THAT Conference

Monday, February 5, 2024

I attended my first tech conference and could not have imagined a better experience. Read more as I take you through my experience at THAT and hopefully encourage you to go to the next one!

THAT Conference

What is THAT Conference?

THAT Conference is a conference that focuses on full-stack web development and the tech community. It is organized by Clark Sell, who holds two events per year: one in Wisconsin, USA, and the other in Texas, USA. THAT Conference has had a significant impact on many individuals, and I am honored to be included in the list of people who have been greatly influenced by it.

THAT Experience

Let me start by saying that this was my first tech conference. I've attended other conferences before, but those were related to Viola Performance and Music Education. Based on my experience and what others have told me, I can now say that I have been spoiled by THAT.

THAT conference was divided into 3.5 days, starting on Sunday, January 28, and ending on Wednesday, January 31.

Day 0 | Sunday, January 28

A few things were scheduled for Day 0, including:

  • Sponsor Meeting and Kickoff

  • THAT Crew Meeting

  • Early Registration and Meet & Greet

  • Get the most out of THAT - Conference 101

    • A 60-minute presentation on how to get the most out of THAT, the ins and outs of it, and learning how you can stay connected throughout the year.

Additionally, Taylor Desseyn, a Talent Advocate at, organized a meetup at a coffee shop in Austin, TX. Since it took a long time to get my rental car, I skipped the Sponsor Meeting and Kickoff. Instead, I went straight from the airport to my hotel and then headed to Barrett's Coffee.

The coffee was excellent, the company was even better, and it was really nice to have already met someone I was excited about. Taylor's energy is contagious, and my time in Texas was off to a fantastic start.

After the meetup, I brought Taylor to the hotel and convention center. This worked out well since I was already planning to be there for the Early Registration and Meet & Greet. While waiting in line for registration, I met someone I had been following on Twitter, Sarah Shook! Sarah and I were both lucky to win tickets to THAT Conference; without those tickets, neither of us would have been able to attend. After that, I completed the conference registration, received my badge and swag bag, and started networking.

Networking seems like a very administrative word to me. According to Google, networking is defined as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” Regardless of how you phrase it, I was thrilled to start meeting people in the tech industry, the industry I aspire to be a part of. I couldn't keep track of everyone I had met that night, but there are a few individuals who I was excited to meet ahead of that night:

After the official meet & greet, we headed to one of the hotel bars to grab a couple of drinks and keep chatting. Eventually, we all went our separate ways to get some rest for Day 1. THAT was already starting off on a high note, and it hadn't even really begun!

Picture of Ryan Furrer, Sarah Shook, Shashi Lo, and Braydon Coyer at THAT Conference.

Days 1 through 3

The rest of the days followed the same schedule:

  • THAT 5k

  • Breakfast

  • Opening from Clark Sell

  • Featured Keynote

  • Talk Breakout 1

  • Lunch

  • Open Spaces

  • Talk Breakout 2

  • Talk Breakout 3

  • Networking Event/Dinner

Clark starts each day by briefly discussing the conference and general administrative matters. He refers to each day as a milestone: Day 1 is Mile 1, Day 2 is Mile 2, and Day 3 is Mile 3.

What are Open Spaces?

Open Spaces were great. They were a sort of open forum where we could talk about anything and everything. There were 12+ numbered tables, and any attendee could go to a board with a grid of time slots and table numbers and place a post-it note in the desired spot and table for a discussion.

I attended the following Open Spaces:

  1. Educating Developers

  2. React’s Identify Crisis

  3. Unconventional Paths in Tech

The conversations I sat in on were some of the best I've had in a long time. Connecting with people with common goals and interests was incredibly refreshing. I can't wait to continue these conversations virtually, and I’m also excited to introduce them to the local JavaScript meetup I attend.

Mile 1 | Monday, January 29

Clark asked us several questions to consider, answer, and act on during our time at THAT. Here are my responses from Monday morning:

  1. Why are you here?

    1. I am here to learn, network, and meet the digital friends I’ve interacted with.

  2. Who do you want to meet and why?

    1. The people I’ve conversed with and learned from online to create a personal connection with them.

  3. What can you give?

    1. Support, my experiences, and friendship.

  4. What will you do after?

    1. Take the things I’ve learned and the wisdom I’ve gained to push my career search forward. I want to continue to build and maintain the relationships I made.

Featured Keynote

From Cold Calls to Code Calls: Leveraging Transferable Skills

Presented by Shaundai Person
Keynote Description:

In this keynote, we will discuss the transferable skills that have proven invaluable in my career transition. Whether you’re looking for your first job in tech or whether you’re a tenured engineer, you will learn how to leverage your own transferable skills to get a unique competitive edge in the tech industry.

Shaundai delivered an excellent keynote speech to kick off the conference. Her talk focused on the importance of recognizing and utilizing transferable skills to enter or advance in the tech industry. She was smart, funny, and inspiring, leaving the audience motivated and ready to take action.

