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The (He)Art of Umbraco #UmbUkFest ‘18

Brochure from the 2018 UK Umbraco festival attended by Fluent

November 2018, the Barbican, London - the “friendly” CMS lives up to its name.

Thursday 8th November - Hackathon

Disclaimer: this was my first hackathon, so I can’t compare to previous events or hackathons for other applications or projects.

I have been working with the Umbraco CMS on and off for around 6 years and in my time have had to delve into the source code to answer niggling questions (usually, “how did this work, and how did I break it?). Sadly, however, I have never actually had the opportunity to commit any of my own code. I have fixed bugs and committed merged Pull Requests to other Umbraco packages such as Matt Brailsford’s fantastic Vorto, but never to the core itself.

I’m not ashamed to say that I went into the hackathon with a fair degree of trepidation; how on earth would I even find something to work on that could be identified, fixed and merged in a day? And even more importantly, how could such a thing possibly be valuable? Also, my usual programming MO involves embarrassingly cheesy pop songs providing a backdrop for isolated psychological flow where just the code and I get to know each other - what was it going to be like surrounded by other people, most of them developers, potentially stepping on each other’s variables?

As it turned out, my fears were almost entirely unfounded. First up, there was shared cheesy pop background music so my programming brain cells felt right at home, and secondly, everyone was incredibly welcoming and supportive. I even found a ticket that actually fed into one of my own pet Umbraco peeves fairly early on and had the satisfaction of fixing something that I knew would make my future a slightly shinier place. I had cake for breakfast, endless cups of tea, and also had the opportunity to peer over other people’s shoulders and see a whole catalogue of exciting ideas and improvements finding their way to proof of concept. It was awesome - two merged Pull Requests and my very own Umbraco “contrib” badge made the day feel very worthwhile. 11/10 would hack again with the other Umbraco devs.

Pro tips:

  • Go prepared. Make sure you have the source code up and running for any/all projects that you think you might want to work on. Unless, of course, you’re just going for the social hackathon aspect, in which case bring cake :)
  • Have a rough idea of what bugs/feature requests are out there, and give a little thought to where you’d like to stick your oar in
  • Practise your high fives

Friday 9th November - Conference

The second day kicked off with the promise of more pizza, sticker-based competitions and non-mandatory karaoke. Somewhere in the region of 270 delegates congregated in the centre of the Barbican greenhouse, lending a faintly cretaceous-period feel to a very 21st-century shared skillset.

As is the usual fare at conferences, I wasn’t quite able to attend all of the talks that piqued my interest. But what I did get was a mixed bag of fascinating technical content, thought-provoking social direction and the ongoing joy of always being able to turn to the person next to me - stranger or not - to ask a question or pass a comment. Surely it must be extraordinary for so many people with so many different backgrounds - Denmark to Glasgow, Australia to Tunbridge Wells - to feel so comfortable with one another and be so open to meeting new people? Speaking from previous experience, developers are generally not well-known for their love of unfamiliar social interactions, but it feels like Umbraco is bucking the trend.

On Diversity

Chris Howard of Intertech gave a talk entitled “Pink Doughnuts” which tackled not just gender diversity but also ran the gamut of the differences that can exist between colleagues both in and out of the workplace. Being a “woman in technology” I have been to my fair share of diversity and inclusion seminars, and this has to be one of my favourites.

So many talks that I have attended seem to be angled from the “torches and pitchforks” point of view that really seems to disenfranchise far more people that it helps, but Chris’ talk really promoted the togetherness approach. Being extraordinary in some aspect of your life - for example, a carer for a sick loved one, or physically challenged by tasks that others find easy - should not be a disadvantage in your career regardless of whether you choose to share that information with your employer or not. Society is undergoing something of a shifting focus in the current climate, and allowing workers to freedom to work and socialise within their own limitations without question or judgement makes a heap of common sense.

Graph QL

Pete Duncanson of Offroadcode gave a memorable talk on the limitations that we currently face getting data in and out of Umbraco, and a potential solution in the form of GraphQL. It does appear to be the missing connection that is faced by all production teams in the constantly changing landscape of client requests and requirements. Also, Pete gets major kudos for referring to his hypothetical server-side developer as a “she”.

Any developer who has had to maintain a REST API knows the pain of trying to name a data-retrieval function that gets a specific set of fields which differs ever so slightly from the previous method without listing each one in detail. Being able to utilise GraphQL (of Facebook land) to query Umbraco document data could be about to change all of that. It also gives another reason to be excited about the advent of Umbraco Headless!

Umbraco V8

And of course, there was exciting discourse about the upcoming major release of Umbraco - version 8! Pipped for some time in early 2019, V8 brings with it an overhaul of the administrative interface, built-in multilingual capabilities and brand new Content Apps.

Currently only available in Beta form, there is still quite a lot of work to do including testing and hardening the new version, but it’s a very exciting time to be an Umbraco developer with so much change afoot. It was great to hear what questions some of the other developers had about the new version and comforting to know that we are in incredibly good company with a number of reliable brains at the steering wheel. I, for one, think my next Pull Request will be version 8 flavoured as the Beta is great fun to play with and it astonishes me how far Umbraco has come since I first started on it 6 years ago (version 3.0.2!)

All in all, I had a fantastic time at the Umbraco UK Festival, with only one proper surreal moment (singing Mr Brightside with Jacquie Steele, 100 Days of Code speaker at full volume in a London pub), and I feel very lucky to have won a free ticket to Codegarden 2019 to continue the fun - thanks to the team at Cogworks for making the event go so smoothly, and onwards and upwards to Denmark we go!

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