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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kharkiv.js 2016 and React in Barcelona

In my only trip of the year I visited both Kharkiv, Ukraine and Barcelona, Spain. I was invited to Kharkiv.js as a keynote speaker and I also gave a little session on webpack as a bonus. After that I spent a week with Typeform in Barcelona.

Overall it was a great learning experience and best time of this year. In this post I'll try to cover some of the main points related to the trip.

Kharkiv.js 2016

Kharkiv.js mascot, now available as a plushie
Kharkiv.js is one of the bigger JavaScript related events in Ukraine to my understanding. This two day event managed to attract something between 500 and 700 people this year according to my estimation.

This was a good chance for me to meet up with some old online friends and share a couple of ideas with the public.

On retrospect I should have arrived a couple of days earlier, spent time exploring the city, and just getting more comfortable speaking. It's hard after a long break. Finnish and English pronunciation just aren't compatible as they are literally from different language trees and kind of fight with each other.

The First Day

Full house
My keynote that started the event was about Reactabular. I have slides available online for those interested. It was an expanded version of my Web dev and sausages talk to fit around 45 minutes.

It was a nervous talk and I would likely organize the slides differently now. It would have been a great idea to give the talk locally to a smaller audience one more time before jumping to the shark tank.

There were also nice QA sessions in the first day. I participated in two of them. Given most of the audience was Russian speaking I missed some points, but thankfully enough a lot was translated to English so it was fairly easy to keep up with the conversation.

I didn't get to see any talks on the first day as I was busy discussing with people. I like the fact that they organized the talks on two tracks and showed clearly which talks were English or Russian only.

This is good particularly international visitors in mind. There weren't too many, but maybe the event will attract more in the future due to this. It could become a crossing point of different developer communities.
As an interesting tidbit a couple of people took selfies with me during the conference. Maybe that has something to do with the local culture. Cool regardless.

The Second Day

The second day was more relaxed for me. In the day's talk I dug into advanced webpack. There was more content that I could fit into 45 minutes. I probably should do a condensed version of the talk or split it up somehow. It would likely work well in a workshop format split over multiple hours where you actually get to practice instead of listening.

Speaking of workshops, maybe it would be interesting to have a separate day dedicated to workshops at Kharkiv.js. It could be a day before or after the main talks and give a nice chance to dig deeper into the topics. Given the people are already there, this would be a nice chance to serve them even better.

I had a chance to see a couple of talks on the second days and I felt the quality was good if not great. I liked particularly Illia Klymov's talk about Flow as it made me appreciate it a little more. Denis Radin's talk made me see virtual reality related web technologies in a different light and Andrew Listochkin's talk made me worry about the future of the web (good thing).

I would love to see some of the local speakers in Finland myself.


I think the event was well organized. I hope they market it more to international audience in the future. Kharkiv is a little different and I've tried to list some of my main observations below:
  • You can exchange money in Ukraine only. There are specific spots for this.
  • Everything is amazingly cheap. At the time of writing you can buy hundred hryvnias (the local currency) for around 3.5 euros.
  • Taxis are cheap but that comes with a cost as the quality tends to vary. One even broke down as it arrived and other failed to arrive on agreed time so I had to order another one. I guess having local knowledge would help here. You have to know the right company I guess.
  • A lot of locals won't talk English. Ideally you would know Russian well. I expect that would open a lot of doors.
  • Have slack in your travel schedule to avoid surprises. You can afford to miss a taxi if you have time to order a new one.
  • People seemed friendly. Hotel was top notch and I don't have anything to complain about food. Some of it might take some getting used to, but that's the case always.
Overall I was impressed by the work of the organizers and I wish Kharkiv.js the greatest luck. The organizers were responsive and it was easy to work with them. The most surprising thing was to see how vibrant developer community they have in Ukraine.

React in Barcelona

The venue. Their office was enviably nice.
After a weekend in Ukraine I headed to Barcelona. I was a guest of Typeform for a week and we covered a variety of topics they were interested in. Admittedly I botched some of that (classic demo effect a couple of times), but I improved along the week.

Particularly webpack bits went well as I started to find my groove. In the end we made it work and got into a productive mode quite fast after we figured out how to work effectively together.

It would have been a good idea to spend a couple of days with the client and their code before digging into actual sessions. This would have allowed me to understand their problems better earlier while allowing me to provide real value faster. This is something I'll change in the future if similar opportunities appear.

React Meetup

I gave the keynote talk at a local React meetup organized at Typeform premises (amazing office btw!). It felt more relaxed and it felt like I got more points through.

That said, I probably should have done a super condensed version instead of going through the development history. That would have kept it shorter while still providing value for people. On retrospect maybe some other topic would have worked a little better.

The problem with giving a lot of talks over a short frame of time is that it's hard to keep the quality of them all high. In the future it might be a good idea to do less but do it better. Focus seems to be the keyword here.


Old Barcelona
When it comes to Barcelona, it is an amazing city. The weather was perfect all the time (roughly equal to Finnish summer or better), people were friendly, and generally spoke English. That said understanding Spanish would be a huge benefit.

I know there's some pickpocketing going on at certain parts of the city, but I guess I got lucky and never saw any of that despite walking quite a bit (over 30 km over the weekend I spent touring). This is one of those problems I never have to think about in Finland and it was a nice to have a reminder of that.

Maybe the weirdest thing about Spain is that they love to eat late compared to north. It likely has something to do with the time difference and the culture. Their food is excellent and affordable. I found a couple of new dishes to cook. Particularly mushrooms filled with tartar sauce hit the spot.

Spanish work culture seems more relaxed as well even though they seem to work long days while starting later. Instead of being task/completion oriented like Finns, they seem to have a different approach. Both likely have their merits. I guess the question is could you merge them somehow while getting benefits of both.

Overall the visit to Barcelona was great and relaxing even. There's a lot to see and the food is excellent while being affordable. It's not as cheap as Ukraine but it's still cheap from my perspective. Technological scene seems bigger than in Finland although salary level is likely worse to my understanding.

Olympic park. A lot to see within a couple of kilometers.


I would say the trip was more than worth it. Of course there are things that could have gone better, but in part it's about learning. When the next opportunity appears, you know to avoid the same mistakes.

Beginning to understand and appreciate cultural differences alone is a big part of it and it makes you see your own culture in a different light. You won't take the value of silence or nature granted anymore for instance. You also understand better that a lot of people have no idea of what a real winter is like.

I have gathered the related material at a specific site. You can find all my slides there. Obviously they are missing some of the points especially for the more abstract ones, but I think you might be able to get some value out of them.