In 2017, Fluent Made a Friend

About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to attend O’Reilly’s Fluent conference in sunny (and hot) San Jose. Even though I’ve been working as a web developer for a few years now, this was my first in-person web dev conference. Needless to say, I was a little uncertain of what it would be like to attend a tech conference in person. From the first step I took into the exhibit hall at Fluent, the conference blew away any expectations I’d managed to form beforehand.

This was the first year that O'Reilly combined the Fluent and Velocity conferences, making the largest web development conference in North America even larger,

This was the first year that O’Reilly combined the Fluent and Velocity conferences, making the largest web development conference in North America even larger.

In fact, the reason I’m only now writing about my experience at Fluent is that it’s taken me a month to process everything I saw! Because this was the first year that O’Reilly combined Fluent with Velocity, a DevOps-oriented conference, the sheer number of exhibitors and breadth of session topics was a lot to take in. From automated build processes to accessibility best practices, I feel that I learned something related to every facet of web development. Now that I’ve had a month to think about and use all of this information, here are some of my biggest takeaways.

DevOps, Monitoring, and the Future of Project Management

Without a doubt, the hottest topic at the joint Fluent + Velocity conference was DevOps and Monitoring. Even though these are two different concentrations with very different goals, I group them together because they both affect project management. Without a doubt, both ops and monitoring are becoming the most vital concerns of the web development project life cycle.

Specifically, ops looks to optimize the efficiency of a development team. Dev Ops solutions tend to focus on offering continuous integration (CI) platforms that automate things like testing and linting. Monitoring, on the other hand, focuses on optimizing an application post development. Most monitoring solutions provide tools to gauge site reliability and alert teams when critical performance metrics aren’t being met.

Employing both types of solutions is essential to the quality of any modern web app running at scale. Luckily, a host of companies exhibiting at the conference were ready and willing to offer up solutions to these needs. I talked to companies like NGINX and Cloudflare that specialize in setting up robust monitoring toolkits for websites hosted in a variety of environments. I also got a chance to learn more about DevOps from Atlassian developers and other engineers who were focused on automated CI systems.

All in all, the overwhelming focus on project management and development tooling points to a clear direction in which web development is heading. As web apps grow larger and more complex, so do their development teams and codebases. It seems natural, then, that companies desire to scale and automate their development workflows. The conference made it evident that the breadth and variety of products which meet that demand will only grow in the coming years.

Containers: Who Says You Shouldn’t Put Web Apps in Boxes?

Another theme of Fluent/Velocity 2017 that’s closely tied to DevOps and Monitoring is Containerized Deployment. By now, most developers have heard of container platforms like Docker and services for hosting them like Heroku. At the end of the day, utilizing containerized deployment is just another way to improve convenience and efficiency. Rather than dedicate an entire web server to a single app, for example, separate apps can run in their own containers. Each container is its own secure, sandboxed environment which can improve security and performance.

One particular company that I found at Fluent is a newcomer to the container scene: Containership. Containership is a fellow Pittsburgh-based company that provides a containerized deployment solution that also includes advanced monitoring. Inspired by the Amazon Web Services outages that cost some companies thousands of dollars on Black Friday years ago, Containership strives to provide absolutely guaranteed zero-downtime deployments for large scale apps.

The unique combination of monitoring and deployment that Containership has built is evidence of the rapid pace of innovation in that field. If you haven’t become familiar with containers and their deployment schemes yet, I highly recommend checking them out! They’re a great way to increase the performance of your production app while also making deployment much easier for developers. And based on the buzz surrounding containers at Fluent, I predict they’re only going to become more popular.

Doing the Right Thing with Accessibility

I’ve been talking a lot about server technologies and backend code, but of course, Fluent had plenty of front-end trends to reveal as well! For me, one of the most surprising yet significant front-end focuses of the conference was accessibility. As a web developer, accessibility is something that I’ve thought about quite a bit; however, before Fluent, I don’t know that I’d ever taken the time to truly why we optimize for accessibility.

That all changed as soon as I heard Laura Carvajal explain how she and her team of web developers tackled the issue of building a truly accessible website at the Financial Times. Laura helped me truly internalize that it is the responsibility of front-end web developers to create websites that are actually accessible. That means not just throwing a few `alt` tags here and there, but thoroughly testing websites for their usability. Laura showed how she and her team went beyond simple build tooling to test their website with users who are impaired when using a computer, phone, or other web-enabled device. Furthermore, the Financial Times demonstrated that this extensive testing is a great business practice, but more importantly a vital practice in humanity.

