Category Archives: Conferences

Three Takeaways from CSSConf 2016

This year Bazaarvoice sponsored CSSConf 2016 in beautiful Boston, MA, USA and I was able to attend!
Here are my three top takeaways from CSSConf 2016:

Flexy Flexy Flexbox

A little over a year ago, our application team wasn’t sure how “stable” Flexbox or its spec were: there was already an old syntax, a new syntax, and a weird IE10 “tweener” syntax.

The layout advantages Flexbox brought were strong enough (*cough* vertical centering) that we decided to move forward with it and prefix all the things. Now browser support is so good that if you can drop IE8 and work around some known IE11 bugs, there is no reason not to use Flexbox in your designs right now.

A great reference I keep going back to for Flexbox is this css-tricks guide. Here are some other tips and tricks from the conference:

  • Flexbox is now available in Bootstrap 4
  • Use CSS Grid (when it becomes available) for major page layout, and Flexbox for UI elements
  • For mobile / small screens: add a media query and set the flex-direciton to column to stack your cells instead
  • Do as much as you can on the container to keep your code DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself)
  • We can finally get rid of that pesky col-2, col-8, col-crapIAddedWrong grid system!

For more information, I recommend CSS4 Grid: True Layout Finally Arrives by Jen Kramer and It’s Time To Ditch The Grid System by Emily Hayman.

Stop Thinking In Pixels

The talk Stop Thinking In Pixels by Keith Grant was particularly enlightening.
The basic premise was not to micromanage your CSS:

Without fully understanding what CSS is doing for us, we try to push through it to control exactly what is going on in the browser.

Driving this point home, Keith recommended to stop thinking in pixels because

The pixels don’t matter. Let the browser do it.

You should instead be thinking in terms of the em and rem. Tools that simply convert px to em aren’t the answer either — you’re still thinking in terms of pixels and therefore missing out on some important benefits. Instead, learn from something like type scale and approach measurements with a fresh perspective.

I recommend watching the talk in full, but a quick cheatsheet follows:

Property Recommended Unit
font-size rem
padding, margin, border-radius, etc. em
border-width px

When in doubt, use em.

To summarize,

Ems are the most powerful when you fully embrace them.

Apps vs Documents

In this day and age we are all used to thinking in terms of “apps”. But the trinity of HTML, CSS, and JS was not conceived in this day and age. Two great quotes I wrote down from Component-Based Style Reuse by Pete Hunt are

CSS is great for documents, maybe not 2016 Apps

and

If you sat down and created styling in 2016, you would not come up with CSS

Our newest applications are written in React, which encourages developers to think of things in terms of components — pieces of UI that are reusable in different contexts. The Cascading part of CSS interferes with that, however: depending on the context your component is dropped into, it may look drastically different across usages. When that is not what you want, Pete’s ideas center around reusing components, not CSS classes.

As you can imagine, this idea is largely controversial in a conference with a name like CSSConf, but I will continue to keep my eye on it. Pete’s thought leadership on this topic inspires me to challenge norms and dare to envision things differently. After all, if we’re constantly fighting with our tool (CSS), that tool may not be right for the job.

Thanks for reading! For a full list of talks and slides from the conference, check out https://2016.cssconf.com/#videos.

BVIO 2015 Summary and Presentations

Every year Bazaarvoice R&D throws BVIO, an internal technical conference followed by a two-day hackathon. These conferences are an opportunity for us to focus on unlocking the power of our network, data, APIs, and platforms as well as have some fun in the process. We invite keynote speakers from within BV, from companies who use our data in inspiring ways, and from companies who are successfully using big data to solve cool problems. After a full day of learning we engage in an intense, two-day hackathon to create new applications, visualizations, and insights into our extensive our data.

Continue reading for pictures of the event and videos of the presentations.

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This year we held the conference at the palatial Omni Barton Creek Resort in one of their well-appointed ballrooms.

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Participants arrived around 9am (some of us a little later). After breakfast, provided by Bazaarvoice, we got started with the speakers followed by lunch, also provided by Bazaarvoice, followed by more speakers.

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After the speakers came a “pitchfest” during which our Product team presented hackathon ideas and participants started forming teams and brainstorming.

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Finally it was time for 48 hours of hacking, eating, and gaming (not necessarily in that order) culminating in project presentations and prizes.

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Presentations

Sephora: Consumer Targeted Content

Venkat Gopalan
Director of Architecture & Devops @ Sephora.com

Venkat presented on the work Sephora is doing around serving relevant, targeted content to their consumers in both the mobile and in-store space. It was a fascinating speech and we love to see our how our clients are innovating with us. Unfortunately due to technical difficulties we don’t have a recording 🙁

Philosophy & Design of The BV System of Record

John Roesler & Fahd Siddiqui
Bazaarvoice Engineers

This talk was about the overarching design of Bazaarvoice’s innovative data architecture. According to them there are aspects to it that may seem unexpected at first glance (especially not coming from a big data background), but are actually surprisingly powerful. The first innovation is the separation of storage and query, and the second is choosing a knowledge-base-inspired data model. By making these two choices, we guarantee that our data infrastructure will be robust and durable.

Realtime Bidding: Predicting the future, 10,000 times per second

Ian Clarke
Co-Founder and CTO at OneSpot

Ian has built and manages a team of world-class software engineers as well as data scientists at OneSpot™s. In his presentation he discusses how he applied machine learning and game theory to architect a sophisticated realtime bidding engine for OneSpot™ capable of predicting the behavior of tens of thousands of people per second.

