React Finland 2021 Recap
Organizing – or attempting to organize – a tech conference hasn't been exactly an easy undertaking in the past years. Originally, this event was going to be hosted in May 2020 in Helsinki but due to the pandemic circumstances, ended up first being postponed to 2021 and eventually organized as an online conference last week. While most of us can't wait to be able to gather together in a physical conference again, I think the conference did a good job given the circumstances.
For transparency sake: I was in the event as the representative of Futurice, one of the gold sponsors.
I also did miss a couple of sessions during the week and obviously these are just my recommendations and picks based on what I'm interested and what kind of talks I enjoy and definitely not a ranking of any kind.
Miniconferences leading to the event
When it became apparent an in-person event couldn't take place in 2020, the organizers decided to host a series of smaller monthly virtual events. Here are my picks from those sessions:
In the first mini-conference, Carolyn Stransky did a great talk about documentation. I really enjoyed her practical approach: the talk is well structured and provides great insights into how to write documentation that is helpful to your readers – who are humans. She focuses on the human side of reading the documentation. If you build software for other people to use, this 30 minute talk + 15 min Q&A and discussion is very much worth your time.
The realities of being a developer is so much more than just writing, reading and discussing code. I really like how React Finland has taken talks from wider perspective into the program as well (more on that later too) since if we don't talk about the other aspects when we, software developers, gather together in conferences, when are we gonna talk about them?
In this session, from the 4th mini conference, Mikhail Novikov and Juho Vepsäläinen have a great discussion about burnout which is way too common in our industry and what lessons they have learned from it.
This talk comes from the 5th mini conference. Nik Graf goes through multiple tools and techniques – with examples from real life codebases – on how to investigate, measure and fix performance issues. I participated in one of Nik's React workshops back in 2019 and both in that and in this talk, learned so many new things into my toolbox.
React Finland 2021 Conference picks
All in all, the main conference had over 40 talks and demos, structured into sessions of 3-4 presentations each grouped by the topics. Compared to traditional way of just having streams of talks all day long, I really enjoyed this year's approach of having all the presenters in the same discussion before and between the presentations and during the Q&A. It made them feel more cozy and easier to approach.
I also wanna highlight the awesome job the MC crew did during these sessions. Juho Vepsäläinen, Manjula Dube and Sara Vieira were fantastic in bringing the sessions alive.
I have an interest towards developer and designer collaboration having worked with incredible designers and one of the most interesting processes that have a lot of room for improvement is in the handoff and communication. Travis' talk this year was a really great look into how to approach it by creating design systems by using JSX as a shared source of truth across any platform.
Matias was a guest of my codebase livestream last June and we discussed the basics of Web Components there. In this talk at React Finland, Matias did a great demo showcasing how to use Web Components in React projects and there was a nice discussion during the Q&A about how framework-agnostic Web Component components and libraries make it easier for new projects to be able to gain more traction when they don't have to build the entire community ecosystem from the scratch.
The entire statechart block was fantastic and all the three talks deserve a look. Laura started the session by providing a wonderful and easy to approach introduction to statecharts. Statecharts and using state machines to model the flow of the code is an interesting approach that I haven't really used that much yet but have been really interested in starting to use for a while now.
Working with legacy code can be messy. When you don't quite fully understand what the code intends to do, it can be hard to reason with it and if there aren't good tests to support the code, it's scary to make changes. That's why I really enjoyed this talk by Matt as he walked us through an example codebase and how to switch from
useEffect style React code to using statecharts.
Finally, third in the statecharts block, Farzad talked about the actor model. I got introduced to the entire concept of using state machines and statecharts in programming by Farzad and have learned so much from his previous talks in different meetups and conferences.
Farzad explained the Actor Model architecture well and explained the benefits of using it when building applications with React.
One of the most anticipated talks for me was Rachel Nabors' talk on open source documentation. I'm a huge fan of documentation and constantly learning more to become better as both a technical writer and someone who manages and advocates for documentation in projects.
A couple of interesting pointers that I picked up from this talk is ideas for keeping track of the state of documentation and being mindful about the documentation rotting as it needs to be constantly maintained, and the big picture of the ecosystem of canonical documentation as source of truth combined with the community created resources like blog posts, courses and tutorials.
Accessibility is such a crucial part of building software that's usable for everyone – and it should be at the very core of the software and product development workflow but we're unfortunately still bit far from that. Eevis' talk about web accessibility is a very practical hands-on talk that shares tools and techniques that you can bring with you to the work the next day to start exploring the state of accessibility in your application or website.
I also recommend checking out her other talks and blog posts from eevis.codes.
If you're building a web application that is aimed for users who are not all native speakers of the same language, localization can improve the lived user experience of using your service. In continuous deployment projects, you need a way to manage the localizations in the same cycles as well and Ante describes one way to achieve this on his talk.
One aspect of automated testing that doesn't come up as often (at least in my circles) is visual regression testing. It's testing for changes in how the frontend is rendered – in plain English, it's taking screenshots of the output and comparing them after making code changes to make sure nothing unwanted changes accidentally.
François walks you through using ViteShot library to integrate screenshots and visual regression testing to your React projects.
If you want to start learning about design systems or refresh your memories about the basics and gain practical skills, this talk by m4dz is a great one to watch. As developers, our work intersects with design a lot and especially in the case of design systems, is crucial for implementing the vision of the designers in our teams.
Finishing of the conference, I really enjoyed Elisa's introspection on chasing one definition of success and being content: "once I get this one more thing, then I can..." I found the talk very easy to relate to and I think it served as a great finish for the conference. I won't spoil it too much, just go and watch it.
These are only some of the great talks from this year's event that I enjoyed. You can find all the recordings from React Finland's Youtube channel so go take a look at them as well.
Really hoping that next year's event can be organized in-person and I hope to see you there too.