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Cheat Code, Combo, or Power-Up? Why We Use Someone Else’s Code

It may seem like a person setting up their first website has very little in common with a seasoned developer who’s built custom sites, WordPress themes, complex data architecture or even committed to an open source project. However, we are all here because we agree there is value in using a tool we have not written ourselvesSadly, we forget about this common ground once we start talking about code.

You rarely see more passionate opinions than why people use (or don’t use) a particular codebase. But as I’ve progressed from WordPress User, to Designer, to Implementor, to Front-End Developer, I realized it’s never just about the code!

Much like playing an open world game, each of us approaches a new challenge with different skill levels, knowledge, and philosophies. We’ll discuss how we, as players of this game, choose from the tools available based on their strengths (value) and weaknesses (risk) relative to our skills. We’ll explore how these decisions change as players level up, or face different challenges. By discussing skill, value, and risk instead of code, we can gain empathy and understanding for the decisions of our fellow players.

I want people to walk away better equipped to select third-party code based on their unique skill level, project needs, and other circumstances. I also want them to have more empathy for other people making the same decisions with possibly different results, and enable us to have more open conversations about the code we use.

Attendee Skill Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and all levels in between: the talk is more about decision-making and empathy than code, aka “why do people make the decisions they make, and how can we support and understand that while empowering each other to make good choices that fit their our unique skill levels?”

How to Make Your Website Not Ugly: 10 Simple UX Tenets for Non-Designers

To craft well-designed websites, you have to know 50 names for “blue” and the difference between a font and a typeface. You probably have a degree in illustration or graphic design, or maybe you attended some hip code school in Oakland and call yourself a User Experience Architect.


Nope! In fact, there are numerous small, simple and practical ways to vastly improve the look and usability of a website, no matter how creative you are(n’t). In this talk, we’ll explore ten of them together, and see how the impact as a whole for both clients and users is greater than the sum of its parts. Make your websites more attractive, easier to use and better designed without feeling like you’re wasting your time or effort.


Attendees should leave this talk with concrete, research-based tips on how to improve the look and usability of websites they build. They’ll add basic, easy-to-implement guidelines to their arsenal that require zero design background.

Attendee skill level: This is appropriate for all skill levels; the languages involved are primarily CSS and HTML, but even a cursory knowledge of both is all that would be required to implement the tips I’ll be discussing.

Making Things Real: Taking Content Strategy from Abstract to Functional

You’ve done the interviews, and you’ve rallied the team, and now you have a dream. Here’s the thing: Your dream isn’t going to work. No dream ever does. Instead, your dream is going to cause disappointment and frustration, because it hasn’t been paired with the content management robots that will eventually serve and store your future website.

How do we prepare our dreams so they can function within the cold world of web programming? How do we take what we want and translate it into something usable? How do we take someone’s ideas and turn them into a usable web implementation, navigating the constraints and pitfalls of project dreams, organizational bias, and unrealistic expectations?

It’s called “reification,” and it’s the act of making something real. We’re not talking code. We’re not talking CMS selection. We’re simply talking about helping those we work with understand the content management landscape though a common language and practical questions. Let’s take the best case scenario and get it closer to a real life scenario. Let’s make things real.

Attendee skill level: Minimal to some – it’s about filling a gap, more than technical skill.

100% Observability

The only way to avoid crippling issues and resolve critical outages is with complete system and application visibility. But how do you ensure 100% observability and identify potential blind spots? With the growing number of monitoring projects and hundreds of monitoring services vying for your attention and business, how do you balance full coverage with limited budgets?

In this session I’ll break down the expansive monitoring landscape into 5 categories and provide a framework to ensure full coverage.. I’ll also touch on why these categories are important to your business and share the top criteria to consider when evaluating your options.


I intend for attendees to walk away with a more holistic knowledge of monitoring and the ability to gain full visibility into their applications and systems.

I’ve spoken at and attended dozens of conferences over the past year and I encounter far too many developers who don’t understand the monitoring products they’re paying for and exposing themselves to risks by assuming their implemented monitoring solution is covering something that it’s not.

Attendee skill level: This session will be accessible and applicable to attendees of all skill levels. I’ll cover the importance of each category of monitoring from both a business and technical perspective.

Getting Started with Sass

Sass is a CSS preprocessor that enables designers and developers to write DRY (don’t repeat yourself) code. Leveraging data structures like variables, if/else statements, functions, and loops, Sass allows CSS designers to create code that’s easier to follow and less repetitive. In this workshop, attendees will learn about Sass’s advantages and disadvantages; how to write and compile Sass to CSS; and how to work with mixins, variables, extends, and more to create a real-world web page.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Set up a typical file structure for working with Sass
  • Work with a Sass compiler to create CSS that the browser can understand
  • Create variables, mixins, extends, and more
  • Work with Sass’s built-in functions to manipulate color, make calculations, and more

Attendee skill level: Attendees should have working knowledge of HTML5 and CSS. Ideally, you should be able to hand-code both. However, all files are provided for the workshop, so you can follow along by copying and pasting the code provided.

Sass workshop files

Scout CSS pre-processor

Silo-busting Innovation

So, you’ve got a problem worth solving or an insightful solution, but your efforts are plagued with constant starts and stops, completely stall out, or you’re even shut down before you start. Innovating across roles and departments is often marred with miscommunication, disconnection, and frustration, resulting in “moving targets”, project teams not knowing who’s doing what, and, ultimately, abandonment.

