Mage UnConf 18 — Speak Louder Please

Karen Baker
Oct 28, 2018 · 11 min read

This weekend I spent my time at Mage Unconference in Cologne Germany. This is my first time back at a Firegento event since 2013, I have been trying to get over to Germany for 5 years now because I had in my memory how beautiful these events were, in terms of friendliness, the depth of learning that takes place and just the great feeling you get from attending. It’s like a fantastic resort that you created great memories at, you want to go back, but are also scared that next time it might not be so great. I wasn’t scared tho, I know from twitter that the heart and soul of the FireGento guys burns just as much as it did 5 years ago.

This is my story of event.

I realise this makes no sense at present, it will I hope by end of article!


From when I landed in Germany I was made to feel welcome by the community. Benno DM’ed me and we met up as soon as he arrived by train. He took me to a traditional brewery where we proceeded to have several (very small) beers very quickly (english people drink quickly I learned, Germans drink long and more slowly). By 5pm I was a little drunk! We discussed running a business, the pains and the joys, and also ExtDN which is a great group that are focused on improving quality and tools around extensions. It’s strange in some ways that a person I see in real life so little can be such a good friend, and here is #1 note on Magento Community:

We are bonded together by Magento and we are all friends from day 1

Benno then unbelievably politely offered to take me on a tour of Cologne. Where does that happen? People don’t do that in normal life. I realised that I’d be wrecked if I stayed awake so I politely declined and got some rest to sober up before the evening event. Thanks for getting me tipsy so fast Benno!

At the evening event it was raining outside, very dark and a little cold. It added to the atmosphere of the pub, which had beautiful rustic long tables. There were kids (Sylvain’s is absolutely beautiful) and some people I knew, a lot I didnt. I talked with Daniel Fahlke for a while, he is a lovely guy, and we interacted a few times over the days. I also met an Irish(Tadhg) and an English(Dave) guy from Screenpages, both very genuine and funny, and I believe the only Magento guys from UK (but ssshhh lets keep it a secret you will see why I hope soon).


10am start (luckily as I was out until gone 2am or maybe 3…)

So what is an UnConference? Well you find out at 10am. Fabian is one of the ‘crew’ and he explained it all to everyone, there is no assumption on knowledge which is great for newcomers (and there were prob a 1/3+ that had never been before).

This is my summary of an unconference:

People propose topics on the day. Then everyone votes and the agenda is decided. You can pre-plan but you might not be a speaker as no-one may vote for you. Oh and expect to be interrupted. Anything goes, you can talk about building a house or ‘exiting vim’ or building a React Checkout, but you may not get chosen (or you might in which case good luck!)

Fabian has a great way with jokes and timing, esp as english is not his native language, he must be even more funny in German. Immediately everyone is relaxed, he sets a tone to the conference like no other, he lays down the rules, you follow. They are pretty simple — speak english, talk to each other, make friends, have fun and relax. It makes you feel incredibly safe, and for these 2 days I let go of all my worries and stresses and just let them hold me within this bubble of warmth, thats the only way I can really describe it. Even as a strong female CEO I felt they were looking after me, and not just me everyone from young to old, experienced dev to project manager. Its unique.

I was surprised at number of proposals, maybe 20, we then hear summary from each person proposing (in actually quite a chaotic but organised way, we all huddle together, we ask them to speak louder, there are no mics, that is not needed, this is family get-together). There is lots of laughter as people talk, Fabian and others lighten the mood and the community joins in. We already are getting to know more people just by this. Then we have 2 stickers that we use to vote for 2 talks we want to see. The talks with most stickers ‘win’ and are put up on board. On the Sunday the same is repeated, with existing proposals and new ones allowed.

The talks are around 45 mins, the breaks in between I think were 30 mins or more, so there is ton of time to network and have little breakout groups discuss topics, plus enough time in the talk to have healthy 2-way discussion. People aren’t really presenting, they might try to but at unconf they are often interrupted and also when showing slides they usually just flick about and you see them in the raw. Sometimes no slides, sometimes they write notes as discussion happens, sometimes they show code, sometimes they don’t even talk, rest of room takes over. It sounds disorganised chaos. It kind of is, but the organisation and intelligence that goes into making THAT work is unbelievable and not to be under-estimated, it’s actually organisation at its best.

