Five awesome things about JSConf Iceland

And with that, JSConf Iceland is officially over. I thought I should share some of my thoughts about why this conference was great, why it should happen again, and why you should come too!

Iceland as seen from above

The Country

The first thing to hit you when you fly over and land in Iceland is how amazingly beautiful it is. From its volcanic landscapes to its cozy cities, Iceland makes you feel like home right from the start. The capital of Reykjavik is a chill city with just enough people in the streets to make it feel alive, but not too crowded. When I first landed, the weather was pretty nice as well, making it pleasant to just take a stroll down Laugavegur or take a trip up to Hallgrimskirkja. The latter has a nice view at the top of Reykjavik, and costs around €5 to access.

Reykjavik from above

If you’re looking for something quick to eat, I highly recommend Bullan in Geirsgata or one of their other locations in town. Foreigners might now this as Tommi’s Burger Joint as well, which has locations other places in the world by now, but it all started here in Iceland.

Iceland also offers a huge array of activities for everyone, from horseback riding, to whale watching, to snowmobiling on a glacier. I sadly only got to try one, but going here has definitely given me a thirst for more!

The Conference Venue

When talking about great things at JSConf, it’s hard not to mention Harpa, a concert and opera venue in downtown Reykjavik, which was the venue for the conference. In addition to the great architecture, Harpa had excellent rooms for a two track conference.

Harpa as seen from Arnarhóll

The audience were set up on round tables, and there was power at almost every table. This made it a lot more comfortable for both the speaker and audience in my mind, as the whole atmosphere becomes more relaxed, and the audience doesn’t get all stiff and cramped on awkwardly set up chairs as if you were part of some corporate town hall meeting.

The food served was also good, albeit at times perhaps a bit over the top. Harpa is traditionally a concert and opera house, which is probably why the food was a bit more fancy than the typical conference cuisine. Not complaining though, those chocolate ball things were amazing.

After the first day we also had an amazing hacker party in the Northern Lights hall of Harpa. Aside from the Code in the Northerns Lights competition, which felt more like a rock concert at times, there was a lights competition. The organizers had created a really cool JavaScript integration towards the lighting in the room. All walls were covered in smaller sections of LED lights that could be individually programmed. Contestants ranged from fixed-lights to fully interactive keyboard-based controls to audio-sensitive equalizer lights.

Code in the Northern Lights. Each contestant were given a screenshot of a page, 15 minutes, and an editor to try and match the screenshot as close as they could without rendering the output.

The Talks

We all go to conferences for the talks, right? And JSConf certainly had an excellent lineup of speakers this year. I even got to hold a talk myself on something I think is very important, namely the importance of user experience. I’ll make sure to post the video once it’s released.

Some talks require special mentions as well. I loved “On left-pad and empathy: understanding human connection”, a talk about empathy and how it relates to how we work.

On left-pad and empathy: understanding human connection
Empathy can be a pivotal factor in the success of yourself and your projects. If you don’t care about the people using your product, why are you making it? If you don’t care about your co-workers who will have to use your code, why do you work with them? If you don’t care about yourself, why are you doing this as a career?

The most mind blowing talk had to be BicycleJS, a talk about the new WebBluetooth API and how we can interact with physical devices such as bicycle computers, heart rate monitors and other sensors to create immersive web experiences, previously only available to native applications. In addition, the entire talk was controlled by his gesture recognizing bluetooth device. Has to be seen!

Lastly, I think the organizers should be given a lot of credit for achieving 50/50 male-to-female ratio amongst speakers, in addition to having some good inclusion and diversity talks without sounding too preachy. And a big thank you to Jan Lehnardt for his “State of the JavaScript community” talk that touched on some really important points.

There were more excellent talks of course, which should soon be available on video!

The People

A conference is nothing without its people. This was my first time travelling alone to one of these events, and I have to say, you all made my experience one of a kind. One thing that enabled this was the Slack team set up for the conference. Here you could meet and greet people in a non-threatening way, ask if anyone wanted to join for lunch or dinner, or just reach out to people you wanted to talk to without seeming intrusive.

Icelanders really know how to throw a party!

The conference also took the Code of Conduct seriously, and while I’m not usually in any position to be affected by harassment or exclusion, my hopes are that putting focus on it helped some others avoid it. This is very different from a lot of other, more corporate-y, conferences I’ve been to.

This is also the first time I’ve really felt connected to the community at a conference. Being relatively small, it felt more personal, making it easier to just approach people and have a chat about anything. The organizers also did a good job of approaching people and talking to them, bringing in others to create smaller groups of strangers getting to know each other.

The mountains in front of Langjökull, literally meaning “long glacier”.

The Snowmobile Trip

My absolute favourite part of it all has to be the community trip on Saturday. The conference had four trips to choose from: horse back riding, whale watching, snorkeling and snowmobiling on a glacier. For me the choice was pretty obvious, of course I had to go snowmobiling!

We started out bright and early, getting on our buses which would take us along the Golden Circle. Here, we would see Geysir and Stokkur, two of the famous geysers in Iceland; Gullfoss, a magnificent waterfall; and Þingvellir national park on our way towards Langjökull, where our snowmobile trip would be.

I timed the eruption of Stokkur perfectly, and captured it on 240fps video.

Having walked a glacier before, I have to say driving on one kind of seems like cheating a bit, but it was immense fun. We hit peak speeds of about 35km/h, and I was one of the lucky few that got to ride both up and down.

Don’t hesitate, go to JSConf Iceland!

To sum up all my feelings there is really just one thing to say: Go to JSConf Iceland! (Well, if they decide to host it another year). Amazing place, people, talks and activities, all wrapped up in one nice package!

Here’s to hoping this link goes active: https://2017.jsconf.is/