Jamie's Blog

Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids

FOWA Dublin

I took two days holidays last week to attend the FOWA Dublin conference and thought I’d contribute to the wealth of blog posts on this event:

  • Ryan Carson gave a very practical, actionable talk about starting a small web business. A terrific start to the event and well worth listening too. If nothing else, it pointed me to Spreedly which should save me a ton of time and hassle
  • Eoghan and Des from Contrast gave a very ambitious (as is their nature) talk about conventions and when/how to break them. Hugely entertaining although if I’m giving an honest review I’d say that a fast-paced presentation perhaps doesn’t suit Des as non-Irish audience members had trouble understanding him. Personally, I found it very interesting and funny. Well done.
  • Robin Christopherson gave one of the most poignant presentations of the day on website accessibility. This was part presentation and part demonstration as Robin himself is blind. There is nothing more awe-inspiring to a techie than watching someone surf the web using a screen reader. It was a practical demonstration of how hard sections of our society find surfing the web, and what web designers can do to ease their burden.
  • To me, Blaine Cook and Emma Persky gave the weakest talks of the day. Blaine was talking about the future of social networks and how large all-encompassing networks aren’t the future. However, he didn’t lay-out and actionable things which the audience could take away. What should developers by using or building to bring about the future of micro-networks he was discussing? I admire him for talking about something which matters to him but it just didn’t have much impact for the audience. Similarly, Emma was discussing using Ruby without using Rails, essentially promoting the use of alternate frameworks, or even none at all. This presentation could have been so much more powerful, interesting and useful if she’d actually provided code examples or performance metrics comparing the implementations in Rails, Merb, Sinatra, Google App Engine etc. It just could have been so much more. Both of these presenters had so much practical experience to offer the audience and instead gave fluffy opinion pieces.
  • Morgan McKeagney of IQContent gave a good talk comparing the 1970’s punk scene with today’s Web 2.0 world. We’re “in the shit” and we need to avoid being one of the failed bands left behind by U2. Less like Virigin Prunes and more like U2 (at least in terms of success — Bono still annoys me). Are you just playing guitar in your bedroom or are you building something people care about, which is useful to them, which they’ll pay for?
  • Simon Willison gave a very entertaining, scary and educational talk about website security issues. I’d read about XSS, CSRF etc, and I knew what sort of measure you’d take in Rails to avoid them, but I never really understand the whats and hows of these attacks. Security documents are very boring but when someone gets up on stage and demonstrates how they work, suddenly in 30minutes you’ve understood more than any document could give you. Very worthwhile attending just for this.
  • The first 2 120-second startup pitches were pretty poor (in my opinion). They seemed ill-prepared, waffling and not as enthusiastic about their product as I thought they would be. This was my first time seeing startup pitches so my expectations might have been way out. Some points I gathered: Say what your site does (in the first 20seconds!); Show your site; Be passionate about it! Robin Blandford gave a really good pitch through, which easily demonstrated what the site did, who it was aimed at and his own qualifications for developing it. This pitch was much more like what I was expecting. On the other hand, it was a great learning experience for the other entrepreneurs to pitch in a ‘safe’ environment where no money was at stake.
  • David Heinemeier Hansson was arguably the star attraction of the conference and he didn’t disappoint. Fuck the Real World. Build a startup Business. These were really good rallying cries for the troops which were all well received. Even if you’ve been following 37Signals there was a good section on why their ‘Getting Real’ philosophy still applies to you. They started small too.
The biggest disappointment with the event was the tiny social spaces available and complete lack of free refreshments. This meant that everyone disbanded during the breaks and unless you already knew people there were very very limited networking opportunities.