So now I jump, I think you have a feeling on atmosphere of event. I want to cover what I learned, because it was quite a bit.

Testing and Code Reviews

There was quite a bit of talk around testing. I saw a demo of Codeception which looked a great suite of tools to help PHP testing, really liked the BDD and browser testing aspects. Fabian S (the other one!) gave a talk on code reviews, which I found extremely insightful, including the need to review the tests, how to approach PR’s, what to look at and what to not look at. It was good to hear how others do code reviews, there was a lot of audience participation, and it just made me think about how we can improve internally, was good ideas from all around the room (too many to repeat here). Unit (and integration/acceptance) testing seems to be just a solid way forwards (we do TDD in ShipperHQ as FYI), though some people I think still think a lot of work to do it. It is to start, once you get going I think it saves a ton of time long term as you build up the suite.


Andreas gave a chat about the different frameworks and overview of PWA. TBH it all sounded like it’s a work in progress for most, though some seem to be further along than others. True PWA with offline support is still a little way away IMO. Buzzwords, then reality. The trick is to start building now for when that arrives, just as we are doing with our react/graphql work (come see me at MageTitans Manchester for more on that).

Magento for SMB

This was a talk that myself and Sander (btw I love this guy to bits!) did, we got a little drunk Saturday night and it seemed a good idea at the time. In fairness to Sander he didn’t talk too much as the room took it over, it was a lively discussion around whether Magento could work for a 10–15K Euro budget client, but then expanded into could Magento work for a SMB in general, or should they use different platform.

The takeaways I got out of it are IMO important, I revised some of my thinking here so I want to summarise so I remember!:

  1. Germany is very strong Magento and they remain extremely loyal and also enjoy Magento 2 (more than Magento 1)
  2. For smaller merchants the conclusion generally was its not a good idea to do Magento 2, as there are other solutions that are cheaper short term
  3. But if the customer needs customisations and flexibility then they will find Magento 2 is only platform for that
  4. If customer is growing fast going with a smaller platform may be false economy as they will outgrow and have to start again, better to start with Magento 2 if they are planning to scale
  5. Shopware is okay, but it’s not good if you have a bigger store
  6. Shopify and BigCommerce really don’t feature here in Germany (from what people said) — unlike what I see in US and UK
  7. As an SMB agency really you would do well to be on > 1 platform so as the client grows you can move them to Magento 2 if maybe its not a good fit initially
  8. The bigger agencies are growing and getting much bigger, freelancing and building sites alone is hard, better to contract with agency or join
  9. The prices for Magento builds are going up, but what they can build is amazing, and in today’s world that is sometimes required
  10. Many view the Adobe acquisition as a net positive, they believe it will allow for better reach out to Adobe customers to bring into Magento and possibly to bigger community
  11. It’s not viewed that Magento community will shrink, its more viewed it will change. Most of the developers seemed to be happy with ‘growing’ and charging more, becoming more professional, delivering a high quality product. We are ‘maturing’ shall we say!

Overall I have to say I was extremely encouraged. It’s definitely a slightly different picture to what I see in the US, but maybe I am blinkered! I know the big agencies are doing well in the US, it sounds like there is just consolidation and change that is occurring as Magento changes, and maybe just maybe we need to go through that pain. It made me think differently, and allayed some of my previous concerns, I left the talk much more positive than when I walked in.

And yes 15K Euro budget merchant, prob Magento is not right choice for you. And actually maybe thats okay, we are sorry to see you go but you are better to be told that now rather than try to persevere.

Sidenote: I do believe Magento has opportunity to serve this merchant with implementing prob 10 things to target the ease of use around Magento and provide a light cloud offering (apparantly they have something), but I doubt it is a priority of theirs at moment.

Contributing Back

David Manners ran a talk where he showed us inside community engineering. TheRick (Riccardo) who is a community maintainer also spoke and I had a change to talk to him after aswell, it was extremely enlightening. TBH I get a bit pissed off when I hear some of Magento people who rant at me for not contributing to github — especially when they are attempting to compete with me at business level at times with their built-in modules. Why should I fix their bugs, they have built 1.7bn $ business and they expect me to code for them for free?!

