Whisky Web is a brand new, fresh conference and the 2012 edition was the inaugural event, with hopefully many more to follow. This event has some familiar names from the PHP community behind it, Juozas “Joe” Kaziukėnas and his helpers Michael Maclean, Max Manders, Dale Harvey and Paul Dragoonis.

The opening keynote from Josh Holmes was about learning how to fail, because everyone has to fail, not once but many times, because it’s only by failing that we learn. So please never be afraid to make mistakes and never be afraid to ask for help. That’s a great way to grow up personally and professionally in this industry.

In contrast, David Zuelke‘s closing keynote was deeply technical. He talked about RESTful web services and how to implement them. What I liked was the fact that in contrast to the current trend, where it seems JSON is the only answer to data transfer across web services and systems, David pushed heavily towards XML and the fact that XML is more descriptive and comprehensive than a JSON data structure. He made the important point that while XML can easily represent a JSON set of data, the opposite is not necessarily true.

1st talk – Estimation, or “How To Dig Your Own Grave”

Rowan Merewood is not only one of my colleagues but also one of my favourite speakers. He pointed out the most common attitudes towards estimation within companies in the past, and how this affects the estimation process and the likely consequences. He then gave some solutions, some different perspectives, explained how agile can help and why.

During the questions section this talk higlighted how managers, as well as developers, are interested in attending these events. I think this is a good indicator that the two worlds may yet converge to a common point of understanding.

2nd Talk – Essential Node.js For Web Developers

Mike Amundsen has all my appreciation for delivering a really comprehensive talk about Node.js. He demonstrated practical usage of Node.js in the web ecosystem, using it to render web pages and forms. He also gave insight on how to deal with getting and posting requests and even how to handle file uploads and downloads and content streaming. This talk drew on the personal experience of one person and transformed it to motivate people to have a deeper look at Node.js and its capabilities. Thumbs up for Mike and for Node.js.

3rd Talk – The Emperor’s New Clothes

Kevinjohn Gallagher‘s talk was a very good one, but at the same time probably the one I liked the least, simply because his topic was huge and we ended up overlooking and passing very quickly through some slides that in my opinion deserved more time and attention. In an era where everyone talks about new methodology, innovation, HTML5, responsive design and everything other thing that pops into your head when you think about what are the current technical hypes, Kevinjohn explained how this rush to a brave new world is not always helpful. He presented evidence showing that often, this tendency to upgrade and change technologies is quite unnecessary. It does not benefit the end user, it’s a huge investment for a company, and sometimes it is done just for the “fun” of it.

4th Talk – Lessons Learned From Testing Legacy Code

John Mertic covered another very interesting topic that has touched me personally in the last few years of my career. Generally, when you go to conferences or you work abroad or you do consultancy you meet either of two scenarios: The first scenario is that of the cool people talking about testing and best practices. The second, more common, scenario is where unit test coverage is thin, where the software is badly designed, and the basic principles of object orientation are just a dream! John refreshed our knowledge and skills on what the available tools are; how, when and why to use them in order to achieve good quality results. I’m sure this session was enlightening for many people because so much of what he covered seems unknown to so many developers.

5th Talk – Is Your App Ready For The (Hybrid) Cloud?

Thijs Feryn is a proactive and engaging speaker, on the stage he tries to take the audience aboard with him in his adventure through the slides. He works for a hosting provider so getting in touch with architectural solutions and distributed systems seems to be a daily task. During his talk he described some of the cloud solutions that the current market has to offer. He talked about Amazon’s Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure platform, Orchestra’s infrastructure and many more – giving a detailed overview of the pros and cons of every solution, depending on the requirements of your project. The Q&A phase of this talk was full of interesting thoughts and possible solutions to investigate.

Wrap up

Attending a conference is absolutely key for any developer’s professional career, knowledge and personal development, the return on your investment is very high and I cannot recommend strongly enough to people to attend a conference! This particular conference had a nice format: one day of talks and one hackathon day.

At the social event on Friday, the conference was true to its name – we had a whisky tasting night. This was the cherry on the cake and it allowed me to taste for the first time in my life a type of gin which I liked!