Like every year in the last 3–4 years I got very excited when I saw that there will be another edition of Bulgaria Web Summit (I’ll call it BWS from now on). After I saw some of the speakers I got even more excited.
The lineup this year was really top notch.
However let me start from the beginning. This time my plans were a bit off and I missed my opportunity to book a flight at a reasonable price from Varna to Sofia so I had to go on a journey:
It was a 6 hour ride but thanks to the Netflix overlords, that are now letting me download things, it wasn’t that awful. However during the whole time I was preparing myself for the experience. I usually find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know and do the whole networking thing. But this time there were a lot of super friendly people and it was awesome to get to know some of them a little bit. More on this later.
Enough with the boring details of my journey and feelings, let’s move to the conference itself.
The first day started with registration. The process was really smooth and we received really cool bio degradable badges that as far as I was told contain some sort of seeds that can be planted afterwards.
How cool is that ?!?
I am a bit sad because I usually like to keep my badges after a conference in a collection. But the idea is so good that I don’t mind it at all. And hopefully we’ll have a new office plant.
Then it all started and they did it in style. There was even a musician with a Bulgarian bagpipe:
The organizers and the sponsors did some introductory speeches and then it was time for the first talk.
First talk for the day was by Aral Balkan about “Cyborg rights” or in other words our rights in the age of Google, Facebook, Twitter and pretty much all companies mining data about us every day. And he is very passionate about it. I don’t agree 100% with everything he said but the energy he projected on stage is something else. Even if you don’t care one bit about where your data goes and how it’s used this guy can make you at least think about it.
Then Harry Roberts stepped on stage and it was a knowledge bomb. So much good stuff. If you ever had to refactor a significantly sized css codebase you know how big of a pain it is, especially to do it properly. He gave some very practical tips and pointed out useful tools to make that task less painful. And all that was covered with examples from his work on some really big projects.
The third talk was given by Matt Stow and was about accessibility. This is an extremely important topic that most of us neglect all too often. Personally, I am very guilty of this. When building applications, accessibility is rarely even a topic of conversation in most of my day to day work. But, I will be checking what the frameworks I use do about it and how I can build better apps this way.
After lunch we started with a talk about VR on the web by Ada Rose Edwards from Samsung. Apparently VR on the web is a thing and it’s pretty cool. She showed several very cool demos and introduced a few libraries that make it easy to create VR and AR content for the web.
Next up were Borislav Kiprin and Fabio Benedetti. Borislav’s talk was about content and how it’s presented and delivered to the user. To be honest, this is so out of my expertise that I didn’t get most of it. But, I still think that he did a pretty good job. Then unfortunately I got carried away in a conversation and stayed outside for the next session but I heard very good things about it from other people.
And to finish the day we were treated with a very good talk by Lara Hanlon, again design oriented but focusing more on facilitating the process. I think that it can be adapted for any type of team work.
This pretty much wraps up the talks for the day, but a conference experience is so much more than that.
As every conference goes there was an after party after the first day. And if anyone tells you that developers are boring and can’t party, don’t listen to them. It was really great. Although the music was too loud for those of us who enjoy talking to people more than dancing, it was absolutely awesome! To prove that, when I woke up the next day my voice was gone.
The Second Day
The second day was mostly aimed at developers.
Perhaps because of the party I arrived a bit too late for the first talk by Burak Can and decided to spend the time outside and chat with people. I heard that it was good though, so I hope that there are slides online to check it out later.
Next Mathias Buus Madsen did a really nice introduction to peer to peer communication in js. How an app can go offline but keep pouring data in some structures modeled as append only logs and even stay connected with other devices on the same network. The concepts and the demos he presented were very interesting. Also bonus points for the cool illustrations in the slides.
Next up Krasimir Tsonev did a really awesome intro to RactJS in patterns, but only after he did a code review of the banner next to the stage. Main takeaway is that for any framework or language you should look for patterns. APIs change all the time (so do patterns sometimes) but it doesn’t really matter which parameter goes where. What matters is how the application is structured and how you can express what you are trying to do with the technology you’ve picked up. React is not really my thing, (Ember/Glimmer guy here) but this talk gave me another perspective on how similar (on a very high level) most modern tools have become recently.
