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My Trip to CascadiaFest

... or "who knew there was anything in Blaine, Washington?"

I got back recently from giving my first talk at CascadiaFest 2015, held in the beautiful Semiahmoo Resort outside of Blaine, WA. As a long-term Seattle resident, my only knowledge of Blaine was as "that place where we spend too much time waiting to cross the border", but it turns out there's a beautiful golf resort right nearby. Since I don't golf I still wasn't that excited, but CascadiaFest had more than enough activity to keep me busy.

What is CascadiaFest?

CascadiaFest is the renamed CascadiaJS, and is a regional web technology conference. It's expanded beyond client-side Javascript to server-side, and now to CSS (hence the rename), but really any talks related to developing for the web are likely welcome, as well as those using JS in more interesting ways. In fact, one of the talks this year was on developing Minecraft mods using JS. Even though it's a regional conference, several of the speakers and some of the attendees came from elsewhere - I met a few from New York and one from Argentina, and saw others from even farther afield.

Logistics

The conference was held at the Semiahmoo Resort, which was actually quite beautiful. 

Sunset at Semiahmoo Resort

The grounds were large, it was surrounded by water, had a spa and a pool - honestly I had no idea there was any place this nice between Seattle and Canada.

Semiahmoo Resort coastal pic during the day

The lines to get in on the first day were long - it seemed like if they'd let people check in the night before, they could have prevented some initial headaches.

CascadiaFest Line

But once that initial hurdle was passed, the rest of the conference was incredibly well run. The conference badges were far beyond any I've ever received

Cascadia Speaker Badge

  • solid laser-etched wood, definitely one to be kept. There was some other swag, including a great CascadiaFest hoodie, but the badge was a real standout. Plenty of sponsors were on-board providing lunch and dinner, and the speakers-only dinner gave me a chance to get to know my fellow speakers better. Overall the sense of camaraderie amongst attendees was strong, making it by far the friendliest conference I've attended.

The Talks

The conference was broken thematically into three days, with a single track of talks each day in a large room holding \~400 people. All talks were uploaded to Youtube and auto-captioned.

Day One - CSS Day

The first day was CSS day, and the talks were mostly on CSS, but with a few on more general topics. Take a look at the playlist above for the full set, but I'll call out a few.

Alan Mooiman had a solid start to the conference with a talk on the history and future of CSS, and why the cycle of birth and death in preprocessors is a good thing.

Amy Lynn Taylor's talk started out slow, but had some great insights on how to make a distributed team cohere and have a common culture. As someone who works from home / remotely much of the time, it was relevant to my interests.

Day Two - Client-side Javascript Day

There was a great talk on JSON Web Tokens (vs. Cookies) by Martin Gontovnikas with some easy examples to follow and motivating reasons to use them.

My colleague David Catuhe had a great talk on his Babylon.js library for developing 3D games in Javascript. I can't wait to try it out, and with easy importing from Unity it's much more likely I might actually do so.

Myles Borins had a great talk with a deceptive title - "On the fallibility of large systems" made me think it was going to be about distributed systems and fault-tolerance, but instead it was on how our easy use of large dependency-chains can cause exciting failures you'd never expect. A useful reminder for anyone using npm and Bower.

Andrei Kashcha's talk on visualization of huge graphs was fantastic. His delivery was charming and his enthusiasm was infectious, and the insights he was able to pull from these large graphs of package manager dependencies like npm were illuminating.

Ashley Williams had a talk on ES6 that was both great and somewhat depressing. Depressing mostly because I'm not a huge fan of the JS language, and her point that JS is a teaching language due to its ubiquity and popularity rang true. I agree with her insight into the oddness of adding classes to ES6 given JS's prototypal inheritance - I hadn't considered it before, but it does seem out of place.

Day Three - Server-side Javascript Day

Another of my colleagues - Parashuram - gave a talk on automating web performance measurement that had some great details on how to integrate that into your development process, and how to avoid pitfalls in the process.

And finally my talk on the Nitrogen framework and the development of my AMQP messaging client. I used Reveal.js for my slides and open-sourced them on GitHub, using gh-pages for hosting them.

Final Thoughts

The whole CascadiaFest crowd were incredibly supportive - from the attendees to the organizers. I would highly recommend this conference to anyone in the Pacific Northwest who is interested in CSS or Javascript - regardless of where it's held next year, you'll have a great time and learn quite a bit.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Tougo Coffee for keeping me wired throughout the entire three-day period, and whatever genius on the CascadiaFest team who decided to bring them up to Semiahmoo.

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