The group photo of Frontend United 2018

The wild years of Frontend United

A year ago, we published “The path forward”, a blogpost where we highlighted our rather crazy ambitions for the edition in 2018. Looking ahead to next year, it’s time for a retrospective and highlight our next initiatives.

But for those of you that don’t know us yet, we are the people behind the conference called Frontend United. We are also the people that go the extra mile in everything. So let’s start by introducing in the only way we know how.

Roses are red, 
lorem ipsum is glue,
and yes, we wrote a poem,
to introduce ourselves to you…
A frontend conference in May,
with workshops on the first day.
Offering for an laughable fee,
sessions on day 2 and three.
Legends walk the line,
preaching JS, CSS and design.
Navigating the yellow brick road, 
of user experience and lean code,
Breath in the knowledgable air,
from a comfy cinema chair.
While we craft the organisation-art,
You’ll do the learning part.
Bald and opinionated volunteers,
exploring the frontend frontiers.
We couldn’t be more excited,
to welcome you, to the next Frontend United.

For those of you that don’t appreciate the word-balancing, we also have a less inspiring explanation of who we are. :)

Frontend Re-United

Whut?

Last year we scaled up in an unconventional way, by organising remote locations around the world. We labeled these “Frontend Re-United”, where the “Re” hints to Remotely United, but sounds like “reunited” as in coming together again, but in a different way.

A venue space of Frontend Re-United Kigali

The 2018 tryout

The idea was straight forward: we had to find local teams, anywhere there is an interest and set up a local venue to show the livestream during the conference in Utrecht (The Netherlands). Each Re-United event then needs their own CoC, timezone adapted program, signing-up process and local sponsor.

The challenge here, was to not end up with some lousy far-away experience for our remote attendees. Therefore we hired a professional team to get up close to our speakers and constantly switch between the slides and following the speaker around. (an example of how that looked like) As a second step, we wanted to make sure all questions towards speakers had the same value, no matter where you were following from. We enforced this, by only allowing questions to be asked through a platform called Slido. On that platform, people had the smooth experience of asking and up-voting questions.

To talk all of the above together, we contacted 2 Masters of Ceremony, whose tasks were to announce the speakers, take care of the questions and keep the local and remote rooms engaged and alive.

All of this planning, communicating and reaching out, enabled us to welcome 461 people in Utrecht and 182 people remotely from Paramaribo, Kigali, Pune and Bangkok. The impact within each community was so strongly felt, that each Re-United location didn’t hesitate to sign up again for 2019!

A world map pinpointing all the locations around the globe where re-united events will happen

The 2019 plan

Riding on the community-generated energy, we created soft guidelines and timeline suggestions for the organisation of a Frontend Re-United. With these, we are actively reaching out and we can proudly say that we are looking in to 8 more locations for next edition: Nepal, Serbia, South Africa, Singapore, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Argentina and Nigeria!

Next to facilitating more locations, we want to enhance each local experience too. We saw that each of these newly founded remote organisations focussed first on good facilities and a stable internet connection. But how do we grow from there? How do we find a sustainable way forward on localised diversity, accessibility, an inclusive atmosphere and people responsible for each of the locations?

We had a long look at the blurry lines of inclusivity cross-culture and we found that copy/pasting a CoC from one country to another is just impossible. No matter how much we would love to be above the law, we have to discuss with each organising team what the possibilities and limits are.

Badges

Because this process is hard to streamline, we will be starting a new tryout: Frontend Re-United Badges. These badges will be digitally given to each event that can provide some guarantees. For example: “CoC public guardian”-badge would be awarded to conferences where there is a person visibly responsible for the CoC. With visibly responsible we mean someone that has their contact-details on site and online with a clear photo, so anyone that experiences any issue, has a way to get in to contact with the right person.

These badges would allow for each Frontend Re-United event to grow at it’s own pace and for everyone to pick their own path towards creating the best possible experience however their own context, time and energy allows it.

While most of the locations for 2019 are still under discussion, we reached these communities by word of mouth and by strangers dropping us a line. So if you are a stranger to us, and this might interest you, or you know someone that could be interested, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Why in Utrecht again?

Next year will be our 10th edition, which means we’ve already moved location within the borders of Europe for 8 times already. While this being a lot of fun for the people that come to Frontend United every year, this approach has quite a few complications.

The problem

Not a lot of organisers feel engaged for something outside of their own city, let alone country, which has a big impact on the organising team. Every year we compose teams of nearly all new members. All of these members have to get used to the vision, approaches and practicalities, all while contextualising to another country. By estimation the cost of switching country is the energy of 2 to 3 volunteers in the team. And that is all while we try to match the editions before us.