View my notes.

View the keynote.

Shaundai presenting her keynote at THAT Conference.

Day 1 Talks/Presentations

Data-Driven UX Decisions by Shashi Lo

Talk Description:

User Research is a great way to find out if you're going to implement something that is going to make an impact to your customers, or if you should reconsider the direction. It's always easier to pivot before going into development because there are so many variables and time it takes to develop a feature. Being able to reconsider the user experience to ensure the feature you are implementing will provide value, this could very well save your team time and effort in the end.

View my notes.

Building Custom GitHub Actions with Docker by Brian Morrison

Talk Description:

Have you ever searched the GitHub Marketplace for an Action to perform a very specific task, only to find that nothing exists? How about copying and pasting code between workflows to perform repetitive tasks?

In this talk, learn how to create your own GitHub Actions that can be shared across workflows in your organization, or with the world via the GitHub Actions marketplace. We’ll explore what defines a custom GitHub Action, how to create one using a Docker container and test it locally, and cover utilizing actions within your own pipelines, with and without publishing them. Finally, we’ll touch on some best practices and considerations for building your own Actions based on my own experience creating the first set of GitHub Actions for PlanetScale.

I split my time between this and Braydon’s talk below, as such I did not get any notes.

View Brain’s GitHub Repo.

View Brian’s presentation.

Choosing Blog Topics and Boosting Content with SEO by Braydon Coyer

Talk Description:

This presentation is chalked full of tangible tips and tricks that I've picked up by taking my technical blog to over 1,000,000 article reads, with many topics taking the #1 search result on Google.

View my notes - note that these are not complete as I split my time between this and Brian’s talk above.

View the recorded talk.

Why Building Community & Content Can Launch You Career by Taylor Desseyn

Talk Description:

So many times folks do not realize that your community is everything. It plays into your career trajectory, it allows you to make new friends, and it gives you something to fall back on if things go south with your job. The biggest hurdle for individuals is they don't know how to get started let alone all the benefits community brings to you. In this talk I will dive into how to get started building community and how to leverage your community throughout your career!

While I have notes from Taylor’s talk, it was much more interactive than a typical talk. You can view my notes, but you’ll be better served by visiting Taylor’s YouTube channel.

Open Space | Educating Developers

PJ Metz, who is an Education Community Manager at GitHub Education and a former English Teacher, led an Open Space discussion. I was surprised to learn that there were a large number of former educators present at the discussion. During the session, we had some great discussions covering topics related to educating developers, learning as developers, common pain points with documentation, and the need for multi-level documentation categorized as beginner, intermediate, and expert.

Post Talks/Presentations

After everything was said and done, there was a Happy Hour sponsored by, followed by a board game night. I didn’t participate in game night, but the happy hour was a great way to continue networking and getting comfortable meeting new people.

A very successful Mile 1 was in the books!

Everyone who attended Taylor Desseyn's presentation at THAT Conference.

Mile 2 | Tuesday, January 30

Like Mile 1, Mile 2 started with a banger of a keynote from Danny Thompson and ended with some killer, authentic Texas BBQ.

Featured Keynote

From Gas Stations to International Community Builder, the guide to a great tech community!

Presented by Danny Thompson
Keynote Description:

Danny Thompson had an interesting journey into tech and communities were pivotal to his success. He has since made different communities in different cities while also helping build communities in other countries and organizing events there too! This will cover major tips on building a very successful development community.

This was another intoxicatingly motivating keynote, so Mile 2 started just as strong as Mile 1, this one featuring Danny Thompson. He touched on so much, but two things stood out to me.

  1. Danny encourages people to focus on themselves over others. I’ve only started doing this within the last year or so, and it’s definitely an odd feeling at first. Just because it’s odd doesn’t mean it’s bad; it’s one of the best things I could do for myself.

  2. “Don’t be so focused on where you’re going that you forget to pause in the moment and celebrate what you’ve done.”

I have always struggled with celebrating my own achievements, no matter how small they may be. However, I have always been good at celebrating the successes of others, regardless of their magnitude. I recognize that this is a period in my life where I need to be kinder to myself and appreciate any accomplishment, no matter how small.

View the keynote.

Danny presenting his keynote at THAT Conference.

Day 2 Talks/Presentations

How to fall in love with CSS by Kevin Powell

Talk Description:

In this talk, I'll be talking about how we can overcome many of the common pain points by changing our mindset in how we approach writing CSS, how we can work with the browser for simpler solutions, and I'll squeeze in some modern (yet well supported) CSS features that make life so much easier.

