Last Thursday marked the first anniversary of Front-End London, a monthly meetup hosted here at Made by Many HQ. I wanted to take the time to reflect on how it came to be and what we’ve learnt over the last year.

In the beginning...

The initial idea for Front-End London and the drive to make that idea a reality came from Chris, a man of boundless enthusiasm.

I can’t remember how we came to be talking about it, but the conversation went something like this:

Chris: I want to host an event for developers of all skill levels, that encompasses all aspects of the diverse nature of Front-End development.

Me: Cool, I’ll help.

While there may have been a little more to it than that, the discussions we had prior to the first event can more or less be boiled down as such.

We wanted to provide an event that would mean as much to noobs as it would to old hands and to try to cover the widest range of topics in our field. And let's be clear: there are a wide range of topics.

Whatever your preconceptions about front-end development, for those that know the field well, it's so much more than CSS, HTML and JavaScript. At Front-End London we wanted to recognise this and provide talks on design, tooling, process, ops performance, team working and many other associated subjects.

The first event was hastily arranged in December 2012 and took place the following January. Neither Chris nor I had any idea how to put together an event like this and I vaguely remember agonising over each decision as though success or failure hinged on us getting it right.

We decided to run each uncertain decision as a test and if something didn't seem to work out the first time, we would change it for the next event.

The first FEL was a great success. A sell-out crowd turned up to watch three fantastic speakers that we were lucky to book.

In the months that followed Front-End London became a regular event and gained a massive following that still baffles me to this day.

Front-End One Day

As our popularity grew so did our ambition and we decided to host a one-off, day long event. Front-End London One Day was our attempt at turning our monthly meetup into a mini conference, with more talks, more attendees and a more professional atmosphere.

We decided early on that we wanted to make One Day as affordable as possible for our attendees and managed to keep costs low enough to offer tickets for a mere £20. Fourteen proposals were whittled down to eight speakers, voted for by the FEL community, who spoke in front of 200 attendees at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in Islington.

Though we made a slight loss on the event (around £100 or so) we had a great time and judging by the response we received from our attendees, it seems they did too. We’ll definitely be running One Day again this year.

Front-End New York

In October last year we had to say goodbye to Chris as he moved to America to help set up Made by Many New York. Whilst it was sad to see him go, it provided a new opportunity that can be summed up in just one word: franchise!

After only one month of living in a new country, Chris held the inaugural Front-End New York and proved that the same format could be just as successful across the pond as it is here. Sadly a transitional office status and lack of venue have meant that there has only been one FENY so far, but I have it on good authority that there will be more to come in the not too distant future.

Just as we were sad to lose Chris we were more than happy to welcome Ilya, who has proved invaluable in helping to organise the event in the last few months.

Room for improvement?

Front-End London has become something of an unstoppable force over the last year. We’ve gotten to the stage where tickets regularly sell out in less than 30 seconds and this has become the greatest source of criticism for the event. Understandably it gets frustrating when potential attendees continually miss out on tickets due to the high demand. The ticket scarcity is exacerbated by the restrictions placed on the capacity of our venue where we are only allowed to host 60 attendees. Many have called for us to move to a larger space but, so far, we’ve been resistant as we feel that this will irreparably change the event.

There are many things that make Front-End London great (in my eyes at least) but chief among them is the intimacy of the small venue and the fact that Made by Many is our sole sponsor. This is great because it means we don’t have to spam our attendees with ads in mail shots, or promote “we’re hiring” messages over Twitter or at the event. If we were to move the event to a larger venue we may have to start finding sponsors to cover the costs and all that would change. The capacity issue is something that I think about each time we host an event. Whilst I’m not saying we’ve got it totally right, we’re not quite prepared to make any changes too hastily.

TL;DR?

If I could do it all again, I would. Luckily I can, so I will. Front-End London will continue to build and we’ll run it for as long as we can with the same guiding principles in mind.

It’s helped me realise that it’s easy to make something out of nothing if you have the tenacity and enthusiasm to follow through with your ideas. For reference I’m talking about Chris’s tenacity and enthusiasm here, to speak of my own would be terribly un-British.

We’ve met a bunch of really lovely people and lots of incredibly talented devs, many of whom have become great friends.

As if that wasn’t enough Front-End London has been nominated for Grassroots event of the year at the Net Awards. I wholeheartedly encourage you to vote for us, but if all this has bored or failed to convince you: vote for 12 Devs instead — they deserve it just a such as we do.

You can do it too (franchise?)

If there is a need for a meetup like FEL in your home town, I would absolutely encourage you to take the initiative and put something together yourself. Developers are a curious bunch and good ones will always strive to learn more. You will never be short of attendees. If nothing else, you make it way easier for yourself to learn more as the speakers tend to come to you rather than the other way around. Call it what you like, but by all means call it Front-End [Location] if it makes life easier. Feel free to use our branding too (get in touch if you'd like some help with this: [email protected]).

Is that it?

Finally I’d just like to close this rather long and rambling post by saying thanks to our attendees, our speakers and to Made by Many for bankrolling the craft beer and pizza. None of this would have been possible without you.

If you'd like to speak at Front-End London, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch at [email protected]

MOAR CAFE PATRÓN!

Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker CTO

Andrew joined Made by Many in 2010 with strong background in technical production work and technology strategy. He has over 10 years’ industry experience working across sectors including music, media, automotive and culture.

Andrew is co-founder of Front End London, the popular monthly meet-up for front-end developers.

@ninjabiscuit

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