of an accessibility audit on a site. An accessibility audit starts with a tab through of the website to ensure that folks can navigate the site with their keyboard only.
Then she talked about the aXe developer tools, which she was instrumental in building during her time at Deque Systems. Running an aXe audit of a site will produce a prioritized list of accessibility problem areas via a Chrome or Firefox extension. You can also bake accessibility into your continuous delivery pipeline by using the aXe tools from npm.
Now that Marcy is the Head of Learning at Gatsby, I am even more excited to see what the team does in the future.
As a person who has thought a lot about how best to teach GraphQL, I was extra interested in hearing Carolyn's talk about learning GraphQL. Carolyn is a Software Engineer at Blacklane and has built a lot of great learning resources about GraphQL (including this talk). Carolyn pointed out a lot of the problems that newcomers have to learning and adopting GraphQL like finding the right learning materials and some of those materials assuming knowledge.
One pretty big mic drop during the talk was that just because GraphQL is "self-documenting", doesn't mean you should stop writing docs. YES! Not only can you add documentation to a GraphQL schema, but you can create supporting documentation so that anyone on your team can understand the schema.
Kate's talk was excellent, a deeper look at how to architect your culture like you architect code. She used her experience as a participant in the Founders and Coders bootcamp to show people how to cultivate and maintain a good culture. Concretely, Kate recommended a code of conduct and to create an environment of psychological safety where people can be themselves and speak up for what they believe in.
Kate is really good at this. Expect more very good talks from her in the future.
Another first time conference speaker was Marta from YLD who talked about functional programming with React. Marta covered some of the key functional programming concepts that apply to React apps like pure functions, immutability, and composition. Functional programming can be tricky to explain, but Marta did a great job making these concepts approachable.
The last talk of the day was by Manjula Dube, React Hooks: Hype Driven Development. We heard rumblings about Hooks throughout the day but Manjula did a deep dive to teach everyone all about the why and how of incorporating the latest React features. She also talked about how the component lifecycle methods map to Hooks. Definitely worth watching this one.
ReactJS Girls was a hit, and I have a feeling this is going to be a popular event for many years to come. Thanks again to all of the organizers, attendees, and speakers at ReactJS Girls for making this such a wonderful day.