What if you could turn this essential innovation collaboration from a pain to a strength? Join us for Silo-busting Innovation, a collaborative session where you will learn by doing. We invite you to bring an issue or idea to work on.

This is an interactive session that aims to not only introduce or reinforce the concepts of design thinking and human-centered design through a lens of cross-role, cross-departmental, and even cross-organizational collaboration, but gives participants a chance to try out and play with the techniques. The topics covered and participatory activities include: advice interviews, problem statement creation, ideation with diverse perspectives, and solution statement creation.

Attendee Skill Level: Attendees would be best suited if they came with an open mind, open to new ideas and processes. Some basic familiarization with innovation processes (design-thinking, human-centered design, etc) could be helpful, but not necessary.

View the workbook

View the workshop slides

Separating the Users from the Brand: Editorial Brand Experience Without Strategy

We strive to learn from organizations such as MailChimp and Slack, who seamlessly combine editorial brand personality with exceptional user experience. But we experience many more examples of popups and call-to-actions trying to be cheeky while alienating users with forced and offensive choices such as “No, I prefer to pay full price” or “No, I’ll just wing it.”

When what you want to be is in contrast with users, everyone suffers. Learn how to bridge the gap with a strong content strategy that begins with user experience to build an editorial brand that leaves all delighted.

In this workshop we’ll work to identify top user tasks. With this information, build a usable persona based on tasks and motivations and complete a user journey. Finally, exercises such as cardsorts will allow development of a rough message architecture.

Learning Outcomes:

You’ll walk away from this workshop with:

  • Identify user tasks and goals through user research.
  • Prioritize user journeys to highlight key editorial needs.
  • Find common ground between user needs and brand desires.
  • Develop a content strategy to lead editorial brand development.

Attendee skill level: Best for intermediate skill levels. Those who have been attempting to advocate for the user with stakeholders already. Beginners are welcome, but it is recommended that they have some basic familiarity with the terms used in the descriptions as the workshop will be move rather quickly.

Attendees do not need to have previously performed any of the tasks listed in the description.

Paper Prototyping for Mixed Reality Experiences

Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality: emerging technologies like Google Cardboard and Microsoft HoloLens offer exciting new opportunities to create immersive experiences. But how do you validate your mixed reality concept quickly before committing costly development resources? We’ll start with an overview of current mixed reality (MR) platforms and best-in-class projects for inspiration. Thus inspired, we’ll take a step back from shiny demo videos and expensive dev kits to return to our design roots: the humble cardboard. Though a series of rapid prototyping exercises, we’ll ideate, design, and test our ideas. By creating low-fidelity prototypes and observing key interactions, we’ll focus on understanding the core of any design idea: the user experience.

Learning Outcomes:

Upon completion of this workshop, attendees will be able to test concepts that involve physical touchpoints and emerging technologies before committing to development.

Attendee Skill Level:

Attendees should have an interest in emerging technologies and be open to new experiences. Suitable for introverts or extroverts alike; theatricality encouraged. Be ready to create!

Automated Browser Testing in JavaScript

Manually testing your website after every change is a pain, but setting up a test automation tool can be even worse. Instead of struggling through Java, what if you could just use JavaScript? WebdriverIO makes automated testing friendly by providing a NodeJS interface for Selenium-based testing.

This workshop will dive deep in to WebdriverIO, an open-source library used for Selenium testing. We’ll cover all the steps to get started writing automated browser tests.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Install and run WebdriverIO test scripts
  • Understand the layers of automated browser testing
  • Be able to integrate tests with third-party tools like Jenkins and Sauce Labs
  • Have a solid list of next steps for implementing testing on their projects

Attendee Skill Level:

  • Basic Node.JS
  • Intermediate Javascript
  • Basic command line

Show Me What You Want: Using Card Sorts to Clarify a Vision

It’s hard to understand the vision in someone else’s head: the aesthetic a client is imagining, the way a team wants their written content to sound and feel, the personality of a new product or service. If you’re like most of us, you’ve taken a stab at it only to learn that wasn’t quite what your collaborators were envisioning.

How to help people communicate a picture that’s living in fuzzy form inside their heads – before you take that first stab at the work?

Card sorting activities provide a powerful (and fun!) tool for helping others give concrete shape to their vision for a project. They’re as simple as they sound – giving people a set of cards labeled with descriptive words or pictures and watching them sort the cards into categories.

Along the way, your collaborators get to discover and clarify (and sometimes hotly debate) what they’re envisioning, and you hear rich details and stories that help you understand what they mean. Everyone’s aligned earlier in the game, and you can deliver exactly what they need with fewer rounds of feedback.

Drawing on the work of card sort greats like Donna Spencer and Margot Bloomstein, this workshop will teach you the practical details of running a card sort to clarify a vision, and the subtle nuances that will help you do it like the artful practitioner you already are.

Learning Outcomes:

You’ll walk away from this workshop with:

  • foundational knowledge about card sorting, with case studies to show you what it looks like in action
  • practical instructions for running a card sort, from planning to facilitating to figuring out what you’ve learned
  • tips and tricks from the road, so you can avoid common mistakes
  • hands-on practice at facilitating a card sort, so you can ask the nitty-gritty questions that come up when you try it yourself

Attendee Skill Level:

This workshop is appropriate for both students and beginners as well as seasoned practitioners. Attendees need only arrive with a baseline understanding of why shared vision is critical for a design project.

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