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Code Secrets: Exploring the future of the web

Haydon
By Haydon 5 minute read

Zeroseven’s front-end development team joined industry professionals from around the world to explore the bleeding edge of the web at Code’s first online conference. 

Now in its 10th year, Web Directions’ Code conference has become known for featuring in-depth presentations from local and international experts on the latest developments in the industry. As the front-end technology stack continues to evolve, attending conferences like Code is a great way to keep up, as well as to brush up on the fundamentals of the field. It’s certainly become a much-anticipated event on our team’s calendar each year. 

 

The format
Originally planned for May, Web Directions had to reimagine the format of this year’s conference and move it online for obvious reasons. Rather than jamming all of the presentations into the two days that Code usually runs, the organisers made the wise decision to hold the remote event over four consecutive Fridays in September, running for three-and-a-half hours each session. 

The shorter sessions helped avoid Zoom fatigue and made it more convenient to fit the conference into our busy work schedules at Zeroseven. Not having to organise flights or accommodation was another bonus, helping to make the conference more accessible for our team than ever. 

Each session was pre-recorded, which had obvious pros and cons. A big part of the appeal of conferences like Code is the interactions you can have with the speakers and the other attendees. With the pre-recorded format, the Q&A that would normally be held at the end of each presentation was lost. 

Web Directions did make an effort to maintain the social nature of the conference, however. A live chat ran during each panel, so attendees could discuss the topics with each other – and in some cases, with the speakers themselves, since they didn’t have to present live. Some hilarious bonding sessions about the dark old days of web development (not that long ago, really) took place in the live chat; and there were also breakout rooms and ‘hallway’ chat boards where attendees could post their own topics and have forum-style discussions. 

Pre-recording the presentations also removed the on-the-fly technical difficulties that often plague conferences like this, and enabled attendees to know the exact length of presentations before they committed to them. All sessions were placed online at Confab, Web Directions’ library of conference presentations, allowing attendees who couldn’t view them ‘live’ to come back to them later. 

 

The content
The presentations themselves struck a delicate balance between focusing on experimental and bleeding-edge technology that may never actually see the light of day, and the fundamentals of coding, so that there was something for everyone – from experienced developers like myself who are interested in emerging tech, to relative newcomers looking to master the basics of JavaScript, Fullstack and web development. 

There were many sessions I found valuable, making it hard to pick a favourite, but one that stood out to me was Mozilla Standards Engineer Marcos Caceres’ presentation on the web in the age of surveillance capitalism. A Code regular, Caceres’ talk was both insightful and quietly troubling. He touched on high-profile hacks from recent years and the security issues that made them possible, including the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal, and demonstrated how users can now be tracked based on their browser configurations – including, ironically enough, the settings they choose to restrict data tracking. 

Caceres pointed out that many developers may not even be aware of their complicity in tracking users. Just by using Google Fonts or a content delivery network, for instance, you could be contributing to the problem. The challenge, Caceres explained, is to strike the right balance between privacy and functionality. From a developer’s perspective, this could include deciding whether you need to include social media widgets and Google Analytics on the sites you’re developing, and determining if you could write your own code instead of relying on third-party solutions.

I was also fascinated by Chris Lienert’s examination of new HTML elements and how they can be used and styled by developers. Lienert, the Front End Technical Lead at Iress, demonstrated how elements like range sliders, progress markers (used, for instance, to inform a user of their progress through a multi-step form) and HTML meters (indicating things like password strength) are evolving. Traditionally, these features had to be manually faked by developers, but browsers are now being built that includes native functionality for these elements.   

These may not seem like big deals, but it’s these types of HTML elements that do a seemingly simple job – and do it well – that make life easier for developers, and open up possibilities for what we can build. 

Finally, Yaser Adel Mehraban – Lead Consultant at Telstra Purple – impressed with his talk on how developers can use new web performance APIs to tune browser performance with native tools. Essentially, these APIs allow you to measure various metrics on your site; make changes to the site; and measure those same metrics again to see if and where your changes made a difference. 

With these new browser APIs, developers can quickly determine exactly where the bottlenecks and pain points that are limiting the user’s experience are, and eliminate them, without having to rely on third-party solutions that could present the kinds of data security issues Marcos Caceres spoke about. 

Ultimately, I feel the Web Directions team made the very best of a bad situation with this year’s Code conference and were able to execute the event smoothly with very few technical glitches. 

The organisers have already flagged that next year’s conference will keep the remote format – and, based on what I saw this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any front-end engineer around the world who wants to learn more about delivering superior web experiences.