Last weekend (September 22-24), I attended the Web Engineering Unconference in Mallorca for the first time. Working remotely for most of the last five years has had many advantages:
- not having to commute
- flexible hours when your child can’t go to kindergarten
- working from home while the world is hit by a pandemic outbreak
- and so on
But all this comes at a cost: limited human interaction. Well, there are things about live personal contact that dailies or Zoom meetings cannot replace.
Unlike technology conferences, where people gather to watch panels and talks, the Unconference is an open space where participants bring and decide the topics for discussion. The informal aspect of the event and the familiarity of the WEUC community provide a special space for sharing experiences and impressions, far beyond the everyday discussions about code and efficiency – even for a newcomer like me.
Opportunity to learn new things
Interacting with more experienced developers is an opportunity to learn new tricks first-hand (Feature Flags, I’m looking at you!). But in addition to conversations with developers, I’ve found special value in sharing ideas and impressions with POs and PMs. The work of a developer, despite being remote and mostly solitary, is collective work. Without understanding the struggles of a PM or what a PO envisions, you end up losing sight of your goal.
Understanding their needs gives us a better understanding of the code we create. After all, we create tools with the aim of making life easier for the user, not just for other developers.
Putting a face to the code
In day-to-day interactions with colleagues, partners and customers, it’s easy to overlook the fact that in every tile in a Zoom meeting, there’s someone with a personal background, sense of humor and stories to tell.
During WEuc I could spend time in the company of my Winkelwagen colleagues Fabian Blechschmidt (head of Winkelwagen and also one of the WEuc organizers) and Thomas Spigel (Senior Dev and my mentor, based in Croatia). I also had the opportunity to finally meet in person and exchange ideas with business partners with whom I had only interacted in professional meetings.
It’s encouraging to realize that the lines of code we work with daily are created and maintained by people like us, driven by curiosity and the desire to keep learning. Being able to share experiences with them and learn more about their origins and trajectories has a special and inspiring value.
See that the pains I feel are shared by others
The Unconference is not just a place for discussions about technology, there was also time for eating (I’ll dream of Croquetas de Jamón for weeks), drinking and chatting about music, games, books and hobbies. In addition to the myriad of technical topics, there were also open talks about mental health in the tech industry, with a focus on depression and ADHD.
It was reassuring to see this delicate and private subject addressed with such honesty, and I believe that everyone was able to relate to some of the afflictions and hardships resulting from a routine that leaves little room for concerns about body and mind.
The conclusion we were able to draw is that beyond the everyday professional discussions, mental health must be discussed, without stigma or prejudice. The first step towards a more balanced life often involves understanding your limitations – and the best way to learn about them is to talk about them.
Winkelwagen in Mallorca: Bruno, Thomas & Fabian