JSConf Iceland 2016 trip report

10th September 2016 in Events

I’ve attended JSConf Iceland 2016 that happened on August 25-26th in Reykjavik. I’ve decided to write a longer-than-usual summary of the event in the form of a trip report.

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It was the first edition of JSConf in Iceland, but it won’t be a big spoiler if I already say it was a hugely successful event. A really cool addition to the family of JSConf conferences, which are driven by and for the community. Organized with a very high level of detail following the spirit of JSConf EU – everything was executed almost perfectly and the organizers were really trying their best to make the event as good as possible, and they definitely succeeded in doing so.

Venue

The conference was held in Harpa, a local cultural spot perfectly fitted to host such an event. The best out there – looks impressive both outside and inside. We had plenty of space for talks, food, booths, etc.

jsconfis-harpa

Mozilla presence

I was lucky enough to go there thanks to Mozilla as part of the small, informal team of four – two volunteers and Tech Speakers (me and Flaki), and two employees (Dan Callahan and Lin Clark). Dan gave a talk about The New Mobile Web: Service Worker, Push, and App Manifests, Lin presented A cartoon guide to performance in React, and Flaki was leading a workshop about Progressive Web Apps. We (with a strong focus on Flaki) were messing around giving away stickers, inviting to View Source conference in Berlin and explaining what the heck Tech Speakers program is to curious locals.

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Travel

I’ve landed at the Keflavik airport on evening Wednesday 24th, Flaki joined me an hour later (with his Hungarian friends) and we drove a bus to the city of Reykjavik to drop the bags and go for a welcoming party. The city centre was small enough for us to travel everywhere on foot during those few days. I got back home on Tuesday 30th while Flaki continued his conference marathon on Wednesday.

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Accomodation

The hotels seemed quite expensive, so we stayed in the Butterfly Guesthouse the whole time. If you’re short on budget and okay with AirBnB-style accomodation, the Butterfly Guesthouse is very good to chose as it’s comfy, quiet, and located just a few minutes walking distance from the venue and the city centre.

Schedule

Here’s what happened during my stay:

  • Wednesday 24th, 20-23 – welcome party at Bryggjan Brugghús
  • Thursday 25th, 9-17 – conference talks day 1 at Harpa
  • Thursday 25th, 19-23 – hacker party by Mozilla at Harpa
  • Friday 26th, 9-17 – conference talks day 2 at Harpa
  • Friday 26th, 19-23 – after party at Gamla Bíó
  • Saturday 27th, 9-17 – sightseeing trip around Iceland
  • Saturday 27th, 19-23 – farewell dinner at Blue Lagoon
  • Monday 29th, 9-17 – PWA workshop by Mozilla at Startup Reykjavik

That’s a lot for a single event, so let’s brake it down.

Welcome party at Bryggjan Brugghús

After leaving bags at the guesthouse we went for the welcoming party at Bryggjan Brugghús – the snacks were good, beer was cold, people interesting to talk with, and we could pick up our badges already. It was a nice, slow introduction to what was suppose to happen in the next few days.

Conference talks

It was a two day, two tracks conference so there was plenty of talks to chose from. It started with an intro and the comedians woke us up a little bit.

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There was a good variety of topics – from empathy, through WebVR (Microsoft’s Liv Erickson mentioned A-Frame in her talk), React, Bicycle.js, dirty front-end tricks to speech recognition, robots, AI experiments, impostor syndrome and state of the community. I won’t go into much detail, but I enjoyed the track I stayed and saw a lot of good content presented in a nice way.

Hacker party by Mozilla at Harpa

After the first day of talks we were all invited to a separate room for the surprise announcement – we were gonna experience a unique competition that evening, and it was truly interesting.

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There was eight monitors facing the crowd, and people were given 15 minutes to code a website by seeing a single image – no preview, just constant coding in the editor with HTML and CSS. Whoever gets the closest to the original wins. It may sound strange, but it was actually really fun to watch – there were various techniques, and the crowd cheered for the contestants. The DJ was playing a proper tunes, so everything went really smooth.

Some people forgot about setting up the background or had a typo that broke everything down. There were three stages with different websites – the first one being the Firefox download page. The winner got the snorkelling trip, but as he had one booked already he gave it to on of the diversity program participants.

jsconfis-hackerparty2

It was surprisingly enjoyable and I hope to see such attempts at other conferences or meetups as both the participants and the crowd had a lot of fun – the software used was Code in the Dark Editor slightly adjusted to the conference theme.

