Problems of today, wonders from the future

A Review of Full Stack Fest 2017

By Calum McGarry

When I joined Skyscanner as an intern in June 2015, I was fascinated to see members of my team traveling to different countries for tech conferences. I loved the idea of going somewhere exciting as part of your job, learning new things and meeting all kinds of new people. I told myself that whenever I got the opportunity to go to a conference on behalf of the company I would absolutely do it. I’d only ever travelled with friends or family before, so to be going somewhere completely alone — especially for a work conference — was definitely a new adventure for me. Where better to go on that adventure than Barcelona?

View of the coast while landing

I arrived a day early and spent all of Sunday walking around Barcelona in the warmth and sunshine, a far-cry from Glasgow’s climate at this time of year! Despite being by myself, I still managed to see and do some awesome things including Sagrada Familia and a hike up to the unbelievable views of Mount Tibidabo. I finished the day meeting some other attendees in L’Ovella Negra near Ramblas which we managed to coordinate over the conference Slack channel. All in all, it was a brilliant start to what would be an amazing conference.

View from the top of Mount Tibidabo

Conference Structure

The overall theme of Full Stack Fest this year was Problems of today, wonders from the future, with talks looking at the direction technology and software is moving and the future of the ‘full stack’. The conference happened over five days and was split into two parts (back-end and front-end) with a gap day in the middle. The gap day was filled with awesome Barcelona-oriented activities and workshop, giving attendees a nice break from the auditorium. Each day had eight talks with plenty of breaks for us to socialise and to digest all the information we had learned (as well as lots of nice food and coffee).

Favourite Talks

The conference was filled with excellent talks and it would be impossible to talk about all of them in detail. All the speakers were fantastic and their topics were hugely engaging and varied. The following are just a few of my favourite talks from the event:

Day One: DevOps & Infrastructure

Ethereum, Aeternity and the Distributed Wonders
Luca Marchesini

Luca does an excellent job of wrapping this talk up in a charming storyteller premise about a king trying to pass his kingdom down to his three daughters without being betrayed. His presentation style really helped keep me engaged and the concept of Ethereum and trustless verfication was really fun to learn about. I would definitely recommend this talk to anyone interested in these kind of topics, especially if you don’t know much about cryptocurrencies (like me).

Defending the Human Network
Dr. Jessica Barker

Dr. Barker presented an excellent talk on the human element of cyber security. The eye-opening presentation really demonstrated the value of patience, understanding and empathy when informing non-technical people on how to be more secure.

During the breaks there was plenty of food, drink and chatting

Day Two: Software Architecture

Smart Grid: How IoT Fights Climate Change
Kelsey Breseman

Kelsey’s talk was amazing and quite possibly my favourite of the entire conference. She focused on how we as engineers can use our skills for the good of the planet using her work on ‘smart batteries’ as an example. These batteries would be able to understand the state of the US power grid and reduce energy demands at peak times thereby allowing for alternative power sources (i.e. solar energy) to be more feasible. This was a fantastic presentation in every way.

Gone in 60 Milliseconds: Offensive Security in the Serverless Age
Rich Jones

This was another absolutely brilliant talk. I was really impressed with how Rich managed to fill his presentation about the vulnerabilities of AWS Lambda with so much energy and wit. The entire auditorium seemed to have a great time discovering the fairly terrifying ways somebody could break into a serverless architecture. This presentation is definitely worth a watch.

Obligatory paella photo (El Nou Ramonet)

Day Three: UX & The Browser

SVG can do that?!
Sarah Drasner

I had never really considered the potential of SVGs before this presentation. Some of the creations Sarah demonstrated were unbelievable and I’ve definitely been inspired to try my hand at making some cool SVGs in the future. If — like me — you’re interested in some of the more visual aspects of software engineering then this talk might be for you!

Online/Offline Equivalence: What our interplanetary tomorrow can teach us about building apps today
Chad Ostrowski

Have you ever considered how an astronaut on Mars could have the best online experience despite being light-minutes away? In this talk Chad looks at the current state of the web and explores how Mars colonists could actually have a usable internet without waiting forever to get it. I had so much fun with this talk, using interplanetary problems as a way of teaching people about progressive web concepts was great and I’d highly recommend checking it out.

View of the coast from the top of Montjuïc during some evening tourism.

Day Four: Beyond The Web

Developing for the Next Billion
Natalie Pistunovich

This was a really fascinating talk about the technical and cultural obstacles which impede wider-access to the internet in Africa. Natalie does a fantastic job of highlighting these obstacles through stories of her travels and personal experiences building apps for use within Africa. Overall, this was really inspiring and I’ll definitely strive to be more considerate of who I’m building things for and the differences and barriers that might exist.

Fairy Lights and Web Sites
Ben Foxall

The final talk of the conference ended on a bright and inspirational note. Ben based his talk on explorative programming and being inspired to create and try out new things which he referred to as ‘micro hacks’. I feel like the presentation did its job, and I left the auditorium that day feeling like I wanted to just build lots of cool things. If you want to feel motivated and inspired, I’d recommend you give this a watch — I don’t think you’ll regret it.

These are just a fraction of the great talks that were on display. I absolutely recommend having a look through all the talks at the conference and checking out the ones that sound appealing to you here

A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without jamón. (Pork & Tuna)

Highlights

The conference itself was so much fun and the attendees were really taken care of. Each day had a long lunch break with lunch included in the conference ticket, giving attendees a great opportunity to meet one another and socialise. Thanks to the conference Slack channel I managed to make dinner plans with other attendees (including some of the speakers) and had a great time getting to know them all.

Every evening had a ‘soirée’ in a variety of locations around Barcelona (two of which were beach parties!) Attendees got a couple of free drinks for each party and this gave everyone a chance to hang out and unwind after a day of talks. Not only this, but the gap day was filled with a number of activities to attend.

Soirée at Bambú Beach Bar

Personally, I visited the Skyscanner Barcelona office for a brilliant workshop on building React components. This was followed by an awesome jogging tour of the hills behind Barcelona with lots of Gaudi architecture and incredible evening views of the city. I even ended up grabbing some great tapas afterwards with a couple of the people I went jogging with!

Highlights from the gap day (Restaurant is Cu-Cut Taverna Gastronomica)

Wrapping up

I signed up to go to this conference a nervous wreck, completely unfamiliar with travelling alone and representing my company at an event. However, I had an absolutely unforgettable time! I saw incredible sights, met diverse and wonderful people, ate amazing food, listened to and was inspired by fascinating talks, and pushed myself to do something entirely new. I couldn’t recommend Full Stack Fest more, it was an absolute blast and I can’t wait to go again!

SEE the world with us

At Skyscanner, we’re for travellers by travellers. Many of our employees have had the opportunity to take advantage of our Skyscanner Employee Experience (SEE) — a self-funded, self-organized programme to work up to 30 days during a 24 month period, in some of our 10 global offices. There is also the opportunity to work for 15 days per year from your home country, if you are based in an office outside of the country you call home.

Like the sound of this? Look at our current Skyscanner Product Engineering job roles.

Skyscanner Jobs

About the author

My name is Calum McGarry, a Software Engineer working in the Travel Content Platform Squad in Glasgow. We’re an enablement team who aim to facilitate the storage, editing and retrieval of high-quality editorial content within Skyscanner. Outside of work, I love travelling and discovering new experiences, playing far too many games, theatre and art.

Calum McGarry (author)

We are the engineers at Skyscanner, the company changing how the world travels. Visit skyscanner.net to see how we walk the talk!

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