But I’m realising 2 things, 1) that sod them its not about magento its about the community and that I should give back to, and maybe thats in the github code, maybe elsewhere but feed back somewhere, AND 2) their built in modules aren’t so good, people remove them, this is no competition and if it is competition then its up to me now to be more innovative so people choose me, its enough time to be fed up with them for being idiots and not having a better business model thats more inclusive and in the true spirit of magento (which they could do if their seniors opened their bloody eyes and realised the long tail win on that instead of the short tail pay to play partnerships they are doing today).

What I also realised when talking to Riccardo is that we all have battles, sometimes you have to put down the stick and pick up the pen. Honestly Riccardo taught me more in 10 mins about community contribution than I’ve heard from Magento in 3 years. I’d encourage Magento to review how they are ‘marketing’ contributions (look to David Manners to advise on approach more, does a great job here) to better explain it and make it seem less like I am working for them. Just be sensitive, respect us then we will respect you more. I remain in slight conflict with Magento tho, as I think if they want our help then they need to make things work at a business level and not just treat us like f**king idiots who will queue up to help until we wear out knowing the next dev will walk in. Sort that so we have real respect then I think it will come back, and its more than giving out stickers and awards, its about truly acknowledging and respecting the people in the community that brought and keep this product alive.

Women in Tech

I don’t want to say much apart from the german/EU community of women is so awesome, I don’t want to name names for fear of missing people out or appearing to have favorites, but please go look up the organisers and also the people on #MageUC2018 hashtag, and follow them. These women have steel, they are not afraid, they are eager and I see a new generation that is set to do amazing things. I want to add I’m here to support you in any way I can, so always feel free to reach out to me. I am old, you are young, go discover the world, it is your oyster!

Men in Tech

I met many many men (as you would expect), and I want to say that I’m greatly impressed by their attitude, their kindness to me and to others. From CEOs to junior devs, they were all totally lovely, hierarchy went out of the window. An example I’ll call out is a young guy called Ulf, extremely engaging on a technical and conversational level, this is our future, go follow him on twitter!!

Magento Community

God its strong. Its not changed here at all, its even stronger. Rico is amazing, and there are enough people in Germany to keep them on the right path with Magento. There is no wobble here, there is progress and climbing a ladder of success, that is what I see.

Ben Marks being there was lovely, and although not required I think shows us that Magento does care. I know Ben cares very deeply about this community, there is an intelligence to him nowadays thats very deep (this is a compliment Ben), and he adds a lot to the conversation, plus also listens well. We couldn’t ask for a better community evangelist. He is really the CEO of Magento in all but name, in our eyes he is our leader, our peer, our friend, our mentor, our bashing ball, our shoulder to cry on. Very unique individual.

What Next?

Ben Marks raised about videoing the event next time, I’d actually encourage that not to happen because i think it makes it more free without.

This is a 150 person event and it sold out, they keep it small on purpose and rightly so. I cannot wait until next year but I fear it may be harder to get a ticket.

I’d encourage Magento (or Adobe, whoever makes decisions now) to look to re-creating this unconf before Imagine next year in Vegas. Bring over this wonderful team at Firegento and get them to show the Americans how its done (or get them to run a ‘german’ hackathon which are equally amazing). Forget contribution day at Imagine, please do this and give the rest of world a chance to experience this little piece of unique magic that is the German community.

I’d also add Magento Association & Magento/Adobe & Meet Magento would do well to listen hard to Firegento people, they have nailed this and the whole ethos behind Firegento is IMO extremely sound. Lots for us all to learn here.

A BIG Thanks

I just want to finish by thanking Fabian, Tobsen, Rico, Sonja, Claudia, Carmen and all the other ‘crew’ for inviting me, allowing my company to sponsor, and for working so hard to put on an effort that was the best organised disorganised unconf ever.

Thank you for teaching me what Magento really is again.

You brightened up not only my week but my year. I only regret it’s taken me 5 years to return, that is a lesson learned, can I book my ticket & sponsorship for next year please?!

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