Code Leaders, Melbourne, 2 August 2017

That was quite a day!

I reckon very few of the 140 or so of us at this first Code Leaders conference in Melbourne had a clear idea of how the day would pan out.

It’s probably fair to say that no-one except John Allsopp, the event’s creator and the heart and soul of Web Directions, had a complete vision of how it would all work.

And even John would concede that he was uncertain how successful this approach would be.

Well, it was. And how.

Code Leaders 2017

Factor 1

Code Leaders came out of an appreciation that there are front end engineers and developers in the web and digital industry in Australia who have by various means graduated to become senior developers, team leaders, managers, and then more who aspire to those positions.

While these might be natural progressions within an organisation, that doesn’t mean that leadership comes naturally. Leadership takes certain skills that don’t necessarily come naturally at all.

So, an opportunity existed.

Factor 2

In programming the Code conference, John had brought together a group of international and local speakers who not only addressed many of the key issues around where web and digital front end development was going, but who were themselves leaders in engineering – laying paths that others follow, taking on roles of responsibility, being leaders.

That this particular cohort of speakers could pull an audience in a Melbourne winter became readily apparent when Code sold out – before the Early Bird registration period even ended. That during that week there would be enough other code-related events like MelbJS and CampJS taking place in Melbourne and surrounds to call it Melbourne Code Week – that was icing on the cake.

If ever there was a chance to create an event that focused on leadership in front end engineering, this was it.

Code Leaders 2017

The Setup

Once announced as taking place the day before Code itself, Code Leaders also sold out pretty quickly. In fact, we could have sold more tickets, but we wanted to keep it to a manageable size because there were some things John wanted to try that would be tricky with a larger crowd.

Attendees were seated at tables of ten, with a designated table leader who had a specific role. Each speaker would deliver a presentation of about 30 minutes, followed by a five minute period in which each table would formulate questions to put to the speakers. This was followed immediately by 20 minutes or so for the speakers to respond to those questions, and ensuing discussion.

It’s not a complicated format, but it ran the risk of failing miserably if the participants chose not to, well, participate. In this setup, silence would be death.

That didn’t happen.

The Speakers

You can read the bios of the Code Leaders speakers on the event webpage, but let’s summarise it as:

Code Leaders 2017

The Table Leaders

It was the job of the table leaders to get the post-talk question formulation happening, and without too much delay. Five minutes doesn’t leave much space for time-wasting.

John had selected his table leaders well (the man curates everything, he can’t help himself), all people who understood many of the issues, were confident enough to spur a table of strangers into conversation and articulate enough to shape that into a question of some sort.

They might not think they did all that much on the day, but they were all absolutely critical to the outcomes we wanted to achieve.

The Talks

The titles tell much of the story:

  • JavaScript, Now and Next
  • There and Back Again- A Web Tale
  • The Changing Face of Loading Resources
  • Modern Web App Architectures
  • Designing a Culture that Fosters Growth
  • Re-imagining the Hiring Process

Collectively, they were focused on some of the key issues, developments and perspectives for anyone wanting to see where front engineering is going and what leadership in that context might look like.

Along the way we found out a lot of how, when, why and whether. Like why you should hire to grow your culture rather than fit your culture, how React.js came into being, why ECMAScript is called that, how to encourage and foster industry diversity, when web fonts became available, whether such a thing as a 10x developer exists, how Twitter developed a light version of itself, how we can each contribute to the future of JavaScript, and why Safari might just be the IE6 of mobile.

And if my table was any example, we also found out a bit about how we each work, how we came to be leaders or why we want to be, and we shared some detail about how we deal with the responsibility, pressure, satisfaction and frustration of leadership. That, in itself, felt unique.

We also found out that ordering a coffee by SMS and having it delivered to your table is pretty damn cool.

Code Leaders 2017

The Upshot

I suppose the reality is that a day like Code Leaders can’t really be summed up in a few hundred words. And maybe it shouldn’t be.

Code Leaders is not just a conference – it’s a dynamic, an atmosphere, an attitude, a coming together of minds that are not necessarily alike except for two things we all wrestle with: we’re front end devs and we’re leaders of some sort.

I guess you had to be there.

Interested? Make sure you’re at the next one.

Originally published at

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