My personal review of Webstock 2010 – (part I: workshops)

by kai on 22/02/2010

Last week Wellington’s IT and web crowd celebrated the annual Webstock week. You’d think that at the end of the day, Webstock is just another conference – but that would be quite of an understatement and completely miss the point. First of all, Webstock runs for pretty much a full week: Monday to Wednesday are filled with a bunch of 1/2-day or full-day workshops (to be booked and paid for on top of the conference) and Thursday and Friday provide two days of “conference proper”. Around all that a variety of community IT groups often hold meetings, there were pre-Webstock drinks, Thursday-night drinks and the Friday night ONYAs (with quite a few drinks, I assume) – There must be a pattern with that drinks thing šŸ™‚

There’s something else that makes Webstock reasonably special compared to other web conferences: It’s a lot about inspiration, ideas and the future. You won’t find many talks with titles such as “Using framework X with technology Y in situations in which the development team just wants to work when the 29th of February falls on a Monday” but rather things like Jeff Atwood’sĀ “Building Social Software for the Anti-Social” or Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup“.

Webstock also comes with a bag (full with really cool stuff) – rumor says some people are just attending the conference to get the awesome bags each and every year šŸ™‚ After last year’s trading card game, some people were keen on having another game and so there was the Twitter-based Webstockbingo and a social challenge-/task-based Webstock Game. Both very interesting and it’s quite amazing that Kat Hardisty won the game the second year in a row!


I’ve booked two of the pre-conferece workshops on Tuesday. Jeff Atwood’s “Getting started with ASP.NET MVC” and John Resig’s “Introduction to jQuery and jQuery UI“, both pretty much for the reason that they cover technologies that interested me for the one or the other reason and that 3.5 hrs of compressed information usually provide enough information and potentially inspiration to later on dig deeper. The workshops on Tuesday were organised very smoothly and without any obvious problems by the Webstock crew in Wellington’s Town Hall and the adjacent Michael Fowler Centre.

Jeff’s session covered ASP.NET MVC (mostly in version 1) and its integration in Visual Studio 2008. The idea of the workshop was to build parts of the application (available as a free walkthrough on Scott Gu’s site) and to explain/talk about some specifics along the way. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, Jeff didn’t have any slides along the workshop and the session was pretty much based on live coding. Again – there’s nothing wrong with that (and all participants were asked to have VS 2008 installed on their machines if they wanted to follow along), what I found a problem though was that due to his speed Jeff basically lost most of the participants (including myself) after 45-60 minutes (it was quite obvious by looking around and by comments made in the morning tea break). The presentation setup with having a second (non-mirrored) screen from where stuff was copied and pasted into the visible VS 2008 window didn’t help to actually follow along either. But hang on – not everything was bad: Jeff obviously knows his stuff very well and is a very good presenter and speaker. He was able to provide a lot of real-world experience with the ASP.NET MVC framework from their work on, so that there was def. quite a significant amount of added value on top of the rather straight forward tutorial walkthrough. I’d still have preferred him to have used something that’s not available as a free tutorial on the web – but that might be my personal expectation from attending a somewhat “commercial” workshop as well as from offering similar workshops on (different) technologies myself.

The afternoon session on jQuery and jQuery UI was of particular interest to me because one of my clients is going to move from a vast collection of JS/AJAX-frameworks and handcrafted JavaScript code to jQuery as their main JS framework for HTML-based front ends. Having John Resig, the author of the framework himself present it was another bonus. Due to some weird weather in the US, John just made it to Webstock and his workshop 1 hour before it actually was supposed to start (to make things worse his luggage was delayed as well). Nevertheless it was a great session covering a lot of content starting with the basics of jQuery, building complex expressions and modifying page content and structure as well as looking into some more advanced topic and new features of the jQuery 1.4(.2) release. The session was a very well balanced mixture of (interactive) slides to introduce concepts and hands-on exercises to try out features in a jQuery coding sandbox on John’s server (I love that idea).

Overall, I’m very happy with having attended both. Just to let everyone know – I’ve provided all this feedback (more detailed where due) right away after the workshops to the team around Mike and Tash (who run Webstock), don’t think this is a public bitching session behind people’s backs or something šŸ™‚

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