Feedback on dotCSS 2014

I have been invited to speak at the very first dotCSS in Paris on November 14th, as part of a beautiful lineup of incredible speakers and not less than 400 attendees. It was a truely great experience, hence a little article to sum up the journey.

About the event

It was the first time that organisers of dotConferences, mostly famous for dotJS happening on November 17th, were producing a dotCSS and I have to say Sylvain Zimmer, Ferdinand Boas and Maurice Svay (as well as all the people who helped) really did a great job with this one.

I can’t tell for the attendees, but as as speaker I must say they took great care of me. Everything has been made so I, as for the others, don’t get under too much pressure once on stage and actually enjoy the experience. Challenge completed, more about that later on.

Anyway, if you felt frisky coming to dotCSS this year because it was the first edition, be sure to come next year because it was so much fun!

About the stage

The conference happened at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris, a beautiful 19th century redish and goldish theatre with balconies, great lights and everything. It was absolutely gorgeous. The stage was not huge but definitely big enough to move a bit around. I think one could not dream of a best location to give a talk.

Théâtre des Variétés in Paris. Photo by dotCSS.

About the talks

As I said, the lineup was really appealing. Quite impressive how a new event like dotCSS was able to gather so many talented people in the same room (note that I don’t necessarily include myself in this).

The whole event was mono-track, meaning there is always a single speaker giving a presentation at a given time, which is much better this way if you ask me. And all talks were 18-minutes long.

The 18-minutes format is probably one of the best if you ask me. Not only is time management much easier than for lightning talks (4-5 minutes) and long talks (45-60 minutes), but the audience is also much more receptive.

I don’t think the attention-span for a talk is meant to last any longer than 30-something minutes. At some point, people just get bored. I feel like this point happens between 20 and 30 minutes; before if they are not interested in the topic, slightly after if the speaker is really good on stage.

All speakers and organisers. Photo by dotCSS.

Anyway, allow me to give you a quick round-up.

Daniel Glazman, co-chairman at the CSS Working Group opened the stage with a talk about how CSS got there, what were the mistakes made, and why. I was not really familiar with Daniel’s work before the event so I found his talk very insightful. Plus, he really is talented speaker with great humour, thus I could not think of a better person to open the event.

Then Kaelig, French front-end developer previously at BBC and the Guardian, now at the Financial Times, presented a very interesting talk about bridging the gap between designers and developers (essentially using Sass) in big teams such at The Guardian’s.

Kaelig was followed by Harry Roberts, with probably the less technical talk of the day (but definitely not the least interesting!): Ten Principles for Front-End Development. In this case, Harry did apply it to CSS but it ended up being a very generic talk that could apply to many languages or even professions.

Then there was some lightning talks that I did not really catch because I was backstage getting prepared, but I always have a profound respect to lightning speakers: I feel like time management is hell for so short presentations.

I came next with a deck entitled Keep Calm And Write Sass. It was an 18 minutes talk about the do’s and don’ts of using Sass, especially the don’ts. My point was to try to get people focused on Sass main role: helping writing CSS, not making codebases more complex.

Estelle Weyl then presented CSS WTF, a collection of little known facts about CSS that ended up being quite technical actually. Counters in HTML forms, SVG animations, contenteditable attribute for head elements and much more. If you like clever stuff, have a look at her deck.

After a second break, Nicolas Gallagher presented an insightful talk about scaling CSS, essentially based from his experience at Twitter. While not necessarily applicable right now in any project, it is interesting knowing how such a large-scale compary manage their CSS codebase.

The inventor of CSS, Bert Bos came next with a presentation about typography on the web, and how HTML and CSS are currently poorly suited for it. What’s funny is that Bert actually ended up (implicitly) asking the audience how they would do it, rather than coming and saying “this is how it should be done”. Food for thoughts.

Last but not least, Ana Tudor gave a talk about shapes and CSS and Sass and geometry and craziness. Her scientific brain never fails to amuse me, and as always, her presentation was very impressive.

About my talk

It was my first talk in English, and as far as I can tell it went quite well. I felt absolutely no pressure thanks to the supporting organisers and speakers and everything went very smoothly.

When I came up on stage, as for other speakers, I couldn’t see a single face in the audience. Lights were all turned to the stage, and the room was kept dark, so all I could see was bright (while not blinding) light.

Interestingly enough, I realised that I feel much more confident when I don’t see people’s face. Seeing people is disturbing because you may assist to things that you don’t want to see in order to provide a clear talk.

  • People that don’t give a fuck and are coding or reading Twitter. Those people make you wonder whether or not your talk is interesting and this is not the kind of things you should be thinking while talking.
  • People that seem completely lost. While it can be helpful to know that some people can’t follow along because things are getting too technical, seeing those reactions directly put you back to the previous bullet: you’ll end up wondering whether your talk is good enough.
  • People that are smiling or laughing when there is nothing to laugh about. If their laugh is communicative, you could start laughing as well which is not that bad obviously but kind of breaks the flow. More importantly, you could start thinking they are making fun of you for some reason, and again this is not something you want to deal with.

So facing a black wall was actually much easier than expected. It allowed me to keep tracks of my thoughts without being disturbed. Loved it.

Me on stage. Photo by dotCSS.

Anyhow, things went great from what I can tell. There were two screens right below the stage, one with the timer, one mirroring the current slide (so speakers don’t have to turn their back to the audience); both helped a lot feeling safe on stage.

Now as a non-native English speaker, who never spent more than 4 days in an English-speaking country, I obviously chocked a bit once or twice but overall I feel like my English was quite understandable. Plus, this is only about practice, so it can only get better over time.

Among things I should pay attention to though:

  • walking less. I end up having the same habits than when I’m on the phone: I keep walking around spinning.
  • watching the audience (a.k.a the black wall) more. Again, same as on the phone, I keep looking at the floor.
  • practicing the end of my talk. I think I could have managed to find some kind of punchline to have some impact when the talk is over.

Final thoughts

Anyway, the event was really great, full of interesting talks and cool people. If there is another dotCSS next year, chances are high that you’ll see me there if I can attend it.

If you missed my talk (or anyone’s talk actually), worry not because everything will be online in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, you can have a look at my slidedeck; feel free to get in touch for any question. Also, special thanks to Jesterhead who designed the first slide for me.