Why I’ve postponed Front End North

I’ve been working with Richard Eskins at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) on this years Front End North conference since the start of the year.

The Front End North 'coming soon' page

The Front End North ‘coming soon’ page

Things were going really great until very recently. We had the venue sorted, some sponsors lined up and a few early speakers – but ultimately things are not coming together in a way that can move forward so we’ve decided to reschedule the event to further into the year.

There’s no shame in doing this, we still have a great conference planned, it just needs to evolve and for that to happen we need more time to get things right.

In the meantime I’ll share some of the issues faced in organising this event:

Finding Front Enders

Front End North was planned as a very focused ‘front end’ event – there was to be no design, business, UX, opinion, workflow or any other general web/digital/etc topics on the roster.

My ideal line-up would cover modern topics such as OOCSS, BEM methodologies, CLI tools, developing frameworks, practical use of HTML5, performance talks and tools like Bower, Grunt, Gulp and of course Sass/LESS and any modern JS happenings like Angular, Impress.js, Backbone etc… Some of topics I actually don’t care about myself but I know the community do.

I also wanted to embrace brand new speakers and encourage them to get on stage and share what they are doing.

This hard line approach was hurting the conference. I found myself turning down more talks than accepting them because of my narrow focus. For the next phase we’ll be more pragmatic with talk submissions and try for a good balance.

Quick fire round

One other idea for Front End North was the use of a ‘quick fire’ or ‘lighting’ talks session which would dominate the afternoon. The idea was to give speakers 10 to 15 minutes to demo something awesome. It had to a live demo, no slides (maybe an intro slide), just code.

This idea, although valid, terrified and inspired speakers in equal measure and has since been dropped from the main line up.

Pannel beating

I’d pencilled in a panel for Front End North titled ‘The Framework debate’ which would allow the room to discuss the growth of front-end frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation. I got my inspiration from visiting Forefront Leeds where one of the sessions turned from a talk about frameworks into a heated group discussion with everyone in the room having varied and quite vocal opinions.

One issue with this was that I couldn’t find any speakers that would argue both sides. In general, hardcore front-end developers hate these sort of bloated frameworks and finding a defence for this proved to be a massive challenge – I feared the session would turn into a ‘framework bashing’ session rather than a worthwhile debate so the panel was eventually dropped which led to more planning around the schedule and of course, further delays.

Living for the weekend

One final problem was when we moved the conference from being a Saturday event to one on a Friday. This was done to allow speakers and attendees who did not wish to travel or take personal time out over the weekend.

This small change caused a long delay as we had to find a new venue within MMU which could accommodate us mid-week. We did eventually find a larger and more suitable space for the conference but this added a couple of weeks to the planning phase which were not anticipated.

The other more personal issue

I’ve recently found out that I need to have minor surgery and the procedure is tentatively booked in for June (my doctor would rather it was done ASAP). It’s estimated that I could be out of action for a couple of weeks – it’s nothing serious, actually pretty embarrassing but quite personal (I will blog about it one day) and it means that I can’t commit to event management around the same time.

At first I shrugged this off and tried my best to shuffle things around to fit the surgery in and just get on with it. But the looming surgery plus the mounting and awesome client work we have over at Make Do add up to June and July not being the best time of year for me to be out and about.

What next

Front End North is still happening and is still going to be in Manchester and will still be a low-price community style event. None of the original ideals have changed – we just need more time to:

  1. Pick a new date
  2. Work with our speakers on new topics
  3. Find new speakers
  4. Organise a new schedule

Stay informed, get involved

You can stay up-to-date by joining the mailing list over at frontendnorth.com or follow @frontendnorth – I’ll also be tweeting updates as will Richard on his @eskins account.

If you’d like to speak at Front End North or be involved in volunteering or just helping out let me know by dropping an email to hello@makedo.in if I don’t reply right away don’t worry, I’ll make sure to give everyone a response.

And if you are a MMU student make sure to follow these updates, there will be a number of FREE tickets allocated for students as well as a significant student discount on the standard ticket price :)

WordPress Sheffield Contributor Day is officially ON

Last week (a little late but better than never) I confirmed a larger space for the WordPress Sheffield Contributor Day. We now have space for over 60 people (it was around 30 before) so get signed up.


What to expect

The contributor day is aimed at users of WordPress at any skill level. If you are a hardcore PHP developer then great but you don’t need to have any programming skills to contribute, just come along to find out more.

For more information on what to expect from a Contributor Day check out these links:

For a feel of who has already signed up check out the WordCamp Sheffield attendee list.

WordCamp Sheffield has sold out!

Last week WordCamp Sheffield sold it’s 100th conference ticket – that brings us to:

  • 100 conference attendees
  • 18 speaker passes
  • 20 volunteers/helper tickets

That’s almost 140 people and our venue can hold a comfortable 150 – max (room 2 only has space for around 95).

WordCamp Sheffield t-shirt design

WordCamp Sheffield t-shirt design

Will we release more tickets?

As yet I just don’t know sorry – if you missed out stay tuned, we are checking with our sponsors to see if they are using their full allocation of tickets and with the venue to see if we can fit any more chairs in the main hall.

Stay tuned

Keep following the twitter #wcsheff hashtag and follow @wpsheff and my twitter @mkjones for the latest updates.

Want your WordPress fix but can’t wait until the conference??

Don’t miss the next WordPress Sheffield meet-up which has food, drinks, talks and is on the 8th of April at 7pm at Harrisons 1854 – which coincidentally is the after-party venue for the conference :)

WonderThemes closed just over a year ago

It was July 2012 when I first proposed the idea of closing down WonderThemes…

I spent the next year weighing up the options and looking at alternatives until finally the day came to say enough was enough and move on.


What now?

If you visit wonderthemes.com now it re-directs to a dead link on my website – this is kind of sad when I consider the years of work I put into this project. But I now see that leaving WonderThemes behind was the best thing I could do as it allowed me to move on and do new things.

What I’m doing now

I early 2012 I did something I’d wanted to do for a long time – organise a web conference. The Digital Barn was an experiment, it was a local event in a town which has little in the way of digital economy (Barnsley, my home town) but it worked, it worked really, really well. I ran the event with one of my old friends Matt Watson who is a seasoned web developer and like me had worked in the public sector for almost all of his professional career.

Events lead to new outlooks

Since the first Digital Barn I’ve had a new outlook on my business endeavours. When you run these types of events you meet a lot of great people, people who run their own businesses and people just like you. Not smarter, better or luckier than you, just with a better understanding of what they want.

Want to change your outlook on the web/digital industry? Go to an event!

Want to change your outlook on the web/digital industry? Go to an event!

So, the year after the first Digital Barn we ran a follow-up (Matt and I) and in the closing remarks Matt and I announced Make Do, a new company that we would build together and try to do great things with.

Make Do

Since then Make Do has morphed into a WordPress (obviously) design & development agency. We still run events through Make Do as well (our next Digital Barn is this year) and the types of events and size is growing fast. We also helped to organise WordCamp Sheffield as a quasi-Make Do event – it will be the first WordCamp in the area and is happening April 26th.


Do I miss WonderThemes?

Who couldn't miss this little superhero?

Who couldn’t miss this little superhero?

Yes and no – I wonder if I’d made a real go at it would I be happy? I now think that the romantic idea of running a marketplace is far from the cumbersome reality. I would probably spend my days picking holes in peoples markup, sending out refunds and worrying if my customers were going to all jump ship to ThemeForest if they updated their terms to match the ones on WonderThemes (hasn’t happened yet).

WonderThemes is gone but without it I’d have never have tried and failed which is worth more than the time, effort or money I put into the project.