GeeUp: Leiden, The Netherlands

David Martin

by David Martin on July 23, 2014

The morning of my first “business trip” is for sure one of the best and concerning moments of my web design career so far. Imagine doing something so monumentally wrong that I didn’t get to go, i.e. forget my passport. What I can say is flying now is almost easier than taking the bus, so that was cool, a mobile boarding pass, which to begin with I didn’t trust a bit became a pretty consistent lifeline.

Apparently my delight in being on a “business trip” was noticeable, my neighbour on the flight landed me in a discussion about his company which ended in me giving him my email address in the hope of some future work with his company. That was the moment I felt like a real Ghijk.


Leiden is one of the coolest cities I’ve been to, people are great and nobody gets annoyed at my lack of direction. The sea of bikes was quite something to behold, and as my new houseboat-mate pointed out, possibly smarter than we realise. The air was clear and everything just felt fresh, not something engine based transport allows for.

Airbnb came through for us, and our host Ruud was a great guy, and made every effort to ensure that we were comfortable with our stay, he even built the boat we were living on from the ground up. Living on a houseboat is amazing, my room glistened with the sparkle of the sun on the water, and I was awoken by a seagull that came in for a ‘morning wash’, right outside my window. 


My coolest discovery in this trip, however, is the ExpressionEngine (and now Craft) community that surrounds this industry. These guys know a lot about what they are doing, and have no opposition to helping out with my moments of confusion. The first days workshop on #craftCMS was such a cool insight into a new product and the room was filled with little ‘light bulb moments’ as developers discovered something incredible about this CMS.

Firstly we had an overview of Craft and its main features and some basic ways we may setup a website using it. This section was good, aimed mostly at those who hadn't even opened Craft before. I had, but it was still good to reassure myself that I was on track.

We moved on in the afternoon to look at Twig. Twig is cool, thats what I've learned, I should use Twig and I need to get good at using it. Brandon went over the fact the Twig documentation isn't great for those not well aquainted with PHP, and so I was very glad he took the time to explain it proporly, I really needed the simplicity he gave. 

At the end of the day, around 4pm, we got to put what we had learned into practice, with some of the Craft pro's on hand for questioning. A genius plan, I always find if I don't use what I've learned then I forget it fast. Having the Pixel & Tonic guys there also just made it faster and simpler to figure things out.

The Conference


The main conference day was fantastic, I discovered just being in the room with some of the speakers that were lined there taught me a lot, and their talks were incredibly helpful. 

From things that I should avoid doing, to practices that are going to make me more productive, most topics were discussed.

Carl Crawley took on the challange of what not to do, with The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and for sure he pointed out some of the worst things to do. I'm going to say I'm glad I can avoid those mistakes, I would have made a fool of myself at some point and still will, but not in any of the ways Carl showed.

Desiree Battjes took on sales. I've done sales, I study marketing, but there were still things in there I learned. Though it was mainly pitched at business owners, I wasn't unhappy to listen.

John Wells on template partials taught me one main thing. If I'm going to be using ExpressionEngine for a while, I should learn about layouts. From what I gathered this seems better than my current includes habits. The rest went right over my head.

Joel Bradbury was a bit of a talk master with his odd connection to Kerbal Space Program (I just remembered the name and now waste a few days playing it. Bad move). His talk was great, and though mainly for plugin developers he explained the need to develop momentum and get things done at a reasonable pace. We also shouldn't be afraid to release things or put them to test, failing gets us closer to the goal right?

Marrije Schaake was cool, she knows about her industry and did a good talk on Phase two of the business side. Keeping clients as clients is good, and I needed to learn some of this so that I can deal with clients in a future looking manner. It also has helped me to understand that my time is valuble and I need to be ensuring we don't under or overcharge for my time. Billability! Try to figure out how long it will take before pricing something.

There was even room to mention the marketing aspect of CMS (which related nicely to my degree).  The questions that were asked and the answers given were hugely helpful for me. I can see a possibilty for the CMS growing new functions to help small to medium enterprises, and I loved hearing how Ben imagined we could use analytics to help companies. The information is there, why waste it?

Leslie Doherty a.k.a Mrs Flinger took the plunge, and it was a pretty impressive dive. Diversity in the web world was a great topic to be bringing up. I'd repeat what Low said, 'I'm glad this could be a platform to discuss this'. Leslie handled questions well and was able to offer some great viewpoints and ideas. The intruder feeling of being underqualified for your job and out of your depth is something we all feel and for sure me. I was really impressed with the way we were discussing this.


From much of this I was reminded. I need to remember that I don’t want a website to make complete sense to me, and look great in my opinion. What I really want is to forget my opinion, use what I know, and design a functional product that a client has asked for, they don’t care if what they are creating isn’t technically correct, it is their website not mine.

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that the Geeup conference in Leiden is absolutely something anyone in web development should attend. Learning for newbies like myself, and I’m pretty sure some of the apparent ‘geniuses’ learned something. Don’t miss out on things like this, they make you better at what you do, which makes you more valuable, call it an investment if it helps.


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