If you’re within the web development community in the North East you’ve probably heard of Frontend NE; for those who don’t know they are other local developers who put on meetups/talks on the first Thursday of the month, usually at the Mining Institute in Newcastle. They’ve been going on 3 years now and this year they decided to do their own conference of which I was lucky enough to attend with another colleague.

With this on a cold Thursday morning back in April I found myself at the Wylam Brewery in Exhibition Park, Newcastle. Remember that super long winter we had, well this was the tail end of that and there was still ice everywhere. Inside the ice castle breakfast awaited along with vendors from local development companies and Leighton alumni whom it was good to catch up with. This was the perfect location for the size of the event that was run, with natural light and old school charm making for a very pretty venue.

I was given a task by my peers to gather as much vendor tat as possible which I set about on in a way you can imagine an awkward Englishman would. Luckily my work partner Chris Sterling was way less scrupulous with this process and collected the lion’s share of the quality goods on offer – and just to make it clear; there were certainly some nice offerings!

Hoard collected; the main doors opened and it was time for the conference to start.

The Speakers


While all the speakers were experts in their field I want to highlight the ones that really interested me or showed me something I’ve never seen before.

Léonie Watson – You’re Only Supposed to Blow the Bloody Doors Off

Without wanting to sound too grand Léonie didn’t teach me much – her talk was about web accessibility which is something I know a fair degree about. It was good to hear these fundamentals promoted to a whole crowd and see someone whom needs web accessibility using a Screen Reader on stage.

One new thing I’d never heard about was the upcoming Accessibility Object Model (AOS). In current websites an accessibility tree of page nodes is created by the DOM which is then interacted with by the user via assistive technologies like NVDA and VoiceOver. However; AOS will allow content creators to modify the accessibility tree directly, allowing for specific controls to users of these technologies.

Problematically; by their very nature these tools allow you to create completely separate content on the application layer if you want to give a completely different experience to users of assistive technologies. A good real life illustration of this is we’d expect wheelchair users to want access to the same museum via ramps/lifts/accessible doors and the like, not a separate museum next door specifically for them. As developers we need to be careful with the power this gives us and not use it as a shortcut to fix our accessibility problems.

Notes – https://decks.tink.uk/2018/frontendne/index.html

Niels Leenheer – Having Fun with WebBluetooth


Oh man, I wish I had the time the play with WebBluetooth. This presentation was so good I didn’t get too many notes…Niels just took us on a merry 30 minute play session through his Bluetooth toys.

But before the fun stuff we needed the learn the interesting stuff – like how to connect HTML to Bluetooth. Did you know JavaScript has inbuilt Bluetooth controls? Google navigate.bluetooth.requestDevices to get started. Next you need to understand the Bluetooth device you’re trying to manipulate has a series of registers; turning these off and on or giving them values WILL CAUSE STUFF IN THE REAL WORLD TO HAPPEN VIA JAVASCRIPT. Unless your device comes with instructions on how to be manipulated via custom programs you’ll just have to poke at it and see what happens. Lastly some admin; Bluetooth is good now.

With all the hard work done before the show Niels showed us:

  • A heartbeat sensor which was initially very high due to fear of it not working
  • An LED bulb he could set the colour of with a HTML colourPicker
  • Drawing pixel art on a LED display via some sort of HTML grid
  • A Lego racer controlled via a PS3 controller also connected to the same webpage – which he granted control of to the quickest member of the crowd
  • A drone controlled via the same PS3 controller
  • A printer connected to a Twitter feed printing any @s to the account – including SOMEONE sending a video which caused continuous printing

Niels took us for a fun ride and a good way to relax just before lunch. And considering he was using Bluetooth technology while surrounded by phone signals and WiFi everything went rather smoothly.

Notes – https://speakerdeck.com/nielsleenheer/fun-with-bluetooth-at-frontendne-2018

GitHub – https://github.com/BluetoothRocks

Aside – Lunch break
Between the FENE team and Wylam brewery absolutely fantastic food was delivered. There were slight problems with getting access to the food with the number of people and space available but there was enough food to go around. Additionally; Wylam provided brewery tours which I didn’t find time for due to consuming food.

Sara Vieira – Your Brain Does Not Have a Fix Flag

I didn’t take any notes during this talk as this wasn’t that kind of presentation. Sara talked about her struggles with mental health, about the feelings of having a life controlling taboo subject and how she came to live with her problems. Really you don’t need me to tell you what this is about, you can watch it yourself on YouTube. To me this was a very personal tale of why you should be ready to listen to friends or family who show signs of needing help.

Ian Feather – Building Resilient Frontend Systems

Ian works for Buzzfeed which you might have heard of or been one of the average 200+ million monthly visitors. With this in mind he knows a lot about website failure, and how to do so gracefully. His method of Building Resilient Frontend System starts with splitting issues down into four categories:

  • understanding the source of your failure
  • how you can manage failure
  • how you can mitigate failure
  • how to learn from your mistakes

Ian provided specific things the Buzzfeed team have implemented in each of these categories which feels a bit redundant to repeat here when you can find them in the notes. This presentation was quite technical in parts but was the most technically in line with the kind of work I do at Leighton and I hope to bring some of these lessons to future projects.

Notes – https://speakerdeck.com/ianfeather/building-resilient-frontend-systems-at-frontendne

Christian Heilmann – 7 Things You Can do to Become a Happier JavaScript Developer

To finish off the talks Christian gave us all some JavaScript soul food. The technical stuff wasn’t the point of his presentation, just some good tips for being a more relaxed and happy JavaScript developer, mixed in with some pictures of his dog and mostly naked leg – which no-one but me seemed to notice.

Christian’s main points were to talk about what JavaScript is and isn’t, along with what it’s used for which shows there are many use cases for JavaScript. With this it makes sense to say there isn’t one correct way to write JavaScript, and the many updates that come along need to be handled at your own pace; after all – they may just be a fad.

The other main points I really took away from Christian’s talk where:

  • the Mozilla Developer Network docs are the best web docs available and should be prioritised above all others (especially w3schools)</>
  • Christan was one of the developers on Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code which means he’s not exactly unbiased when it comes to promoting it. However he doesn’t make money from it and says “use it because you deserve it”. I was already a user but feel I should pay it forward on this promotion as it’s a quality code editor

Notes – https://www.slideshare.net/cheilmann/seven-ways-to-be-a-happier-javascript-developer-ndc-oslo


After party

So with Christian’s talk concluded the after party was due at Lane 7. Just by happenstance of where we were located by the door myself, colleague and Leighton alumni got to talk to Christian for a while, he’s a fantastic chap and I even got a photograph with the JavaScript Legend.

graham and christian

Food once again was brilliant and as it became increasingly apparent more and more people wanted time with Christian I increasingly tried to goad my party into the various activities on offer; bowling, table tennis, pool, karaoke. I’ll let you figure out which one we went with…

Further Reading

Front End North East – https://frontendne.co.uk/

FENE2018 – https://2018.frontendne.co.uk/

Twitter Hashtag for the event – https://twitter.com/hashtag/fene2018