After the competition people were hacking the lights in the room to show their own animations and visual effects with the music playing in the background.

After party at Gamla Bíó

The conference part of the second day ended, so we went for the after party in Gamla Bíó which means in Icelandic, from what I heard, an old cinema. We were greeted by the vikings, fed with burgers and offered an open bar on the rooftop with a very nice view, and were presented with a little viking show including fighting and such. I also talked a bit with some Polish devs I bumped into – it was nice to see them there.

jsconfis-rooftop

When the original party ended, some people went to the other bar, a karaoke, a club, and more – I heard the partying was epic.

Sightseeing trip around Iceland

On Saturday, before the farewell dinner, you could chose one of the few sightseeing trips: riding a snowmobile or a horse, snorkelling or whale watching – I picked the first one. While we were going for the glacier, we had two stops – first one at the Geysir (which is a geyser, and the term comes from this particular one) and the second one Gullfoss (the waterfall). During the bus ride we had our very own Kristján acting as a tour guide which included, but were not limited to some fun facts about sheep.

jsconfis-geysir

The Geysir was the first stop – we went into a small hill to see a few geysers, from which one was active and erupting every few minutes, so we could take some pictures and even shot a short video. From what I learned later on, the active geyser is called Strokkur while the bigger, inactive one is the Geysir. The whole complex is also called The Great Geysir.

jsconfis-geysir2

Then we headed to the Gullfoss which is a huge, impressive waterfall that you can view either from the top of the cliff, or go down and watch it falls down just a few meters away from you. The amount of flowing water is so big that there’s a constant rain-like breeze coming out of it. Before heading on to the glacier we had a quick lunch in the form of a local meat soup, which was very tasty.

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When we finally reached the mountains, weleft our bus to change the clothes, gear up for the snowmobile and boarded something you could call a heavy terrain bus – imagine a monster truck with huge wheels, but for 40 people.

jsconfis-glacier1

The view on the Langjökull glacier is really impressive. It’s an enormous piece of ice and snow that is actually in constant motion, so the tour staff is finding the safest paths across it every single day. When we got onto the snowmobiles (they were for two people – I was driving) and went for the trip there was a lot of cracks we had to look out for, cause if you fell into a hundred meters deep hole inside the glacier, there won’t be much others could do for you.

After about half an hour ride one way we had a break and a spontaneous snow fight happened. After a short rest we switched places to go back and this time I was watching the views as a passenger. They were indeed beautiful.

jsconfis-glacier2

While we were getting back from the glacier to the city we passed through Þingvellir national park. All the attractions on the trip (geysers, waterfall and the park) are part of the tourist route called the Golden Circle.

Farewell dinner at Blue Lagoon

When the whole day trip around Iceland ended we got back to the city, had a few minutes to drop our stuff and prepare for the evening. When we arrived to the Blue Lagoon we immediately joined the geothermal spa that was the biggest attraction there.

After the enjoyable swim, the dinner was already waiting for us. The food was delicious – most of my plate’s free space was taken over by all kinds of sushi, and the chefs themselves were slicing tasty pieces of various meat. We talked a bit and then got back – some continued the partying in local bars, again.

Progressive Web Apps workshop by Mozilla at Startup Reykjavik

On Monday, when all the conferencing, parties and trips ended there was a workshop about Progressive Web Apps led by Flaki, and I was his lovely assistant. Due to the fact that it was after all the JSConf Iceland related events most of the conference attendees already left the country, so we had the chance to meet with the local community. Around 40 people showed at the Startup Reykjavik ready to learn about PWA.

jsconfis-workshop

It was an introductory workshop and we went through basics like offline with service workers, installation through manifest files, and push API. The example app was showed and explained, with all the benefits of the new approach.

You can check the detailed schedule we had, and see the etherpad with all the links to slides and other materials used during the workshop. I think it went very well – people were happy with what they learned during that day.

Summary

It was an awesome overall experience, I feel like everything was organized as it should be, and taken care of. You could feel it was created by the passionate community, for the community. Diversity tickets, dietary options considering food alergies, taking care of significal others, caring for families with babies – as if everything was part of the perfect plan.

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It was one of the best conferences I attended so far, and I had the pleasure of being at a few already. I highly recommend going to JSConf Iceland 2017 – there’s no official announcement yet, but you can’t stop when you just started with such a blast.

If you’re able to attend, speak, support them with sponsorship, run a booth or anything else – don’t think about it too much, just do it. I guarantee you’ll end up happy about it.

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