Discovering the brightest new ideas at Umbraco Spark
Zone’s technical architect Peter Bridger hears how true innovation requires leaving the well-trodden path…
When something works, it’s tempting to keep on doing more of the same. Or carry on with some refinements, which is a safe way to bring optimisations and greater productivity.
However, true innovation requires taking a risk, which is why startups lead the way, as they’ve got less to lose than an established business. True innovation means creative destruction — something has to die to give way to something new. Niels Hartvig explored these thoughts at the second Umbraco Spark conference, recently held at the always inspiring M-Shed in Bristol.
Umbraco Spark is a one-day conference created to act as a catalyst within the Umbraco community and beyond to share, exchange and discover new ideas. Using the Umbraco CMS isn’t a prerequisite to attending, as most of the topics will be of interest to most developers or just those within the digital industry.
Jon Skeet opened the day with an insightful and thought-provoking look at how the concepts of dates and times are handled within C#. The short answer is: not well enough to cope with the extraordinary complexity that exists in the numerous calendar systems and time zone rules in use throughout the world.
Those who work with different time zones will be familiar with UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), which aims to simplify matters. However in the words of Skeet, UTC is not a silver bullet.
If you are a C# developer who works with dates or times, I recommend looking into the NodaTime library that Jon has had a hand in. It addresses many of the shortcomings of Microsoft’s own approach.
After Jon’s opening the conference split into two tracks which lead to some tough choices about which talks to attend.
Vendr — eCommerce
Matt Brailsford gave a very slick and compelling demonstration of the new Vendr eCommerce solution from Outfield Digital. We were taken through the process of extending an existing website to allow for products to be purchased directly through it in a series of simple steps.
I was especially impressed by the CQRS and unit of work principles I could see at work, which shows that a well designed UX sits on top of solid engineering principles.
uMarketingSuite — A/B testing
Next, an equally polished and slick package was demonstrated that extends Umbraco with the ability to run A/B tests through an tightly integrated editor experience within the CMS.
Migrating Umbraco to .NET Core
Bjarke Berg leads a team of Umbraco community experts who are undertaking the vital and exciting task of bringing Umbraco on to .NET Core.
This promises to bring higher performance, thanks to shedding the years of legacy and bloat the original .NET Framework carries, but also opens up new hosting opportunities on lower cost and flexible non-Windows platforms.
Zone’s own Umbraco MVP Andy Butland makes up part of the team who are aiming to have the basics running within the second half of 2020.
Azure LUIS — Machine Learning
The intent of the incoming messages could be successfully derived, allowing complaints or cancelations to trigger high-priority responses from a human operator. This approach was paired with OpenNLP as a preprocessor to reduce noise emails and minimise the calls made to LUIS.
All this work resulted in a 30% success rate and a system that other customer agents now refer to as a member of their team.
Making a killer Umbraco package — Lee Kelleher
One of the day’s most thought-provoking talks was given by Lee Kelleher, who is well known within the community for having a key part in some of the most popular and well known packages.
Although ostensibly talking about his soon-to-be released Contentment package, the real message was about the human journey and cost of being a successful figurehead within the open source community.
Some individuals have an expectation that open source software comes with the same guarantees and level of support that a paid subscription brings. There is also a desire for successful packages of earlier versions of Umbraco to be ported to the current, without perhaps taking into account what this pressure means to those who maintain that package.
During the talk I could see how Niels Hartvig’s comments on innovation have played out over Lee’s career. He started out by innovating and creating some of the most popular Umbraco packages, only to become trapped by that success.
Innovation can be dangerous and requires stepping away from the well trodden path. We all need to ensure that we play our part supporting each other to allow this to happen.
Umbraco Spark provided a fantastic backdrop for the seeds of new ideas and experiments to form. Thanks to Gibe for organising and for the smooth running of the day. I’m looking forward to seeing what next year brings.