“It’s a festival of nerds.” Ok so I’ve been to a lot of festivals, but not a geek-centric one before. This was my first time not only attending an event with a high volume of equally awkward people, but my first ever work trip abroad. Me and my fellow peers were off to a chateau just outside of Paris to go talk about codey things for a weekend – like you do.
I hadn’t taken the Eurostar in years, but having lived in Paris before, I was excited to be amongst the French once more. Although upon our arrival to the Gare du Nord, we soon found ourselves escaping the bustle of the city and on a mini-road trip, despite my attempts to persuade our Manager to let us visit my favourite creperie. But there was no time to lose – we had nerds to meet!
Arriving onsite the following day felt somewhat surreal. Driving down a narrow wooded road, we descended upon the beautiful ruins of an old castle. As jaw dropping a sight it was, I was initially worried by the lack of a roof, but pulling up aside the structure soon revealed a large marquee where most of the weekends talks would be taking place.
“Free wellies?” Eh? I suppose this really is a festival then! Although souvenir DevBreak wellingtons was an interesting touch. The next thing to pique my interest was the lake as well as the memory of seeing something about raft building in the schedule. I eagerly anticipated watching my fellow festival goers flailing in the water.
But there was no time for giggles, although plenty of time for the tiny croissants they’d laid out all over the place. The first talk I attended was all about the wonders of HTML. As someone who regularly teaches baby programmers the basics of web development, I was excited to hear what the presenter had to say – and he most certainly did not disappoint. Who’d have thought that discussing the ins and outs of accessibility and semantics could be so funny? Not to mention the slideshow of creative selfies.
My next talk was about code reviews where key nuggets of information were shared. Qualities like consistency and readability featured heavily, as well as more personal words of advice. I for one would find it incredibly difficult to cope when merge requests would result in amendments being made to otherwise functioning code. As a junior developer, the thought of letting go of my creation was almost blasphemous. But it is essential in further developing and improving your code, as was emphasised in this talk. Similarly, there were suggestions of how to handle situations that required the modification of code – letting go of our ego is important, but so is respecting the work of others. Personally I found that this talk was the most useful of the weekend.
Having sat through a good few hours of discussions, I decided it was time to go for an explore. Derelict buildings have a certain call to them so I thought it beneficial to give my brain a short break so I could satisfy my curiosity of this castle we were casually next to. The most amusing aspect of this for me was the fact that the chapel had been “converted” into a chill out space (converted meaning there were some tables and chairs). The image of my Manager typing away on his laptop in his free wellies inside the old ruins of the resident church of an ancient building surrounded by rose petals was infinitely amusing (I can only assume that the rose petals were from a wedding that must’ve taken place recently and that my Manager hadn’t laid them there for dramatic effect).
After a brief stroll of the grounds with a couple of my colleagues, including a game of live action Mario Kart (I of course was Mario), it was time to investigate the content of the festival once more. Having grabbed a million tiny croissants on my travels, I was about to learn about the dark web, because nothing says breaking the law better than excessive croissant consumption. The talk starts with an introduction from a very serious looking man in a very serious looking suit. It was all very serious looking. The ban on photos and videos by the audience made it all the more serious. I think it’s fair to say that most people have a sort of morbid curiosity when it comes to what the dark web is and how it works so it was fascinating to observe the ways in which some illegal trades conduct themselves online, as well as learning the etiquette and rules of the drugs trade specifically. I felt like I was in an episode of CSI Miami (I’ve never seen CSI Miami, but it’s got something to do with the law apparently or at least the breaking of it).
Soon after, it was party time – whoo hoo! Beer and nerds! And…laser tag! Which…we lost! Whoo hoo! After a couple of drinks and a quick chat about DnD (because what else does one discuss in such an environment?), it was time to hit the town AKA tiny local village and dine on some French delicacies AKA grab a quick burger before everything closed. Sat upon a nearby fountain, we reflected upon our first day at DevBreak and talked shit about eval() before heading back to our hotel for some shut eye.
The following day began with a visit to the nearest boulangerie for some good old boulangering before making our way back to the festival. Having spent the majority of the previous day absorbing information, I decided to give myself the time and space to reflect, and also spent sometime evaluating my own code, bearing in mind some of the things I had learnt the day prior. After making some notes and avoiding the sun (I’m so white, I’m almost translucent), I stumbled upon a couple of my colleagues building a raft. What luck! Not only do I get to watch people fall in the lake, but it’s my colleagues, no less. Sadly they thought better of it and were in favour of cracking out their laptops as well. Eventually a group of us had accumulated on the horizon. It was like the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs except sat down with laptops wearing wellies in a field. So nothing like Reservoir Dogs.
The talk that I had been anticipating the most was the discussion on diversity in the tech industry. No one can deny the lack of developers that identify outside of anything that isn’t male. I was curious to hear what points would be made and what tools industries could benefit from using in order to better diversify their workforce. Tracy Chou lead the talk, introducing herself as the key figure to have kick started the wave that resulted in big tech companies releasing their stats on diversity. And the results are disappointing, to say the least. The lack of not just female developers, but people of colour too, proves the point that the industry requires some much needed improvement. Not only does diversity help to facilitate a healthier and richer team, but it also helps to build better code. The creation of websites and apps should surely be constructed by a diverse team otherwise our products may not necessarily meet the needs of its consumers. Tracy Chou made many very valid points and I was in awe of both her and her hard work.
As the end of the festival drew closer and the chirping of frogs grew louder, it was time to call it a day. Finding a nearby bar, we huddled together for random chitchat before grabbing a few pizzas to share by the fountain (our beloved hangout spot). The following day, we would be heading back to Paris, jumping on the Eurostar and bumbling around London again. It all felt like it was over before it began, but it was a great combination of learning, laughing and being away from the digital product studio.