You and I Will Always Be Back Then: A Love Letter to JSConf EU, Again

Bryan Hughes

I have attended JSConf EU in Berlin three times. I have spoken there twice. This piece is about JSConf EU.

I often tend to be late to the party. So I suppose it’s no surprise that I didn’t start watching Adventure Time until after I watched Steven Universe, both of which I started last year. Both series are brilliant, each in their own ways. But this piece is not about Steven Universe.

I finished getting through all of Adventure Time a few months ago, save for the series finale. I noticed the final episode was 45 minutes, which was just long enough that I kept putting it off.

Flying to Europe from San Francisco is exhausting because long travel is exhausting. And jet lag makes it feel as if bed time is mid-afternoon-snack time. And anxiety makes my brain never shut up and keeps me awake anyways. I needed to relax, so I decided to finally watch the series finale of Adventure time. I had no idea it would so perfectly set the stage for the week to come. “Time Adventure,” a song towards the end of the finale, has been playing on repeat in my mind because it perfectly captures, well, everything about this week.

I wrote a blog post after JSConf EU 2017 about it, the last time I attended. In it, I said that JSConf EU “really is on the forefront and is the single best JavaScript conference in the entire world.” History repeats itself, and this is still true today. I was as impacted by JSConf EU 2019 as I was by JSConf EU 2017, maybe more so.

This year was also the last year of JSConf EU as we know it. There will be a future, and I’m excited to see what the future holds, but this JSConf EU we know and love is no more.

It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends.

This conference was a reunion for me. I ran into dozens and dozens of people I wanted to spend an entire afternoon catching up with. But there were only three afternoons.

There were a small handful of individuals that I wanted to spend a lot more time with than an afternoon. I wanted to bend space-time to create an infinite quiet corner to just be with them and to know their current selves, and for them to know mine. Now I’m a practical person…more so than most folks I know. Sometimes by a lot. For me to wish for the fantastical and the magical like this is a rare occurrence indeed. JSConf EU is a rare occurrence indeed.

I don’t feel bad for not getting to spend the time with friends that I wanted to. I’m grateful to have that desire at all.

I gave a talk at JSConf EU about queerness and tech. This talk has been percolating in my brain ever since I came up with the idea at JSConf EU 2017 and randomly blurted it to Jan (one of the incredible organizers of JSConf EU) at the after party. Now, I come up with all sorts of interesting random ideas all the time, only to be discarded a day later. As people do. But this idea stuck, and there was something to it.

My talk was risky, for a whole host of reasons I won’t go into. And I don’t think it was perfect at all. There’s a subtweet indicating where I probably did, in fact, fuck up. And I’m going to work to understand that better.

Ya know what though, if we aren’t willing to put ourselves out there to advance these hard discussions, if we’re not willing to fuck up, then that’s not real activism. We have to be willing to fuck up, because we have to have these conversations, and when we have these conversations we will inevitably fuck up. Silence is complicity in the status quo, and the status quo is fucked.

Or, to put it another way that I say over and over and over and over: If we as underprivileged folks aren’t advocating for those less privileged or differently underprivileged than us, then we’re not activists. We’re just selfish. White queer and/or trans folks must support queer BIPoC (Black, Brown and Indigenous People of Color). Cis queer folks and cis BIPoC folks must support trans folks. And so on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, I suppose. I was super anxious about this talk. I actually wrote no less than 3 different endings for it! I kept going back and forth on how to end it, how I wanted the audience to feel.

I decided the night before I gave the talk to go with the happy(er) ending, coupled with a call to action. It was 100% the right choice. And this talk was fucking tough. It’s the toughest talk I’ve ever given, even tougher than my JSConf US talk last year.

After I was done, I had such a strong need to be alone that I bolted. I found a quiet, isolated spot overlooking the Spree river to sit by myself. And I cried for 20 minutes.

That talk was not cathartic for me at all. It felt like sacrifice.

And I wouldn’t take it back for anything.

Because my fellow queers mean so incredibly much to me. Because the future is queer.

The previous evening, I watched CJ Silverio’s talk on the economics of open source. And I was stunned. And shaken. And provoked. As I said in a tweet, I think CJ’s talk is the most important JavaScript talk of the last 5 years.

I could write an entire blog post on the implications of this talk alone, but instead I’ll share this single slide from her talk:

It’s no coincidence that this is my most popular tweet of all time. It says so much with so little. It cuts to the heart of everything about our industry. You should watch it.

The most important thing it has to tell me specifically is that the community should be my number one priority in my career. My number one loyalty in my career. Jobs and companies come and go, this community doesn’t. This community has been a part of my life since that fateful JSConf US in 2013. Six years of my life.

I had a feeling hit me during the conference: “We are becoming the old guard. And I couldn’t be happier.” Me along with a number of others entered the community around the same time. Many of us are now leaders in some form or fashion. Some of us lead projects like Node.js. Some of us give the top talks that shape conferences. And there are so many incredible talented folks coming after us. And I can’t wait to see the amazing things they do and the amazing ways they shape the community.

My priority is and has been community for some time, but I think I became complacent recently. I need to do better, and I have to have some difficult conversations with myself in the days and weeks to come.

My last night in Berlin, after JSConf EU 2019 ended, was remarkably similar to my final night in Berlin after JSConf 2017. I went out with friends new and old and we partied and celebrated the conference, each other, and life.

As the evening drew to a close, a small group of us watched the sun rise over the Spree river. We chatted and joked about so many things. We told stories of living life, of memories past, and when that day might come in the future when we finally get top-level async/butts in Node.js. We were together, we were present, another moment frozen in time. A mirror to that time in 2017 when a friend and I watched the sun rise over the Spree river on the Oberbaum Bridge not far from this very spot.

Watching the sun rise over the Spree River

And hang each moment up like pictures on the wall
Inside a billion tiny frames so that we can see it all, all, all

JSConf EU is over, and we’ll never be able to attend one like it again. It’s not gone though. It will always be here, because we’re still here, moving through the world, shaping it. Through the projects we create, through the teams we’re with, through the communities we build. The friends we make. The relationships that will happen, happening, happened.

The heartache and the joy. The pain and the pleasure. The mistakes and the successes.

The love in our lives.

JSConf EU is in all of those because we are in all of these.

Time is an illusion that helps things make sense
So we are always living in the present tense
It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends
But you and I will always be back then
You and I will always be back then

Bryan Hughes

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Software is written for people, by people. Without people, software would not exist, nor would it have a reason to exist.

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