FrontEndConf 2013 Recap

We knew we were heading for Switzerland before we even got to Zurich, as already FrontEndConf 2013 was organised better than pretty much every event I’ve ever been to.  Just in case we forgot, within moments of landing we were met by a conference representative and whisked to the ticket kiosk, then directed to the correct train.

“Cool, how long until the train comes?” I asked.  Glancing up at the iconic Swiss railway clock (sporting an analog face) our guide answered, “In exactly 7 minutes.”  And so it was.


FrontEndConf 2013 for me was a great experience, both as a speaker and being able to attend and listen to some of the talks.  I really enjoyed meeting with several of the other speakers as well during the fantastic speaker’s dinner at breakfast at the hotel, and at the conference party.  In addition to some great talks about usability, there were demos of new UX products like the Occulus VR headset and Google Glass.

Although it was the first time giving my talk “How to build the perfect product your users want, but can’t describe”, I was pretty happy with how it turned out.

You can watch it online here (includes slides).

And here are the slides:

Recap of the 2013 Turing Festival

The signet library venue for the Turing FestivalThis weekend was the third annual Turing Festival here in Edinburgh.  I was delighted to have been asked by TechCube MD and Turing Festival founder Jamie Coleman to speak Friday morning.  Due to the fantastic lineup of speakers covering a variety of items, the fact that this event was local, and the tight connection with the TechCube, we ended up taking three Administratives along as well.  All of us enjoyed the experience, the sessions, and a day away from the office to learn, talk, reflect, and listen.

If you’re located in Scotland, I think the Turing Festival needs to be firmly placed within your “Don’t Miss” category of events.  It’s time intensive and expensive to bring visiting speakers like the last three keynotes –  Neal Stephenson, Steve Wozniak, and Richard M. Stallman, but these are individuals that our local community should hear from and be inspired by.  Here are some thoughts from some of the sessions I attended during the festival.

Bill Aulet from MIT
Bill Aulet spent his time addressing the question of whether Entrepreneurship can be taught.  He had just finished a book on the subject which outlines a roadmap for entrepreneurs to follow, and he’d partnered with local startup Stipso to put forth a living info graphic that deals with some of the questions his book addresses.  I thought his points on how education has difficulty engaging with the subject of entrepreneurship due to a lack of datasets was interesting, and he mentioned how easy it is to provide fake or misleading guidance on this subject.  I thought it was an interesting start, if a bit long.  Check out his book here.

Jim McKelvey from Square
Two of the best soundbites from the festival were from Square’s Jim McKelvey, who mentioned that the industry they were trying to disrupt (payments) is “fundamentally corrupt.”  Transparency, according to Jim, is a fundamental ingredient to their success.  He also talked about how much of what Square has achieved came because they were in the right place at the right time, both of which are necessary to achieve huge success.  In addition to being a cofounder of Square, he’s an accomplished glassblower, and board member of the financially focused startup accelerator, located in St. Louis.  Who knew that St. Louis is the second largest financial centre in the USA?  Jim seemed like the kind of guy I’d really enjoy bantering back and forth with – he was opinionated and generated controversy, which is needed at events like this.  He was great to chat with over drinks one night too!

Mike Hearn of Bitcoin/Google
One of the talks I enjoyed the most was from Mike Hearn, of Bitcoin, who clumsily shouted that “HE WAS NOT REPRESENTING GOOGLE” in response to a question from the audience.  Still, he spent most of his time talking about a future 50 years from now that involves digital cash without middle men, and a trade net that’s leveraged by autonomous, self-owning agents who respond to bids for materials and services on both the internet, and the “matternet.”  The latter just seemed to be an attempt to make quadcopters sound cool.  Humans, he contended, will be around for their ingenuity and creativity, which we’ll always have in abundance compared to computers.  The irony of announcing the ultimate invincibility of the Turing Test while speaking at the Turing Festival seemed to be lost.  This talk was enjoyable as it firmly fixated on the future, painting broad yet tangible themes that were all theoretically possible today.

Brian Doll from Github
I really enjoyed the talk about how Github markets and has grown over the years as part of the Growth Hacking session.  Github saw most of its success from focusing on its voice.  Marketing according to Github is the culture transference, and this is how they continue to engage their customers.  In first year of their existence, while building their product, three engineers managed to push out 280 blog posts that were true to their culture.  Their famous “drinkup” strategy is an outgrowth of attending meetups and finding that the chat in the pub afterwards was more valuable then then presentations, thus they sponsor more than 200 drinkups around the world every year, including the after-party drinks at the TechCube as part of the conference!  Focus on your culture, focus on tribes, tell stories, and develop a voice was the mantra of this session and I thought it was great.

