dConstruct 2013 – a review

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This time last year I had my dConstruct ticket in my virtual mitts, the hotel was booked, and I was excited about the prospect of a day out at the seaside with several of my smartest colleagues and friends. On the Thursday before the event I was on a train back from a meeting in London, and received a phone call. A new project had come in, and I was needed to fly out to San Francisco that Saturday. I would be spending a week there at the Nokia offices, doing preliminary technical meetings and getting to know their team. As I sat on the train pretty excited about the opportunity, my main opposing thought was “But I’ll have to miss dConstruct!”.

I love tech conferences. No matter how many I go to it never seems to be enough, but the ones that I book are those that really excite and inspire me. dConstruct is one of these, and after the San Francisco trip went ahead least year I had to make do with tales of the event and recordings of the talks, which is never quite the same. I was determined to go this year. The deal was sealed when I saw the announcement that Adam Buxton, one of my favourite comedians, was part of the lineup. I had last seen Adam supporting the band Ash as part of the ASH20 celebration, so the unusual setting didn’t surprise me, but it highlighted that this year’s dConstruct looked to be an excellent, eclectic mix, which would not conform to the usual stereotype of a technology line-up. The tickets were bought as soon as they went on-sale, and as I’m now working for myself (and thankfully sadly a lot less in-demand to huge tech companies) I didn’t receive any last minute summons to exotic locations. dConstruct 2013 was go!

The sessions

By far the most effective benchmark of a conference’s success for me is the level of captivation that the speakers manage to hold. In this age of all being cyborgs (according to first speaker Amber Case), it is not unusual for the stage lights to come up almost in parallel with a sea of audience members waking their assorted digital augments from sleep. We listen, but we tweet. Our heads are down, and we’re monitoring what the audience consensus is by quick-fire snatches of thought under a common hashtag. We form our opinions as a Borg-like collective.

What I found brilliant about dConstruct 2013 was that there was none of this.

As the lights dimmed, and host Jeremy Keith requested that we make room for the late-comers, yes there were some laptops shining away in the darkness, but overall the mood was of the audience being utterly engrossed. This was testament to the exceptional quality of all sessions, both in content matter as well as presentation style. As Jeremy himself pointed out in his summary, “That’s quite something when nine talks just whizz by without a single dip in quality.” Every one of the speakers spun a fantastic story, and personally, when I grow up I want to be as good a presenter as Luke Wroblewski, who gave me a lot to take away and learn from.

On the down-side, this led to my notes for the entire day consisting of the following stellar example, half of which appears to be ramblings from down the pub demonstrating the writing quality of the PaperMate Flair M (which I apparently love), followed by a confusing commentary written in an inferior pen. Thank you, Clearleft, for audio and video recordings!

High-quality dConstruct notes

Another side effect of having too much of a good time was that it was only on returning home that I realised just how many people I knew who attended, and who I hadn’t bumped into all day. My new-found excitement for a life outside of my phone (coupled with my ever-present paranoia over sapping my battery power) had resulted in me not seeing tweets from people I would have loved to have chatted to. So that was the negative side: being captivated by brilliant talks, and chatting too much to see internet communications. First world problems indeed.

Having since attempted to give some co-workers at my current contract a run down of the day, I think on content alone my favourite talks would have to be those by Amber Case, Simone Rebaudengo and Dan Williams. Honourable mentions go to Maciej Cegłowski and Adam Buxton, who were both hilarious (in very different ways!). At one point in Sarah Angliss‘ talk I remember noticing that my heart was racing, which may possibly have been down to the large Red Bull I had drunk before the session, but at that point in time it felt more likely to be as a result of the audio examples she was sharing with us. You don’t get that at just any conference.

I don’t think a single line of code was shown all day, and yet whilst sipping my MailChimp-sponsored red wine out of a plastic cup at the after-party I pondered the day, and the fact that dConstruct was very likely my favourite conference of the year. With a schedule that has included the Responsive Day Out, Adobe MAX, and Scotch on the Rocks, dConstruct’s mix of storytelling, technology, variety, and enthusiasm, coupled with brilliant attendees and some bloody good Asian food options just tipped the balance for me.

Thank you, genuinely, to everyone involved for a fantastic day and night. Roll on 2014.