I was extremely happy to learn that our Wijmo developers actually just released an update with huge improvements to the accessibility of our web UI components. Even though making complex grids and charts accessible can be a challenge at times, we’re dedicated to bringing full accessibility to all of our controls. We hope that this will make it easier for developers to bring accessibility to their own websites.

After Laura’s talk, and after learning about the new accessibility features available in Wijmo, I saw this theme echoed in other sessions and demonstrations at the conference. Out of all of the predictions I could make from Fluent 2017, this is the most uplifting: absolute web accessibility will become a must within the next year. As Laura so evocatively and sincerely put it, someday we’ll look at websites without complete accessibility like buildings without ramps, unacceptable.

JavaScript Frameworks Become Common Practice

Last, certainly not least, but perhaps most obvious: JavaScript frameworks. If you’ve touched web development in any way within the last several years, you know that JavaScript frameworks are at the heart of the front-end revolution. Without them, the complex web apps we see across the internet today wouldn’t be possible. But like any really good tool, it seems like we’re starting to forget about them.

As a lover and user of JavaScript frameworks, I was very excited to see them get some press at Fluent! Although there wasn’t much in the way of companies exhibiting frameworks themselves, they were mentioned almost everywhere. “We support React deployment!” “Our toolchain integrated perfectly with TypeScript in Angular!” “You won’t want to send your Vue app to production without using our test runner!” Not only were frameworks mentioned in product pitches, they also got plenty of love in the sessions. While some talks questioned the need for frameworks at all, others boasted about their usefulness and expanded on how to optimize apps built with frameworks.

Overall, I think widespread adoption of JavaScript frameworks is a natural milestone in the web development world. Although optimizations and small feature additions will undoubtedly continue to occur with frameworks, perhaps it’s good to finally have some stability and just a little bit slower pace of development. And, of course, the continued use of JavaScript frameworks is great news for Wijmo, whose controls support 5 of the major frameworks used today.

If you still haven’t hopped on the framework bandwagon, I highly recommend checking out our free e-book on getting started with them. You can also use our handy SPEC tool to help you choose a JavaScript framework for your project right now. Right now is as good (and stable) a time as ever to get started, so what’re you waiting for?

There’s Always Time for Fun, Too!

Even though there was plenty of learning to do at the conference, O’Reilly was sure to make time for some fun, too! With daily receptions and break hours, it was easy to network and talk to friends in the field. (After long days of listening to talks on web development, it’s nice to chat with folks who can relate to the frustration of a missing comma!) For me, the most impressive event geared towards the more social was Wednesday night’s “DevOps and Development After Dark.”

For a few hours on Wednesday evening, O’Reilly rented out the entirety of San Jose’s beautiful San Pedro Square Market. Set up like a giant food court with an elegantly illuminated outdoor patio, the market was perfect for casually hanging out and talking about work, the conference, and of course simply life with other web developers. With easy transportation to and from the convention center provided by O’Reilly, this event was a perfect break in the action of the conference.

(I also have to give a shout out to Kyle Simpson, one of my long time JavaScript heroes, as I finally got to meet him during one of the receptions. It was great meeting you, Kyle, and thanks again for the awesome resources on mastering JavaScript!)

One of the conference's highlights was the Wednesday night adventure downtown to San Pedro square for food, drinks and giveaways.

One of the conference’s highlights was the Wednesday night adventure downtown to San Pedro square for food, drinks and giveaways.

Pay Us a Visit Next Year

There’s certainly much more I could talk about from Fluent, but now I’ll leave it up to you to form your own opinion. O’Reilly is offering up the slides for all sessions presented at Fluent and Velocity, so head to their website and check them out! I guarantee you’ll learn something new, and I hope you’ll get a chance to use that new information in one of your own projects!

After having such a fun time this year, there’s no doubt that GrapeCity and Wijmo will be heading back for more in 2018. If you’re there, don’t forget to drop by for a free T-shirt (we’ve been told they’re very soft!)

Sean Lawyer, Chris Bannon and myself at the GrapeCity Wijmo booth getting ready to hand out swag!

Sean Lawyer, Chris Bannon and myself at the GrapeCity Wijmo booth getting ready to hand out swag!