ffconf 2019: A powerful theme of ownership
This November was my fourth ffconf. The schedule was remarkably well thought out, keeping complementary talks one after another and moving between topics after breaks. As a result, it’s the first ffconf I’ve found that I can remember each talk, speaker, and title from memory. Usually my overwhelmed mind jumbles points from some talks as being raised in others. Comprehension++
A theme that permeated the conference talks, in my view, was one of ownership: owning your ailments and values to better connect with others, make industry; owning the intangible product of the programming craft, especially its ethics; taking ownership back on how our craft interfaces the physical world.
Three key takeaways for me from this year’s talks are..
In Amina Adewusi’s talk on getting hired, she narrows out demographic implications, but if you’re struggling to join the industry be careful not to jump to the conclusion you’re being marginalised — it’s not easy for most of us, regardless of background, see my other post on getting hired remotely. I always make myself available to help newcomers, you’re welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This talk opened my eyes to the modern inlets for new developers, away from a past of those of us who unnaturally determined an affinity for our industry. We’re now (deservedly) viewed as a positive lifestyle occupation, “work from home.”
Harry Roberts’ talk, beyond some compelling case studies for how relatively small actions can be amplified in our intangible economy, outlined the importance of measuring the impact of our work as a fundamental case for doing that work in the first place. As someone who once consistently ignored the business case and opted to crunch code from start to finish, I’ve realised neglecting this assessment can make a lot of effort seem unproductive or lacking direction.
And finally Suze Hinton (who I famously know from twitch.tv/noopcat) made an emotional plea for how an apathy grown out of convenience in mass market technology presents a real danger to consumer and creator alike. By relying on few corporate actors for technology in our homes, offices and elsewhere, we’re headed in a direction to be unknowingly stripped of today’s technology freedoms, perhaps gutting much of our hobbyist scene first — a sad scene to picture.
Suze’s message especially resonates with me. While I appreciate this also feels for others like wearing a tinfoil hat, a perspective that needs to change for these messages to be effective at the necessary scale. We’ve collectively never imbued an appetite for crafting, hacking, and making in place of one-click checkouts.
Our consumption and creation of technology has become as throwaway as much of the tangible economy, as stipulated in Alice Bartlett’s talk on Git, we generally neglect basics like grooming our commit history because commercial code projects are often built on the outset to be rewritten in a few years.
Similar to our fight with climate, it’s not so much our pragmatic choices but how we frame those decisions. Seeking an alternative can be plainly obvious if the choice is framed to highlight the real cost. Often ‘free’ also bears a cost.
👴 Shaking my cane at ‘Smart’ TVs for a moment — there’s nothing smart about them for a consumer; they’re buggy, vendor-locked, closed source systems that wish to harvest and sell your viewing data to transform the innocent pleasure of your viewing habits as a means to part you from more of your money. And it’s so successful that the option of a TV without these undesirable ‘upgrades’ ceases to exist in today’s models — there’s nothing smart about them besides the marketing with a very narrow definition of intelligence.
But as Laura Kalbag eloquently put in her surprising facts about tracking, the consumer is often an uninformed victim of these practices. We need to find a way to effectively call out these behaviours, and I’m inclined to say that’s through making our craft — programming, developing, hacking — increasingly accessible.
Thanks to Julie and Remy’s organising. ffconf remains a proudly independent conference in Brighton that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I always value Remy’s personal closing of the event that names many talented individuals who have brought the conference to its eleventh year and hopefully many more to come.
.. if you made it this far, next year be sure to come out for the pre conf run!