In November, we attended the 7th Umbraco UK Festival at CodeNode in London's Tech City. 

Current trends in Umbraco development point towards developing for the best user experience first, developing for stability and security, and covering best practices - all of which were reflected one way or another in the various presentations and workshops at this year’s festival.

Conference Highlights

The festival started with a number of presentations from core Umbraco developers, beginning with a talk by Per Ploug about keeping Umbraco development simple. The message was to not introduce complexity until a project calls for it. It was interesting to see a run through of this idea from scratch - in an age when some developers see complexity as a sign of advanced work.

There was a run through of the differences between Ditto and Modelsbuilder by Lars-Erik Aebech. These are tools which enable the values set in the CMS to be automatically transformed into C# page models in code. The reason this is useful is because it provides other developers/front-end developers with a nicer way of working with data from the CMS. While the usefulness of this isn’t in question, the purpose of the presentation was to contrast the two tools. In the end, they are somewhat similar and it’s a judgement call on the part of the developer (or the team).

Unicorns and Dockers

In the middle part of the day, we heard a talk by Marcin Zajkowski on the importance of community driven development, specifically the building of Umbraco communities, on and offline, and being active in them. While the exact meaning of being an ‘Umbraco Unicorn’ (a primary theme of the talk) never became clear, this was an uplifting and interesting feature.

A central presentation of the day involved learning about Windows Docker containers, which are a means of protecting a running instance of a website from other corrupted processes on the same physical system. In short, a Docker container acts as a virtual operating system, separate from the rest of the system and with its own resources. If we run our separate processes in these containers, they remain insulated from each other, contributing to stability. We were treated to some of the details of its implementation, a highlight of the day.

NASA and Robot Wars

Presented by Pete Duncanson (of Robot Wars fame with his robot ‘Spin-Doctor’) came a humorous talk about how developing for Umbraco is more than just coding.

Continuing the festival themes of simplicity and keeping clients / editors happy came a talk covering how often websites / agencies often introduce complexity in an attempt to keep up to speed with the cutting edges of the community. While these are fine to implement it was reinforced that it is more important to understand how the tools are used rather than using them to fit current trends, and that it is fine not to be at the bleeding edge. To paraphrase Pete, we are not NASA building spaceships - we are building websites, so get it working - get it polished - and get it released.

Particularly insightful was ‘the cost of a bug’, a single slide which drove home how a client perceives a bug at the varying stages of development it is caught. This treads common themes, but stresses how a developer catching a bug before a client sees it is far more preferable than say, discovering it from a client’s bosses friend while stuck on a ski-lift.
Releases of code being an always fun topic (we all avoid Friday deployments to production, right?) was covered as well, establishing how brownie points for a good release do not always accumulate, and that the perception of Umbraco or the development agency can be tainted by the frequency of failed / buggy releases.

Always worth bearing in mind...

The Keynote

Last but certainly not least, the festival concluded with an hour long keynote presentation by the enthusiastic owner and creator of the Umbraco CMS, Niels Hartvig, who gave us a sense of where things are going from here. The main aspect the Umbraco owners are pushing is a product called Umbraco Cloud (formerly Umbraco as a Service), which takes care of the hosting and setup of an Umbraco project for you, for a monthly fee. While some developers may be concerned that this represents a commercial focus on the part of the CMS owners, they assured us this was not the case, and we didn’t get that impression.

The overall impression, in fact, was that the owners still care very much about their open source CMS, as evidenced by the way the community and the CMS itself keep improving. With a whole raft of code improvements made to the CMS on the ‘Hackathon’ on the previous day (Nov 3rd), we can only expect more of the same.