The organising team of Frontend United 2018

The Epiphany

We passed along the organising torch with pride and a sense of tradition for all of these years. But recently, we came to the conclusion that we are not the Olympic committee and our events are built on top of people instead of money. Therefore we are taking a break of switching country for a year, to build up stability and to ensure we keep growing in the opportunities that we see in front of us.

The solution

One of the most exciting ways of incorporating stability in to our organisation will be the concept of apprenticeships. If you want to bring the main event to your hometown in the future, you are invited to join the current organising team as an apprentice. This means that you run along in the organisation picking up bits and pieces that you feel like, for at least 4 months before the next event. After the event, you are able to pitch to the team to bring the conference to your home town. This will give a smoother transition between organising teams and will create a more realistic expectation for new team members.

This new approach could mean that moving location won’t be certain every year. Because organising an event will now take 4 months longer, we might end up rotating between a few previously organised locations. The good news here is that if you are ever bored of attending an event in one of our locations, we are working on 12 possible alternatives for you to go to :) And if all of these locations are too far away, drop us a line, and we help you set up a remote event in your own home town ;)

CoC, Diversity, accountability and Inclusivity

CoC

For the edition of 2016 we created our first Code of Conduct, feeling a bit awkward at first, it was a small step in to becoming a respectable conference. We googled around searching for what should be put in to a CoC, and we found some snippets, adapted it to a working CoC and done…

Diversity

In 2017, we came to the conclusion that having a CoC, is the equivalent of lying to ourselves when we click the well known “I have read and agree to the Terms”-checkbox. To put more fierceness in to our CoC, we created a diversity statement. The statement holds mostly common sense for good people, and shouldn’t need explaining in an ideal world, but hey. We also introduced an extra option on our Call for Papers, that people can optionally fill in to identify as part of a underrepresented group. For the unselected speakers from that group, we offered diversity tickets. We also started offering compensation first to the people from a diversity group before considering other speakers.

The people responsible for the Code of Conduct in 2018

Accountability

We realised that if something did happen during our event, we can’t simply pause time and have a meeting to see what we should do about it. So we came up with 2 people that would become “the contact for CoC”. This has a few advantages: if something does happen, and these people are addressed, privacy is a given within the team if needed. The person that reports something, doesn’t have to explain the issue to every member of the organising team. We provide multiple mediums and to lower any personal threshold, we chose 1 woman and 1 man of the team for this role.

Inclusivity

By raising the bar for inclusivity for ourselves as organisers, we raise the bar for our attendees. We don’t do this because we have energy laying around and want to do something bohemian, we do this in the hope we inspire people to personally raise their own bar.

A code of conduct is only as strong as the willingness and dedication of the organisers to enforce it. The speakers are usually the most visible reflection of standards and therefor we want to show how we handle inappropriate behavior on stage.

If a speaker for example makes a remark on stage that insinuates something sexist. Then the room-monitor has the responsibility first of deciding on which side of the blurry line of inclusiveness the remark falls. The room-monitor has the ability to reach out over earpieces to the other organisers to help decide as quickly as possible if something crossed the line or not. If the remark was on the wrong side of the line, the room-monitor will then show a sign from the first row with the words “inappropriate content” to the speaker. Ideally asap after the remark happened. This gives the speaker the privacy to reflect and the opportunity to apologise.

The presentation will continue as normal, regardless of the speaker acting on having seen the sign or not. When a second screw-up happens on stage, the room-monitor will cancel the presentation by going on stage, and announce that “due to a dinosaur on stage, we have to cancel this session”. The presentation and livestream will then be stopped, and conference caries on with the remaining sessions of that day.

Opinionated correctness, equality, neutrality and dare we say activism?

All in all, we came from far in the last 3 years, so what’s next? If we assume that we now have the right mechanisms in place to call ourselves “a professionally organised conference”, then this is the point in time where most organisations would gladly stop thinking ahead in terms of equality.

A quick glance around us

If we take a look at the world around us, then we see that we already have a world full of professional organisations. But how much of this professionalism actually has had any positive impact on the smelly parts of our society? GDPR showed that nearly no company had the basic decency of protecting people’s data. Google dropped their “don’t be evil” from their policy and is having internal protests, searching for answers around the transparency and ethics. Facebook is so socially likeable that they have the capabilities of shaping the political scene. Multiple countries have waged war by sending blue birds around, and Uber has more public scandals on its counter than years in existence…

We could follow the professional status quo and scroll through photos from each others dinner while designing our conference T-shirts.

