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UtahJS 2019: Why small is better than big

yvesgurcan profile image Yves Gurcan Originally published at Medium ・2 min read

If I had to summarize UtahJS with one word, it would be “human.”

How can a conference not be human, you may ask. Well, if you have ever attended re:Invent, you might see what I mean. Don’t get me wrong. AWS conferences are awesome. The presenters are unmistakably smart, the topics are compelling, and the hype is palpable. Personally, I still can’t get over the fact that last year there were DJs scattered throughout some of the venues playing sick tunes at 9 am. But re:Invent became overwhelming with its 40,000+ attendants, thousands of sessions, and the five hotels where it takes place.

UtahJS, on the other hand, is compact. The conference occupies only a small fraction of a multiplex in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. A volunteer told me that they expected about 400 people this year. And that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed this conference so much. People were approachable and open to talking to strangers. In fact, I met more people at UtahJS in a day than I did at re:Invent in a week. Conversations were rich and interesting, including a discussion that got very technical about parsing DNS packets, another one where we commiserated on third-party dependencies (I’m looking at you, Lab On Demand), and also one about the vitality of the tech community in Utah.

The pace of this single-day event is fairly fast. Starting at 10 am, you can choose to attend one of three simultaneous presentations every 20–30 minutes until 5 pm. But everybody was so relaxed. In fact, people are so relaxed that the organizers incentivize people to move more quickly from one theater to the other by giving away prizes right at the beginning of each talk. This small touch creates such a fun and memorable experience. Even the sponsors, who are invited to present their company in person at the beginning of the conference, ditch the dullness of marketing talk to some extent and expose themselves in a very personal, vulnerable way.

From React Suspense to imposter syndrome, the topics covered in the 2019 edition of the conference were pretty eclectic. My choices were driven by what I like to call the 3 learning phases: discovery, improvement, and confirmation. In other words, my goal was to explore concepts that were somewhat new to me (such as idempotency and resiliency), improve in domains where I knew I could easily progress (namely, code reviews and algorithms), and reinforce knowledge that I acquired from previous experiments (e.g., web sockets and designing vanilla JavaScript applications). Since the talks are so short, don’t expect to go deep into a particular question. However, I got very clear takeaways from each speaker, with ideas and tools to explore at my leisure.

To put it in a nutshell, I think that UtahJS is a great conference which shows a lot of humility. The atmosphere was playful and respectful. Even if the pace was somewhat fast, I wasn’t overloaded with information. At the end of the day, I had discovered new perspectives that will undoubtedly contribute to the improvement of my skills as a software engineer. What else can you ask for?

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