Last night I rediscovered something I hadn't realized I had been missing over the last few years. Last night I went to a tech meetup. I used to do these pretty regularly, but they were one of the big casualties of the pandemic. Of course there's Zoom and YouTube and such for "meeting" and catching up on what's going on in the industry, but still nothing beats actually being in a room with people and watching a bunch of live presentations.
Local tech community Halihax was behind last night's HFX.js event. It was hosted by Wattpad, and their offices in the Historic Properties district had that mix of 18th-century stonework and modern tech that feels like it ought to be the picture in the wikipedia entry for "cool dev studio". There was pizza. There were (non-alcoholic) drinks. There was chatting and mingling. There were real live presentations from real live developers!
About the last two: I've never been very good at chatting and mingling, especially with strangers, and the last three years haven't helped. It seemed like an interesting group of people but I didn't recognize anyone there until right before the talks started, and I just wasn't in the right headspace to connect with anyone new.
But the nice thing with talks is it gives everyone something else to focus on. There were 5 (!) speakers, three lightning talks and two longer ones. Everyone admitted that they were new to speaking or hadn't done it in several years. So things were a little rusty here and there, but they were all interesting and well done.
Dale Wilson gave us a quick tour of CSS specificity, built around how "Specificity" reminded him of the classic Police track "Synchronicity" and yes I had that in my head for the rest of the night.
Carly Cormier talked about CSS animations. A teacher before she got into tech, she used the same kind of Logitech pointer/clicker device I've had for years. I just recently dug mine out, as I too am starting to get back into presenting. I had thought it was broken or the batteries had died, but it turns out I had forgotten that it has an on-off switch on the side! The main button on mine doesn't seem to work reliably anymore, so now I mostly use my iPhone in Keynote Controller mode. Anyhow, Carly's device clearly worked, including the laser pointer component.
Omar Ashour gave a short talk on how confusing he's found functional React components in his recent learning journey, and recommended people learn object React components first instead. I strongly agree! While functional components have made some things in React cleaner, I think the implementation was confusing and not well explained in the documentation, and just generally very developer-friendly. It's also led to a number of unexpected side effects that make the code much harder to follow and figure out. But I'm an old Ruby/Rails guy so I guess I'm biased towards objects and elegant clarity and developer happiness.
Sarah Padovani gave a longer talk about architecture. She admitted she hadn't spoken in front of people since the Before Times, and also that she doesn't really like architecture discussions much since she'd much prefer to hide out as a "code goblin". This is the kind of thing I like about these kinds of events: I want to hear from the code goblins about what's on their minds and what they find challenging and/or exciting. Working mostly solo it's hard for me to get the current context on things, and that's why events like this are so valuable.
Last but not least Rin Duggan talked about React Query. I've recently inherited a project that used React Query and I liked some of its approach, though it was probably overkill for the scale of this particular app. On the other hand, I recently inherited another project that tried to do similar things using Redux, which was much messier. Rin talked about much larger projects than mine and it was good to hear she had had similar experiences. This is the value of meetup talks: I'm not alone!
With the talks done, I should have mingled and such - but I was tired after a long day. At least in the tech scene, you're allowed to be a bit of an easily-overloaded introvert. I can't imagine being in sales or something and feeling too tired to schmooze. Maybe next time I'll mingle and chat some more. Consider this blog post as my post-talk conversation points. Maybe we'll all catch up online or something.
If I had to find any quibbles with this event (I've learned from Toastmasters that all evaluations should include tips for improvements) the first is that it's a shame this was scheduled on the same evening as the only other Halifax tech event I attend, Third Wednesday. I gather "nothing for ages and then everything all happens on the same evening" is pretty common in the Halifax arts scene too, but I wish I didn't have to ditch one event early to get to another, after not doing any events for months. Also, now that we're back to using projectors in rooms instead of screensharing on Zoom, presenters should aim for simplicity and clarity on their slides again. Small text code samples in light grey over dark grey are going to be just a blur for most of the audience! I only point this out since it's something I've had to wrestle with on my own slides a lot over the years.
I look forward to finally doing more events like this in town. It's great to meet other members of the community and hear about what people are working on. It looks like the organizers are eager to get people speaking, and I'm always up for that. Maybe I can dust off my Four Weird Things About Time talk. Or maybe I'll just complain about React's useEffect.