Nick Charlton

Digpen VI

Yesterday was Digpen VI, down at the Eden Project in Cornwall. It was a wonderful day spanning a breadth of different topics, and at a nice location.

It’s quite fantastic to see how far Digpen has come from where it started. Way back when in 2011, we had 80 people in a classroom at Plymouth University, to now having a full day of talks, split across two tracks, covering a wide selection of web topics and all at a lovely venue. Sophie put much of it down to the community itself — this is certainly true, it’s a diverse group of people far more happy to put more into it than they take out — but without her (and Andy’s steering) behind it, it wouldn’t be what it is today.

The talks started off with Matt Connelly talking about using some data analysis techniques to trace where Iteracy‘s clients have come from. This was rather fascinating. The root message here was to suggest that whilst certain smaller clients may not seem so worthwhile at the time, without looking at the data you don’t know where this project will lead — it could well be a much larger project.

Chris then went on to talk about the Moby Dick Big Read, and the technical (and human) challenges that occur when a project relies on a large amount of people (none of whom technical) and suddenly becomes rather popular[^server]. This was followed by a break, after which we split into two tracks.

I’m not usually much of a fan of conferences with different tracks. FOSDEM or ORGCon for example, always felt like you were missing out on something. But this was done well. In fact, the track I followed hah a bit of a dConstruct vibe to it. But, the other track quite successfully seemed to fill in the more technical side (from those I talked to after.)

Will talked about making time for projects outside of the day job, of planning out long term ones and making it all fit in. He emphasised planning out as much as possible, splitting big jobs into managable ones and allowing bits of projects to slot in where they can. He also referenced Merlin Mann’s ideas of deliberately planning and making time for everything. Of keeping the devices tucked away when it’s most appropriate and planning blocks of time to keep us present at all of the things that matter.

Following this, Dan Goodwin talked about not reading and not following everything. Because it’s impossible, and so we shouldn’t feel bad about it. As long, of course, as we are doing something to keep current. After this was lunch, and a chance to explore the Eden Project. Even in a low-season like it is at the moment, it’s a fanastic place to explore.

After lunch, Stuart Marsh talked about how, and the motivations behind building his service, Issue Pop. Much like Matt’s talk at the start of the day, it’s great to see people sharing this side of projects and their businesses. Whilst we’re happy to write about or stand up and talk about the design or technical sides of our businesses, it’s still a little taboo to talk about the actual business side. After this, Dan gave a nice and accessible introduction to Design for Developers. If you’re in the same boat, I suggest picking up a copy of Design for Hackers, it’ll cover much of what he spoke about and the bits he didn’t quite have time to fit in, too.

To close off the end of the day was Jo and Stephen talking about maintaining our creativity. They mostly focused around design and illustration, but everything transfers well to programming too[^creativity]. Their tips and stories centred around getting away from everything, and working on other things away from work — especially in other mediums. My main take away from this, was a reminder that if it isn’t fun, what’s the point? And that we can, with a bit of planning, keep our creativity, even at the hardest of times.

The whole day was wonderful, especially for catching up with all of the friends I’ve made over the years over Devon and Cornwall. The last few weeks have been damn hard, so it also worked as a perfectly timed burnout antidote.

[^server]: And yes, it was me who moved it over to the different server. The host hadn’t done anything to transfer it properly. But, fortunately, Wordpress (and Apache, MySQL, etc) is easy and simple enough to configure.

[^creativity]: Programming is as creative as anything else is. It just has a lot of other constraints, be it design patterns, architectures or technical limitations. Programming is nothing like building widgets. Even if you’ve built a very similar product before.