Tag Archives: Minneapolis

The Wizardry Of WordCamp

It’s that time of year again. WordCamp Minneapolis / St. Paul is this weekend, and that means a good portion of the web nerds in the upper midwest will be converging on the Twin Cities – including the {code} Roadies.

Why do we pack up our laptops and head to the land of 10,000 lakes?

  • Because it gives us a chance to connect with some of the brightest minds in the nation.
  • We find out about new techniques that they are putting to work, new ideas that they are working out and new work that they are showing off.

But it isn’t a one-way street.

Those folks also get a chance to learn from us, as we engage and interact and brainstorm ideas for making the world of WordPress better.

That’s the beauty of using an open-source content management system: it’s taken on a life of its own.

  • WordCamps around the world are opportunities for the brightest minds in web development to share ideas and work out systems for making WordPress better.
  • It’s an organic, hands-on way of doing R&D that would never happen if the platform was the responsibility of a single entity.

As always, we’ll report back on some of the cooler stuff we see at WordCamp by posting it here on our blog. And if you’re headed to Minneapolis yourself this weekend, look for us before, during and after the events, we’d love to hear how things are going.

Follow us on twitter @coderoadies for real time updates and happenings this weekend.

All Broadband Is Not Created Equal

I spent some time at my niece’s house in the Minneapolis area this weekend, and I learned something unexpected. My broadband access is much better than hers.

Now, {code} Roadies’ headquarters is located in North Dakota in a city of about 55,000. My niece and her husband live in a nice neighborhood in a metro area of about 3.5 million. You would think, then, that they would have access to excellent broadband service. Yet when it snows outside, they struggle to stream Netflix because of congestion on their local network (you see, everyone else is snuggling up with old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, too).

On the other hand, in my humble little town near the Canadian border, I regularly push 70 Mbps – and that’s just the “normal” package with my ISP, not the premium one. My family simultaneously streams video and audio like crazy – even 4k – and we rarely have any issues that aren’t hardware-related. Best of all, my local provider is actually in the process of upgrading the entire city to 1 Gig speed.

I am spoiled, and it took a trip to the Twin Cities to make me realize it. It can be very easy to take good broadband for granted when you have it, but it’s important to remember that not everyone does. I imagine that having an office in Menlo Park or Mountain View might lead you to a feeling that the entire world connects with a giant pipe, open to any and all ideas that you might have. But while 67% of Americans enjoy broadband internet access, a good percentage of those connections flat out suck. They may be “fast” but they are unreliable – burning up the wire one minute and spinning the old “buffering wheel of torture” the next.

The problem is that we’re still working out the kinks in the ISP business model, decades after it debuted. Some companies get it right while others do not. Too often decisions are weighed down by the archaic logic of the cable TV or landline phone industry (whoever really, truly creates an a la carte cable TV streaming service is going to put everyone else out of business – keep an eye on Hulu this fall).

If we forget about all of these folks who can’t use the internet because all of their neighbors are ogling the latest Kardashian family vacation video – or because their phone is their only internet connection, and they are dreading extra charges for using too much cellular data – we risk building websites and apps that a good chunk of the population will not use because they become frustrated. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not about programming sites to the lowest common denominator, it’s about building sites that are flexible enough to respond to both the best and worst case scenarios.

Take YouTube, for example. It’s smart enough to scale the video quality it shows you to the device you are using. That’s a lot more work than just picking the best quality out there and telling everybody to deal with it. It’s harder, it takes a lot more resources, but it’s the right answer.

How good is your broadband access? How about when you are on a run at the park? Or on the road in a Motel 6? Even if you’re lucky like we are here at {code} Roadies, develop your content for those who aren’t. The web is more powerful when we’re all on it together.

 

A Developer’s Take on WordCamp MSP 2016

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