OR

We could have a sober look at the problems our industry faces and see where we can make a little proactive dent. So what follows are a few ideas that originated from this sense of activism

Badly photoshopped logo of Frontend United on top of Banksy’s famous “Flower Thrower”

A slice of activism

(Warning: this part is not neutral, and actually has an opinion)

The well-established WebSummit-conference last year invited Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Rally party. It wasn’t until after a social media shitstorm, that they realised that inviting her is an insult for an international audience.

Personal note: Having personally organised already now for the fourth year in a row, with changing members every time, I see that these mistakes in judgement are very fast to make, and very hard to come back from. Organisations work on productivity and it’s often an easy late-night decision between volunteers. So this part is not about shaming, but highlighting how details matter.

Another example is the current approach of the SXSW conference. If you check out any talk description, on the bottom they put a little disclaimer which reads:

[Programming descriptions are generated by participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SXSW.]

Which means that if a racist makes it on to their stage, they would be fine with it? Or even better, if that person announces their racist talk on their own website, they wouldn’t even claim responsibility?

To not fall victim to this dark effect of “freedom of speech”, now or in the future, as an organising team, we’ve decided to not stand spineless in the shade of political correctness. As a conference we have a strong opinion in terms of inclusivity, diversity and equality and every speaker of Frontend United, should reflect these opinions as good as possible.

Gender neutrality

Phew, if you read through the last few paragraphs, you might think we are all a bunch of stiff people, not up for a joke, which couldn’t be less true!

That’s why we are transforming the toilets of the venue to gender-neutral facilities and the only people we will be excluding are backenders.

WE ARE KEEPING THE F!!!

Viva la revolution!

Privacy as a default

In the past we were asked by our main sponsor, to provide a list of our attendees as a requirement for their financial aid. We are very happy we declined that offer, and have no intention of ever labelling your information as sellable.

During the event however, a photographer will be on site, and it is very likely that this person will want to take your photo. We will make sure that you have a way of indicating on your lanyard that you don’t want your photo to be taken. And we’ll ask our photographer to respect that however possible.

Plastic free

For the first year we want to try having the conference free of single-use plastic. This means that we will stop you at the entrance if we spot single-use plastic usage and offer you an alternative! (An approach we’ll copy from our friends from Rwanda!)

Inclusivity and equality training

None of the members of our organisation had any professional training in inclusivity, equality or in the way we communicate. Not a surprise there, so we are reserving some budget to have at least a few of our members get trained, to pass on the expertise and be better prepared to craft an even more equal event.

Romy Veenhof (6 months old) wearing a Frontend United onesie

Day care

Last year we had the idea of getting daycare close enough to the venue to be handy. We reserved a few spots but surprisingly almost no parents ended up taking the leap in to bringing their little ones. We would love to know what else we can do to bring this event to be more family-friendly, and would love your suggestions!

Live captioning

In Utrecht we are looking in to live captioning to accommodate the deaf and hearing impaired. We have never done this before, and we are still researching in how we could make this happen. The Remote event in Burkina Faso is also investigating how they can provide live translation to French to more inclusive.

Slightly less exciting news

A week of Frontend United

We pulled a lot of strings in to getting a whole week full of activities last year in Utrecht, but to our surprise, this wasn’t very popular. We feel that this initiative took too much energy in relation to it’s outcome, so we won’t be undertaking this again and will limit ourselves to the 3 days.

Pricing

We keep our prices very low to be as inclusive as possible. This year however, there will be a price increase, as we are laying the foundations for stability. This stability means hiring someone to take care of things that are the same every year. We want to set up an official non-profit organisation so we can organise from more of a financial stable base. Also having no call for papers and inviting speakers directly will push the costs a bit higher.

There will be years that we as an organising team we’ll have a rough year. Then instead of lowering the quality or continuity, we have a financial backup where we could hire some more organising power. This year we will write down guidelines and timelines to assure the transition of excellence to other locations. As the continuity is not only important for the European community, but also for a whole lot of remote communities.

In conclusion

If you read this far, you’ve seen that we do go the extra mile in a lot of ways. Next conference will be the result from all the people in the photo below.

If this sounds like something you want to support with your energy, sponsorship, feedback or by just a simple compliment, don’t hesitate to reach out on any medium you choose.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Team Frontend United 2019
frontendunited.org

The people responsible for Frontend United 2019 Utrecht