San Francisco; Yahoo! and Voices that Matter

Yesterday morning I returned from my first visit to San Francisco, where I delivered my first real solo presentation at the Voices that Matter: Web Design conference, as well as visiting Yahoo! and wandering around town a bit. All in all it was a wonderful experience.

Unfortunately I did less sight-seeing than I'd hoped, mostly because my presentation still required a lot of work. Nonetheless I've now seen enough of San Francisco to give it a firm positive recommendation, and I'm very certain I'll return there, combined with a web conference or not.

Just next to my hotel there was this slightly shady neighbourhood called the Tenderloin, which reminded me of parts of Amsterdam (Nieuwmarkt!) I used to frequent back in the late eighties (no, not for the drugs; my favourite pub was located there). In San Francisco, even the tramps and addicts are reasonably well behaved, which makes for a nice change.

A question several people asked me is "Wouldn't you consider moving here?" Although I'm firmly committed to Amsterdam, being born and raised here and having this great bunch of friends, as well as my family, I can definitely picture myself living in SFO for a few months a year doing interesting consultancy jobs and that sort of stuff. Nonetheless that will have to wait until several important projects here in Holland have been brought to a conclusion. One of these projects is Fronteers.

Fronteers at Yahoo!

On Friday, Nate Koechley picked me up and drove me to Sunnyvale, where I visited the Yahoo! team and did a presentation on Fronteers, the guild of front-end developers we're setting up here in Holland. I haven't yet watched the video (I hate looking at and hearing myself), but I already received a few positive reactions from people outside Holland who want more information.

During the Q&A, the most important question was "What can Yahoo! do to help?"; and about a week later David Storey of Opera asked the same. My answer to both was: Help us set up a skill list for front-end developers.

As far as we're concerned creating such a list is the most important action to be taken right now; without it we can't start up any form of certification, and the profession of front-end developer (or engineer) will remain only vaguely defined. Once we have a preliminary skill list I will post it here to get some feedback. Fortunately Nate is already working on something that might grow into such a list.

Another question was whether Fronteers is an international endeavour, or a national one restricted to Holland. Currently it's the latter, mainly because we have so much to do that we don't have the time to reach out internationally at the moment. Setting up something that's more than just the umpteenth online community is a LOT of work, and my fellow fronteers and I are swamped in it right now.

One of the fundamental tenets of Fronteers is that if you want something to happen, you should organise it yourself. Therefore I'd like to ask all interested people to start thinking on what they themselves want to do in their own country. Don't expect us to do what you want; we don't have the time to give too much help, apart from the odd bits of sage advice that you may choose to follow or not, but that you have to implement yourself in any case.

(Incidentally, Eric Miraglia, who wrote the YUI blog entry, interpreted "Fronteers" as "Front-End Engineers", something we ourselves haven't considered yet.)

Voices that Matter

Then the weekend came, during which I briefly visited the Mission district and worked on my presentation a lot, and after that the conference started. The best thing about the conference was that it was small; all in all there were between 200 and 250 delegates. That made it easy to get in touch with people and prevented the overwhelming SxSW-feeling. The audience was drawn from the design world primarily; I got less JavaScript questions than I'm used to. But I expected that.

It was very well organised: every session started and ended on time, and there were no glitches that I was aware of. Kudos to the VTM team, and especially event organiser Barbara Gavin, for pulling this off.

As to my presentation on using JavaScript responsibly to plug a few holes in browsers' CSS support (slides here), it went very well. I think my session was the most densely technical at the conference, and I saw a few people leave the room when I first mentioned JavaScript. All the planning and practice I'd done paid off now, the presentation went smoothly and took exactly the 45 allotted minutes, after which we had a leisurely 15 minutes for Q&A.

A podcast was recorded, too, during which I talked about my education, the Later Roman Empire (not my idea, Peachpit wanted me to), and several other topics (web development, probably, but I can't remember too clearly). This will probably be released, too, somewhere in the not to distant future, so I'll have one more podcast I won't take a look at.

Finally, there was the social stuff and the beer, which was great as usual, with conversation topics reaching from blackface minstrel shows to adding extra markup to your page despite not needing it right away. It also allowed me to discover the very high cuisine standards San Francisco is setting. On my last night in town I met a few people at the Rock Opera party that I haven't seen since Austin.

All in all this first visit to San Francisco was a wonderful experience, and I'm determined to repeat it, even though I'm not yet sure when. Many thanks to everybody whom I met there. See you all later.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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1 Posted by Steve Cameron on 28 October 2007 | Permalink

You mind me asking what hotel you stayed in? I'm visiting SF in December and am having trouble finding the right place, every person I seem to ask says a different story about where not to go!
Cheers

2 Posted by ppk on 28 October 2007 | Permalink

At the Handlery Union Sq.

3 Posted by Jessica Neuman Beck on 29 October 2007 | Permalink

Your presentation was excellent, though slightly over my head. It actually made me want to learn JavaScript, which is high praise indeed (functions and arrays make my brain go mushy). I'm looking forward to hearing you speak at future events.

4 Posted by Jim Cook on 29 October 2007 | Permalink

Indeed, your presentation was great. It helped put JavaScript as a whole in perspective for me and probably sold a book too.

During the Q+A, "PPK's favorite question" was alluded to but never revealed. What is it?

5 Posted by Nate Koechley on 29 October 2007 | Permalink

PPK, thanks again for taking the time to visit Yahoo!. I look forward to watching (and helping) your efforts to professionalize our craft. Like you, I think that's an important next step.

Thanks,
Nate

6 Posted by Cole Hicks on 29 October 2007 | Permalink

Thumbs up on the presentation. It was great to see that you put so much work into it. Wish I could have given you the scoop on where to stay here in our little city. Just south of market street is great but up above 5th street gets a little dodgy. Anyway, I'm looking forward to your next book!