Back in June, I had the opportunity to attend the O’Reilly Fluent Conference in San José, CA. It was a fantastic experience. I met a lot of amazing people and learned a ton. Conferences are an amazing opportunity to break out from your day to day and gain perspective on the industry. The O’Reilly conference was a great experience for this, being a 4-day flash flood of web enthusiasts.
The attendees I met were as passionate as the speakers, and they all came equipped with some burning question they wanted an answer to. I was happily surprised by how many developers I met from non-typical software companies. Obviously, there were big tech companies in attendance - I was there after all. But there were a remarkable number of developers from industries like manufacturing, insurance, and healthcare, whose employers are aware of the importance of making investments in their software.
It wouldn’t be a web conference without going over all of the latest trends - React, Vue, security, PRPL, Redux, GraphQL, and WebAssembly. Everyone was either on or trying to migrate to these latest frameworks.
The technologies I spoke to most people about involved:
- Redux and MobX
(React is so hot right now)
While the technology piece of web development played a major role, what really inspired me was all the different people I had the opportunity to meet and talk to. To hear their challenges, their solutions, and their interests. The most common challenge attendees were there to solve was accessibility.
My first morning at the conference, after introducing myself to a cup of coffee, I sat with two developers from eastern rural United States who work as front end developers at an insurance firm. We were all excited to be there; we discussed the types of technologies we use and the challenges we face. Their biggest challenge at work, they said, was accessibility.
They knew they were alienating their users by not having accessible design, but they were having issues defining to their bosses what they actually needed to do.
Their management wanted to know:
- What changes did they need to make?
- How much did it cost?
- When is accessibility work done?
I was thinking about our conversation throughout the conference. Accessibility is a huge part of Microsoft culture. For every feature I work on, I strive to provide an accessible UI palette, high contrast mode, RTL, localization, theming, tabbing, screen reader access, and controller access. It was really interesting to me hearing about where accessibility is for many parts of the industry.
Scott Davis (Thoughtworks) delivered a high energy keynote about accessibility where he showed high praise for how Microsoft has become a leader in this area. He jokingly pointed to the Microsoft accessibility website, yelling “Who is this new Microsoft!? This isn’t the Microsoft we once knew!“.
I spoke to another engineer who works at a company completely tied in to Microsoft services - they develop on Windows, they host on Azure, and they use all Microsoft tooling. Yet even with the close ties, they are having a difficult time defining what is needed for accessibility.
That night, I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Davis. I told him about these conversations I had been having. Microsoft has done a lot of work for accessibility - but what were these developers supposed to do? What information do they have to access? How do they start?
He completely agreed with these problems. Accessibility is not an easy issue. He pointed me to the W3C accessibility standards, but explained how the material can be pretty dense. It’s a very long set of documents that makes it difficult and, ironically, not an accessible resource for smaller software teams who are looking to get started.
Another option he likes is the A11y project, which seeks to make web accessibility easier (make accessibility accessible). Mr Davis provides this resource as a first step, a way to start building momentum, but warns that it is limited in scope and only covers a concepts so far.
Beyond his talk, I didn’t hear much about the Microsoft accessibility docs. We have some amazing resources available, but some of our closest partners don’t know where to start or how Microsoft can help them. What more can Microsoft do to support a growing web?
The rest of the conference was spectacular, but I will leave it for future posts. I learned a lot about the latest hotness in the industry and had some amazing information to bring back. I highly recommend attending O’Reilly Fluent (or its sister services conference, Velocity) in the future.