Kilian Valkhof

Building tools that make developers awesome.

My experience at Modern Frontends

Life, Web, 24 November 2022, 3 minute read

Sometimes we want something to be true so badly, we ignore all the red flags. I had only spoken at this big of a conference once, and that was mostly by accident. So when my CFP got accepted to Modern Frontends, I was elated. A huge conference, in London, surrounded by amazing speakers.

As you’ve probably read elsewhere by now, that feeling obviously didn’t stay with me.

Still, I’ve pondered writing an article of my own. The run-up to the conference was full of red flags that I could write up that would’ve been somewhat interesting as a cautionary tale.

My interactions with the organiser, a woman named Gen Ashley, had been few and always somewhat antagonistic. At the time I thought it was just a result of the huge undertaking a conference like this is. I myself also aren’t the kindest person when under stress. Whatever, we’re all human.

But my experience has been far easier compared to what other speakers, all of the attendees and sponsors had to go through.

I got lucky. I got my travel and hotel paid for. I had a full room listen to me. I very much enjoyed meeting people I had only interacted with online before and chatting with speakers and attendees I hadn’t known before at all. I’m Dutch, so any lunch that’s above a piece of bread with a slice of cheese just registers as “fancy” in my head. I can’t help it. A cheese sandwich with green bits sticking out of it? Boom. Fancy.

I decided pretty early on (honestly, after Cassie bowed out and the red flags really started stacking up) to accept whatever was gonna happen and make the best of it. As a speaker, I owe that to every person that comes to listen to what I have to say.

Others weren’t as lucky as I was. Speakers paid out-of-pocket based on the promise of speaking in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, and ended up speaking to a few. Attendees paid upward of 600 pound to attend, for something that should’ve been a year-closing celebration of the web community. Sponsors likewise anticipated interacting with thousands of devs, and from what I’ve understood, paid in accordance.

I can underwrite everything Cassie, Jo, Hidde, Kent, Todd, Niamh, JD, Chris, Mike, Vladyslav, Patty and Dylan have said, and want to explicitly focus your attention to Cassie and Jo, who very early on made very clear statements, risking ire and being labeled troublemakers (they’re not, except in the very best way!) They’re brave and we owe them.

So go and read the experiences linked up there. None of them are exaggerated. What happened was disgraceful and fraudulent. The only reason the conference went as smoothly as it did was that every single speaker decided to be there for the attendees and give their best, even if that did mean managing essentially everything not handled by the conference center.

The reason I ended up writing something anyway is because the organisers next event is already lined up, and it looks like they’re gonna try and do the same trick again. It’s called tech(k)now day.

You should probably not go there.

And that sucks, because it has a fantastic, all female (and non-binary) lineup. Hosting a conference featuring and celebrating an underrepresented group is admirable and awesome, but only if you don’t exploit that group at the very same time. It seems she’s treating them as poorly as she did some of the speakers at Modern Frontends and they don’t deserve that.

They deserve better, and we as a community also deserve better. So don’t let her get away with it.

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