Old College venue at the Turing Festival
“Living Infographics” from Stipso
Stephen Drost launched into his discussion of the evolution of infographics with a short history lesson.  The origins of the fundamental charting methods used in infographics today come from the Scottish inventor of statistical graphs (bar chart, line graph, pie chart, and circle graph), William Playfair.  Florence Nightingale, in addition to being the founder of modern nursing was also a highly accomplished statistician whose early info graphics (which look like something you’d see today) were instrumental in proving that soldiers died more from disease than from battle.  Essentially, info graphics have been unchanged for hundreds of year, until now with Stipso.  They’re a combination content and listening tool (notably, Brian Doll from Github mentioned that there were plenty of great content tools out there, but zero great listening tools).  I’m a huge fan of how Stipso is positioning their product, how it can be used to both project and listen, and think it could be a fantastic tool for those looking to make their infographics a continuously fresh asset, rather than something that’s created and dies after a week or two.  As part of their talk they demonstrated one of their living infographics in conjunction with Bill Aulet’s book, which you can check out here.

My Session on Starting Up in American and Scotland
If you wanted to distill my talk down it would be: “The grass is always greener. Make sure you’re shipping something.

One thing I’ve noticed is that entrepreneurs across Europe tend to fixate on comparing their local market to Silicon Valley, while ignoring their own advantages.  I firmly believe that Scotland is an amazing place to build an incredible company.  While some changes in approach may be necessary (forget building a B2C business here, unless you can demonstrate significant traction), there are plenty of advantages.

A point that I forgot to mention is last year while I was in the audience at the Turing Festival, a panelist based from Edinburgh emphatically said, “Make sure you focus on a small market that doesn’t matter, otherwise, the Americans will find your company, come into your market, and destroy you.”  I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that moment, and it goes into the category of statements that I wholeheartedly disagree with.  With the talent, cost structure, tax advantages, and access to capital we have here in Scotland, we should be able to take on and compete with any company anywhere.

The Venue and Surrounding Events
The Turing Festival was held in three gorgeous venues in the heart of the Old Town of Edinburgh.  Truly some of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever been in.  Some liked the multiple venue approach, some wished for less walking, but I thought it was a nice approach to get people out and integrated into the city.  Lunch was provided in addition to free drinks (thanks Github!) at the great After Party and like many quality conferences, the people who you got to meet and talk with were really great.  I would have liked a bit more attention paid to following the schedule and a few more breaks between talks, but overall it was a great couple of days.

Don’t Miss the Turing Festival


One of the highlights of last year was the Turing Festival, held in Edinburgh during August.  It’s a fantastic event with really great speakers, and it takes place against a backdrop provided by the incredible festivals that all converge on the city.

This year’s program is incredible, featuring speakers from around the world, and the Turing Festival boasts a larger focus on startups, in part due to its close affiliation with the Edinburgh TechCube.  I’m really excited to have been asked to participate on a panel discussing Startups and Entrepreneurship.  Tickets are still available and this is the only tech conference I’m aware of held in the midst of festivals devoted to comedy, books, arts, music, and theater.

Speaking at Frontend Conf 2013 in Zurich

zurichI’m really excited to be speaking at Frontend Conf in Zurich next month.  Run over two days (Aug 29-30), the lineup of speakers and topics looks really great, and I’m sure it’ll be a very educational experience.

In a change of topics from what I’ve been talking about the last few years, I’m speaking on how to build a great product that your end-users want, but can’t actually describe.  This is an important skill that few develop, and it’s really not that hard to acquire.  If you’re in the area I hope to see you there, and I believe tickets are still available.

Speaking at Scotch on the Rocks 2013

I’m really happy to announce that I’ll be speaking at Scotch on the Rocks 2013 in Edinburgh.  Running from June 6-7, the conference focuses on web development, best practices and the human experience.


I’ll be sharing an updated and expanded (thanks to all the feedback I received) version of the talk I gave last year at Lean Agile Scotland on how to define, grow, and lead technical teams.  Titled “The #1 Ingredient Behind (Technical) Success: Team“, I’ll look to provide inspiration, tools for evaluating your current team environment, and a roadmap for how to build and nurture a great team.

Life’s too short and the stakes are too high to work with a sub par team, yet we never talk about them!

Come to beautiful Edinburgh, listen to my talk, enjoy great sessions from other speakers, the company of likeminded technologists, and some great ale or whiskey!

Lean Agile Scotland 2012 Recap and Slides

Speaking at Lean Agile Scotland 2012 was a great experience.  I particularly enjoyed the speakers dinner and meeting some of the guys from the Glasgow ruby user group who volunteered to help run the conference.

I got asked (and I promised) to upload the slides, and I’m sorry it took so long!  These slides may not be the best as a standalone, but they should convey the main gist.