At Substantial, we love conferences. We love JavaScript. We love Seattle. What could be better than a JavaScript conference in Seattle?

After sponsoring the official pre-party, we sent eleven of our excellent software developers to CascadiaJS. Tails bushy and eyes freshly brightened by the conference’s chemex-brewed coffee, we entered Hub Seattle ready to begin a thought journey to the center of JS.

What resulted is an oh-so-familiar story: a first year conference with mix of good and bad elements. This review is based on a survey of Substantial employees who attended this conference.

The Good Parts

Location

While we didn’t love the venue, we did love its location. Downtown Seattle is just about the perfect place for our employees to go for a conference. It’s just far enough from our Capitol Hill neighborhood to give us some distance from the day-to-day, but close enough that we can easily bus or über to and fro.

People

“The other conference attendees I met were, as a group, really cool and seemed to have their act together…” - Mark Kornblum

It is perhaps impossible to have an excellent conference without outstanding attendees. We loved having the opportunity to meet and talk with other bright people who are mutually interested in JavaScript.

Talks

Here are our talk highlights for this year’s CascadiaJS:

The Bad Parts

Every conference is going to have some lowlights. Based on our survey, these nuggets floated to the top.

Venue

While we loved the location, we did not love the venue. There were too many people in a space where many of the seats had no view of the speaker or the slides. If you were unfortunate enough to need to go to the restroom, you had best be prepared to enter a labyrinth of stairs and hallways leading to a variety of single-occupant restrooms.

Single-track, No Schedule

CascadiaJS was a single-track conference with a schedule saying nothing more than: “three to five pm, fun.js”. We disliked both that this was a single-track conference, and that we had no idea what to expect. We read novels to be surprised or taken on a journey. When attending conferences, we expect a communicated plan.

I don’t buy that having a single-track conference is an allowance for omitting a detailed schedule. TED Conference is a single-track conference. It has a schedule. Cascadia Ruby had a single track and a schedule in their first year as well.

Lacking Content

“When I attend a tech conference, I want it to change the way I think and program. I would have loved more talks about how people have solved tough algorithm problems, or complex concurrency issues in a large javascript app…” - Joshua Hou

Almost unanimously, those surveyed felt that the quality and variety of the talks at CascadiaJS needed improvement. We have been to conferences with good talks. This year’s Aloha Ruby Conf, for example, did a much better job curating content.

“… we got a Microsoft sales pitch, and a bunch of folks who left with a bad taste in their mouths.” - David Golightly

Microsoft sponsored this conference, and it really showed in the line-up– beating the drum for Azure, TypeScript, and Windows 8. There were so many talks about TypeScript it may as well have been CascadiaTS. I asked those surveyed to rate Microsoft’s new JavaScript-based language on a Likert scale of 1(hate) to 10(love). TypeScript scored an average of 2.7, with a highest rating of 5.

Where to Go From Here

We want great tech conferences in Seattle. We saw a similar start with Cascadia Ruby whose 2nd year was much stronger than the first.

In priority order here is what we would like to see next year at CascadiaJS:

  • Better talks, more focused on JavaScript and Node.js
  • Multiple tracks
  • A schedule that lists the days’ talks
  • Fewer sponsored talks
  • A venue free of occluding pillars and with dungeon-free bathrooms

So, CascadiaJS, we’ll be there next year, and we look forward to checking your sophomore style substance.

Photo by Flickr user PhotoVerite.