Interactive Mechanics was a sponsor of this year’s BarCamp Philly and I was thrilled to attend as an Interactive Mechanics representative. It was an inspiring experience and I’m glad to share some BarCamp highlights with you.

Bacon at BarCamp

1. Bacon!

BarCamp promised bacon and they delivered with not 1, not 2, but 3 types of bacon at breakfast. A great way to start the day!

2. Bala Peterson’s Gospel of Specialization

Bala, who transitioned from a jack-of-all-tech-trades to a JavaScript specialist, discussed the ways in which benefits of determining a focus for your career can be professionally and personally beneficial. He said, “When we’re jumping from thing to thing, it means we’re running away from something … you let things happened to you when you don’t choose.”

3. Jeff Avallone: I’m a Web Developer – AMA!

Jeff Avallone is a principal software engineer and JavaScript specialist for Comcast Interactive Media. He was welcoming, insightful, and engaging. Here are just a few practical takeaways from his talk:

  • Upgrade when security is at risk or there are features you need – don’t upgrade for the sake of upgrading
  • If you write a piece of code twice, it should be in a class or function
  • Resist the temptation to learn a library before you learn JavaScript
  • There is nothing wrong with PHP. There is a perception that PHP is bad code because inexperienced developers write in PHP, but there is nothing wrong with PHP itself.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to prove what you know – always be prepared to show your work.

4. Jana Velíšková on Accessibility for Front-End Developers

Jana is a regular presence at Girl Develop It events, where she has served as a speaker and TA. She reminded the audience of the importance of considering accessibility throughout the development and design process and demonstrating empathy for all users. “Every step requires empathy,” she said. She stressed the importance of usability and cross-browser testing, using proper semantics, and experiencing a screen reader in action. I’ve never done that and am looking for an opportunity to do so.

She also mentioned a few tools that can help developers ensure that projects are accessible as possible. The Wave toolbar can evaluate your site and identify accessibility errors, such as missing alt tags and form labels. Fangs is a tool that shows you exactly how a website would be read by JAWS, the world’s most popular screen reader. It only catches the errors you’re looking for, but is worth the time.

5. No coat check? No problem.

I was extremely impressed with the welcoming, friendly atmosphere of BarCamp. That vibe was embodied by one particular phenomenon. It was a cold day and most people wore heavy coats. Since there wasn’t a coat check, attendees improvised, laying their coats over a set of rails beneath an escalator. There were piles and piles of coats on the rails. No one was tasked with minding the coats. There was an implicit trust that people would not take one another’s stuff. In a world of “unattended bags will be confiscated” that level of trust was downright heartwarming.

There were so many other great moments at BarCamp 2014–the eight-year-old who led a session on iPad movie production, Lauren Ancona’s talk on how Code for Philly changed her life–and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to attend. Can’t wait until next year!