New Amazon Machine Learning and Lambda architectures

Jeff Nun
Amazon Solutions Architect

In his presentation Jeff discusses the history of Amazon Machine Learning and the Lambda architecture, how Amazon uses it and you can use it. This isn’t just a presentation; Ian walks us through the AWS UI for building and training a model.

Thanks to Sharon Hasting, Dan Heberden, and the presenters for contributing to this post.

Output from bv.io

Looks like everyone had a blast at bv.io this year! Thank yous go out to the conference speakers and hackathon participants for making this year outstanding. Here are some tweets and images from the conference:

Continue reading

BV I/O: Peter Wang – Architecting for Data

Every year Bazaarvoice holds an internal technical conference for our engineers. Each conference has a theme and as a part of these conferences we invite noted experts in fields related to the theme to give presentations. The latest conference was themed “unlocking the power of our data.” You can read more about it here.

In this presentation Peter Wang, co-founder and president of Continuum Analytics, discusses data analysis, the challenges presented by big data, and opportunities technology provides to overcome those challenges. He also discusses the importance of performance and visualization as well as advances the concept of “engineering on principle” which he demonstrates by discussing the design of the A-10 Thunderbolt and SAGE computerized command and control center for United States air defense. Peter ends his talk by discussing the Python programming language and its suitability for data analysis tasks. The full talk is below.

BV I/O: Dr. Jason Baldridge – Scaling Models for Text Analysis

Every year Bazaarvoice holds an internal technical conference for our engineers. Each conference has a theme and as a part of these conferences we invite noted experts in fields related to the theme to give presentations. The latest conferences was themed “unlocking the power of our data.” You can read more about it here.

The following video is of Dr. Jason Baldridge, currently an associate professor in the Linguistics Dept. at University of Texas and co-founder of People Pattern. Dr. Baldridge presented on the subject of text analysis. During his hour long talk he identified the desirable traits of a good text analysis function and focused on the problems of performing text categorization tasks given different amounts of labeled data. Big thanks to Dr. Baldridge for his informative presentation. The full talk is below:

BV I/O: Imagination unlocked

What do you get when you lock 100+ engineers, product managers, designers and other techies in a building for 2 days and ask them to come up with new and creative ways to “unlock the power of our data”? Well, I could tell you, but then I would have to… yeah that’s top secret awesome product roadmap stuff now. (and even redacted)

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As an extension to our BV.IO internal tech conference that I recently blogged about, we held an engineering wide Hackathon for everyone in our technical community to go nuts with our data and try to come up with some of the next big ideas for Bazaarvoice. We had over 100 folks participate, form teams of 3, and after 2 days, we had 31 really cool prototypes that they demo’d to the entire company. It was such a great experience to see so many smart and passionate people singularly focused on innovation and building some cool new ideas and value for Bazaarvoice. Here is a quick summary of how things went down:

Tuesday = BV.IO tech conference & speakers, present Hackathon ideas
Wednesday = Form teams & brainstorm
Thursday = Hackathon & XBOX Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 tourney
Friday = Pancake breakfast, Hackathon, Demos, Prizes
Saturday = Sleep

We started the hackathon as a continuation of the BV.IO event at the Alamo Drafthouse, where we had anyone with a proposal come on stage and try and sell the idea. Think about it like trying to sell your idea to a group of engineers to come work with you on your startup idea. After we heard all the interesting ideas, everyone went off and self formed teams, and started brainstorming.

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On Thursday, we kicked off the Hackathon, and it was eerily quiet in engineering. Everyone split off into small teams and was heads down coding or held up in a breakout room whiteboarding designs. We had tons of food and snacks brought in for breakfast, lunch and dinner to keep everyone energized, and by the end of the day everyone had made some amazing progress and were ready to blow off some steam…and by “blow off”, I mean blow up, and by “steam”, I mean COD:BO2.

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We set up 8 portable flat screen monitors and 8 Xbox 360s, and we got our game on. It was so simple and so much fun, I don’t know why we hadn’t done this earlier. It was a huge hit, and we are thinking about how we can keep that set up all the time. Everyone self rated their skill level, and we balanced teams for a round robin Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 tournament.

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Friday morning, all the managers got together to show our appreciation for the team with pancakes and bacon. I really think there is no better way to show your appreciation than with bacon.

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“That’s way too much bacon”‘, said no one ever…

Coding continued throughout the day, and at 3pm it was pencils down, and time for demos. The company filled the All Hands, and it was rapid fire through 31 demos.

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We even had a really slick Google Glass hackathon project.We even had a really slick Google Glass hackathon project.

The energy was awesome, the ideas were awesome, and the conversations it inspired across the entire company was awesome. After all the teams had demo’d, the company voted, and winners across several categories were selected. We had a few cool prizes for the winners like iPad Minis, Parrot Drones, Rokus, cash money and of course totally custom Lego trophies.

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If you haven’t done a full on Hackathon at your company in a while, I highly recommend it. Every time we do it here, I am amazed by the creativity, the innovative ideas and solutions that are created in such a small time. And the ripple effect that happens from that continues for months as the business internalizes the ideas and roadmaps and direction start to change based on those ideas. The key is to not let the ideas die on the vine. Champion them, advocate them, and push them forward, and you too can change the world one authentic conversation at a time.

IMG_7962a_cto_approved-smThis hackathon is CTO approved.