Before lunch we were treated with a really good 101 talk about D3.js by Stefan Kanev. D3 is something I never had a chance to use, but I knew that it was very powerful. After Stefan’s talk I have the basic knowledge to start digging if I need to. A great piece of advice from this talk:
Don’t shy away from the math!
And then after lunch all of the sessions were mind blowing in their own way.
First we started with Andrew Collier and he started with a shocking reveal: HE IS NOT A DEVELOPER! Omg what now?!?
But then he continued with some amazing examples of how he gathered data about running competitions in hist country and used his Data Science background to create a portal which aggregates race results. Then it does some really interesting analysis on the gathered data. He also talked about running and how he picked up Django and D3 on the way, just because he wanted to build this app so much. This is super inspiring to me and also lead to the most important advice anyone can get home from this conference:
Just build something!
Don’t worry about the tools. You’ll pick them up along the way.
After that Marian Marinov basically showed me that I don’t know how to use MySQL properly, but in a good way. This talk was so packed with useful and hardcore information that it can easily be 2 or 3 hours long or even a very good workshop. For example I might have not used indexes almost every time that I thought I did:
Then Elena Kolevska came on stage and showed us how you can improve the performance of Redis, just by reducing the number of requests, using pipelines or Lua scripts. And if you are a really hardcore developer you can go to “warp ten” by writing an extension in C. An Easter egg in her talk was that it was actually a continuation of a talk she gave last year at the Bulgaria PHP conference, which I also had the pleasure to see.
The “Hallway track”
I am not sure who exactly coined this term but I know it from my involvement in the PHP community. Basically this represents all the discussions you have with the awesome people who are at the conference, outside the sessions in the hallway. And these are just as valuable as the talks, if not more.
As Cal Evans said in an interview, the hallway track is:
The conversations you have between sessions, the friendships you make during the parties, the sharing of ideas at the unconference or hack-a-thon, those are the most important parts of a conference.
Personally, the whole networking thing is really hard for me. But since the last conference I went to, I started a user group and basically forced myself into getting better at interacting with people regularly and approaching people I don’t know. And this time at BWS I tried to make the best of this new skill.
I met with people from Sofia’s PHP user group, first Lybomir Popov, then on the second day Haralan Dobrev. We talked about the organization of the meetups we are involved with, programming and even cars at some point. Lyubo also gave me a 101 improvised tutorial about Jenkins at one point and introduced me to Elena Kolevska (one of the speakers). I got to talk a bit with her and she is amazing, if you see her at a conference definitely talk to her!
Prior to that a guy from Turkey came to talk to me because he had seen my tweets. He was in Sofia just for the conference, how awesome is that! And yes, I did tweet like crazy, you can basically see a timeline of the conference in my profile.
There was a really nice couple coming all the way from Spain just for the conference too. Those two were full of energy and looked so happy to be here. It was great meeting them.
Oddly enough I met again several people from Varna (where I live) who I only ever meet at conferences. As strange as this is we basically continued the conversations from last time we met. That’s also how I found myself in a conversation with Harry Roberts, who is also a very nice and approachable person. I am pretty sure all of the speakers are like that too but I didn’t manage to talk to all of them in person.
So if you were a speaker and happen to read this: THANK YOU!
There were people from all over Europe and people were interacting with each other all the time.
Which brings me to my next point: people who take part in community events (conferences, user groups etc) are one step ahead in my book!
To all attendees who stumble upon this: YOU ARE AWESOME!
And just to be clear these are just a few examples, we would be here all day if I had to describe all the interactions with all these awesome human beings.
Wrapping Things Up
I think that the team outdid themselves this year. The whole conference was well organized, the speakers were all amazing and the topics were diverse enough for everyone to take something home.
So if you haven’t already, give Bulgaria Web Summit a go next year!
Again, if anyone from the organizers is reading this: THANK YOU!
Thank you for putting up the work to help all of us level up and get to know some awesome people in the process.
A huge part of a conference are its sponsors too, so big THANK YOU! to all the sponsors as well! And to future attendees, go talk to sponsors at a conference, even if you are not interested in their offers. They are part of the reason you are there and they deserve a bit of your time and a “Thank you!”. Also usually they are super friendly and as much part of the hallway track as any of us.
And once again THANK YOU! to all the awesome people that showed up from all over the world!
While packing my bags I was already sad that this whole experience was over. As I’m heading back home and writing this I feel supercharged and very inspired!
Lastly I hope to see all of you again next year if not sooner!