WordCamp Minneapolis 2016 has come and gone, and this year was another rousing success, with lots of new information across a spectrum of topics. There were five main tracks that the presentations followed: Design, Content/Marketing, Business/Support, Community (a very welcome addition), and Development.

I naturally stuck to the Development track that was laid out, but I did have one design detour. Even though it’s been a few weeks, looking back at my notes, my head is still swirling, so I’m only going to focus on a few of the many great presentations.

Build Something Today

build_something_todayIn Andrew Norcross‘s session, he focused on why coders don’t release their code, why that is essentially, well, stupid, and what you can do to start if you haven’t yet.

The short answer is fear. That little voice in your head saying, “This is garbage, and it should never see the light of day.”

Andrew went over how much information is at our fingertips to learn anything and everything, referring to our current time as an “Educational Golden Age”.  However, while you can learn as much as you want, nothing can write code but you, the coder, and it’s the best way to learn.

He brought up the example of a plugin he wrote for WordPress when he was on an airplane and was becoming increasingly frustrated by all the external calls his local install was making, which was amounting to 30 seconds or more every refresh (because he wasn’t connected to Wi-Fi).  So, he spent a couple hours to build a plugin entitled “Airplane Mode” that cancels external calls.  He thought nothing of it, and, as he admitted, mindlessly tossed it up on GitHub.

That’s when it took on a life of it’s own, and within a few days to a week, people were eating this plugin up with numerous praises and pull requests.  He didn’t know anyone else would find this quick plugin to be the sensation it became, but without publishing his code, he never would have found out.

He spoke about how until someone shines a light on the good and bad things in your code, you can’t become a better coder.

“You don’t get good at [coding] until other people get involved.” — Andrew Norcross


Programmers Can UX Too – a.k.a. – Avoiding The Programmer’s Interface

programmers_can_ux_tooThis was a really engaging talk about how the way programmer’s think can lead to some really, really, REALLY terrible UX.  This talk was given by Eryn O’Neil, a programmer who admitted that she probably wasn’t qualified to give a talk on design, even though she absolutely was.

We, as in programmers, can have a pretty myopic take on data & data entry, providing a rudimentary 1-to-1 relationship for administrating data.  That can be fine in small doses, but we need to come to a realization that not everyone thinks in that CRUD programming manner (Create, Replace, Update, Delete).

This is where we tend to get into trouble with UX, is because we’re writing the code for it as we’re “designing” it.  With more complex layouts/data structures, Eryn talked about how it’s OK to take a step back, take a breath, and draw out at least a basic wireframe, so you can work it out in your head first without putting a lot of effort into coding and having to backtrack because it turned out horribly.

programmers-can-ux-too-20-1024
IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?!?

She brought up something I hadn’t heard before from the late Aaron Swartz about the “Two Conceptions of Taste.”  Please go read that when you have the chance, but the TL;DR of it is that everyone knows what they don’t like, but it takes time to find out what you do like.

When you’re exposed to something, you have an inherent reaction to it if you don’t like it. I’m guessing that the example above got you to immediately cringe.  However, it’s only time and exposure to new things that allow you to define what you DO like.

So, Eryn explained, don’t reinvent the wheel. There are already plenty of great examples of UI/UX, it’s just a matter of exploring to find what you like and finding ways to implement and expand upon them.

“Programmers are uniquely capable of having opinions on interfaces because we are the ones who make them. — Eryn O’Neil


React + WordPress – A Match Made In Heaven

Every talk I’ve ever seen Josh Broton give has been entertaining and informative, which is why I was so excited to hear that he was speaking again this year at WordCamp MSP after his notable absence for the past few years.

A Day At The SPA

To start the talk, he discussed what a SPA is, why it’s useful, and what SPAs and React mean for WordPress and the community.

SPAs, or Single Page Apps, are kind of hard to explain without a modicum of developer knowledge, but it’s basically the idea that you load a page once, and any interactions you make with it only request the information needed and load it into the sections that need to change. This is different from the traditional web, where every time you navigate from page to page, you’re essentially loading the entire site again to get the same result.

In a world where the client-side technology is getting better all the time, we can now offload a lot of that loading/creating to the client instead of relying on the servers to chug along and load the page on the back-side for you.

React-ions

React, built by Facebook, is “A Javascript Library For Building User Interfaces.”  It’s a little more complicated than that, and honestly, still quite a bit over my head.  Needless to say, it’s kind of the next big thing in the development world.

But with the flood of JavaScript frameworks, why now, why React, and why WordPress?

Two years ago, Josh’s last WordCamp MSP talk in 2014 talked about how You Don’t Need jQuery, and, by proxy, all frameworks are becoming bloated and taking up way too much bandwidth. Most of the tips and tricks jQuery was doing for us only take a few more characters or lines of Vanilla JS to do without having to load it every single page load.

So, what changed his mind?  The short answer is that React is small, quick, and doesn’t require loading multiple times.  It also has a much larger community than most other frameworks.  It’s also pretty unique in that it’s written in an easily understood way, at least for those familiar with HTML and JavaScript.

How does this have anything to do with WordPress? …That’s a good question that I don’t have an answer to.  The best I’ve got is: because someone told me that WordPress’s new REST API is going to be awesome with it.  But don’t just take my (or Josh’s) word for it, read about it at Modern Tribe.

Needless to say, this was probably the biggest glimpse of the future I got at WordCamp this year, even though I only understand a fraction of it.  We were given a list of resources that I’ll repeat here for anyone interested in more information:

“IT’S JAVASCRIPT! But it isn’t…but it is.” — Josh Broton