Prominent Speakers, Developers Flock to Jersey Shore for Asbury Agile Conference

 

Photo: There was a full house at Porta for Asbury Agile 2014 Photo Credit: Courtesy Asbury Agile via Twitter
There was a full house at Porta for Asbury Agile 2014 | Courtesy Asbury Agile via Twitter

About 125 developers and tech professionals and 11 official speakers from prominent companies like Facebook, Etsy and Tumblr descended on the Jersey Shore on October 3 for Asbury Agile, the Web tech conference held annually in Asbury Park.

This year’s conference took place over roughly eight hours at Porta, a Neapolitan pizza restaurant just one block from the beach, on a warm, sunny day.

The audience even included young students from  Communications High School, in Wall Township. These students attended the conference for free, thanks to Bret Morgan and Kevin Fricovsky, who have organized Asbury Agile since its inception, in 2011.

Morgan is the cofounder of Asbury Park's Cowerks coworking facility, while Fricovsky runs Monty Lounge Industries, which provides web development, web design,  and content strategy to clients.

The conference featured speakers throughout the day, with a lunch break in between, and gave audience members a chance to network.

Morgan said that giving attendees networking opportunities was his primary goal for the conference. He also said it was important that people learned something at the event, "because there were so many awesome speakers today."

Photo: Etsy's Diana Mounter Photo Credit: John Critelli
Etsy's Diana Mounter | John Critelli

One of the speakers was Diana Mounter, a senior product designer at Etsy. "I really enjoyed coming down for this conference," said Mounter, whose presentation, "Responding to Change," focused on creating an adaptable work environment. She pointed to speeches by Amjad Masad, software engineer at Facebook, and Jenn Schiffer, Open Web engineer at consulting company Bocoup, as examples of high-impact presentations at Asbury Agile.

Photo: Amjad Masad, software engineer at Facebook Photo Credit: John Critelli
Amjad Masad, software engineer at Facebook | John Critelli

Masad's presentation, "The JavaScript Stack at Facebook," explained how JavaScript was developed to serve "more than a billion people" on the social network. He said that conventional JavaScript doesn't work very well on a large scale, a problem that lead the Facebook team to make changes in the language.

Masad used one of his own bug-fixing experiences as an example, detailing a problem certain users had when their versions of Flash were incompatible with an existing program. To solve the problem, Masad created an "if" statement to check which version of Flash users had installed.

However, he soon discovered that some users of the Safari browser did not have Flash, causing the system to fail for 36 million people when they tried to upload a photo album. "A simple type error" caused Facebook users a lot of grief, Masad explained. He and his colleagues solved the problem by inventing a new type checker for JavaScript.

Masad said the Facebook team shares many such inventions, and encouraged audience members to follow Facebook Open Source on Twitter. "Anything we learn we try to give back," he said.

Photo: Jenn Schiffer, Open Web engineer at consulting company Bocoup Photo Credit: John Critelli
Jenn Schiffer, Open Web engineer at consulting company Bocoup | John Critelli

Schiffer's presentation, "Hypertext Markup Art," encouraged people working in the tech industry to identify as artists despite the social pressure against doing so. "There's this big stigma with the word 'artist,'" Schiffer said. However, "code is art, and art can be code," she told the audience.

Schiffer grew up as part of what she called a "really poor" family in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Because of their financial situation, Schiffer's family did not own a computer until she neared the end of high school. "So the fact that I'm here as a senior software engineer kind of astounds me," Schiffer said. She proceeded to demonstrate a variety of technology-based art projects, such as generative artcreated by computer algorithms.

Schiffer has personally launched a number of online art projects, including the easy-to-use drawing website make8bitart.com and var t;, where she showcases generative art programmed to mimic the style of famous artists. The engineer said that working on tech-driven art projects taught her a lot about programming and helped her realize that "I still love art, even as a developer, and that it's okay that I am merging the two together."

As a designer at Etsy, Mounter said she found Schiffer's talk inspirational. Mounter loved art as a child, but had been discouraged from pursuing it as a career. She didn't realize she could combine art with a more conventional career until she worked as an apprentice in a print center. "I realized the design, and even more exciting, the world of web design, was there, and that's how I found my feet," Mounter said.

Tim Holman, a speaker at Asbury Agile and product engineer at Tumblr, also said he found the event rewarding. "This is an interesting thing for speakers as well," Holman told NJTechWeekly.com. His own presentation, "Fun with Code," was the last speech of the day. It focused on the silly side projects of programmers, like chillestmonkey.com, a website that consists entirely of a close-up shot of a relaxed-looking orangutan.

"We just need to take a break every now and then," Holman said, because the tech industry is often very serious. His presentation elicited laughter from the audience, and ended the conference on a light note.

Other presentations included:

·       "Everything I've Learned in Business I Learned from My Father..." - Jenna Zilincar explained how her father's business advice helped her turn her creative branding and communications company, M studio, into a success.

·       "Pair-Designing for Fun and Profit" -  Jonathan Berger, a designer and developer at Pivotal Labs, explained the methods and advantages of pair design, an idea that evolved from pair programming.

·       "Top 5 Things Every Startup Needs to Know" -  David Sorin, an  attorney whose practice at McCarter & English largely focuses on tech entrepreneurship, gave strategic and financial advice to audience members who run startups or are considering doing so.

·       "Why Vagrant is Better Than a Mantis Shrimp" -  Bill Hazard, VP of engineering at Marathon Data Systems, explained the open-source Vagrant software, which helps create virtual development environments.

·       "Managing Your Analytics Strategy" -  David Rossitter, analytics lead at digital agency Huge,  advised audience members on interpreting their web analytics and using the results to make smart business decisions.

·       "Agile Product Innovation" -  Vineet Sahni, director of product development at HR software provider iCIMS, explained how to consistently create viable products in an Agile Development environment.

·       "What's Your Problem? Abandoning Solutions as a Team" -  Tami Evnin, product designer at Nasdaq OMX, encouraged people to examine users' needs and problems closely before designing solutions.

Audience member Kenny Katzgrau, cofounder of advertising platform Broadstreet Ads, praised the variety of speakers at Asbury Agile. "I think it's got something for everybody," he said. Katzgrau later added that the event was "attracting serious world-class conference speakers."

The speakers themselves were quick to praise the conference and the venue. "People get sucked in by this place," Holman said, praising the restaurant and Asbury Park. Mounter expressed a similar feeling, saying "I definitely want to come back for the conference next year."

Speakers and audience members alike enjoyed drinks at Porta after the conference, joined by a boisterous crowd of locals and beachgoers as the sun set on Asbury Park.

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