View Kevin’s slideshow

From React to Next.js: Adjusting The Thought Process by Dave Gray

Talk Description:

Next.js is a React framework and as such, it is opinionated. Even though you may be very familiar with React, creating an application with Next.js requires a change in your thought processes. In this presentation, you will go from the client-side focus of React to the server-side focus of Next.js. You will learn about the benefits Next.js provides with this server-first approach and when these benefits may be desirable. You will learn the difference between static, static-site generation (SSG), server-side rendering (SSR), and incremental static regeneration (ISR). There will also be time for Q&A to help answer questions you may have.

View my notes

View Dave’s free Next.JS course on YouTube

Git Internals for VS Code Users: Bridging the Gap by Cori Drew

Talk Description:

For many, the graphical user interface of VSCode simplifies git, streamlining commands into digestible, one-click operations. However, this simplicity prevents many from truly understanding what actually happens when commands such as 'push', 'pull', 'fetch', and 'rebase' are executed. This talk aims to shed light on these inner workings, illuminating the depth of git within the VSCode environment.

View Julia Evans’ Git Cheatsheet

Open Space | React’s Identity Crisis

Brooks Lybrand, a Remix Developer Relations Manager at Shopify, prompted this Open Space. I felt a bit foolish jumping in here, but once again, everyone was so incredibly welcoming and even wanted to hear what I, a very junior developer, had to say. I certainly felt validated that a fellow Junior Web Developer, Dominick Monaco, was there and expressed similar pain points.

This Open Space lead to some very interseting points, takes, and thoughts on React from several people. Even if Brooks was a bit biased as he is a Developer Relations Manager for Remix, a Next.js competitor, I’m glad they opened the floor for this discussion.

Post Talks/Presentations

At the end of the day we were treated to some authentic Texas BBQ and it was absolutely amazing. I got to sit at a table of people I hadn’t met yet and they were all great people! After that, there was a bonfire and bar takeover at the hotel/resort, where I spent the rest of the night.

Grabbed dinner with a bunch of THAT attendees.

Grabbed dinner with a bunch of THAT attendees.

Mile 3 | Wednesday, January 31

Mile 3 started differently than the rest; instead of Clark introducing the keynote speaker, he was doing the speaking! Instead, Tejas Kumar did the introductions. I had never heard of Tejas before, but he is well-liked in the community, and his talk “Getting the Most out of Today’s Web Industry” was well-received.

Featured Keynote

Hindsight is 20/20, Design A Better Life

Presented by Clark Sell
Keynote Description:

After 25 years in tech, I find myself in a position where I'm not sure I've ever belonged. I'm standing here at the age of 48, asking myself:

"What is my purpose?"
"How do I find it? "
"What is it? "
"Where is it? "
"Is it even valuable? "
"Do I have a life balance? "
"Am I happy?"

But if those are the questions we’re asking ourselves, it begs the question, are you actually doing the work to design the life you want to live? We don't build software without a design; why would we live life without a designer

I can't and won't solve your problems; those are for you, but I can share my experience and hope you will take that as input to create the life you want to live.

Clark crushed this talk. He did not try to solve anyone’s problems but instead spoke about his own experiences, which I believe, is paramount in life. It was emotional, riveting, and motivating to get out there and do the right thing for you.

View the keynote.

Clark presenting his keynote at THAT Conference.

Day 3 Talks/Presentations

Customizing the Web Platform with Web Components by Raymond Camden

Talk Description:

This talk will cover what you need to know to begin extending the web with web components. We'll look at the what, why, and how of creating and using web components, including the history of the various technologies behind components, how to start building them now, and digging into plenty of examples.

Cultivating Confidence by Nate Emerson

Talk Description:

Confidence principally comes from 3 components: permission, community, and curiosity. In this talk we will dive in on how confidence is created, cultivated, and affirmed. Each one of us can use this information to instill more confidence in ourselves and those around us starting today!

I know Nate is looking to share these slides, and I will update this post when he does. For now, here are the key takeaways from his talk:

  • Instill confidence in those around you

  • Nurture your own confidence

  • Encourage and empower others to safely “try on” confidence

The actor model, behind the scenes by David Khourshid

Talk Description:

This talk will guide you through the principles behind the actor model, showcasing how it aids in building robust, scalable, and concurrent systems.

The actor model was brand new to me, but David did a great job explaining it, and I see how it can come in handy when visualizing and managing state.

Use to create sequence diagrams

Post Talks/Presentations

This was the final night, meal, and time spent with these new friends and colleagues… for now. We ended the trip by eating at the steakhouse on the grounds of the Kalahari Resort in Round Rock, TX. We laughed, ate food, and eventually parted ways as some people were leaving for home that night, some the next day, or some people were just exhausted.

Final Thoughts

THAT Conference. Firstly, I cannot thank Clark Sell enough for organizing such a fantastic event. Secondly, I would not have been able to attend THAT Conference without Brian Morrison, as I was fortunate to win a ticket from him. Thank you, Brian.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have won the ticket and been able to attend; it was truly one of the best experiences of my life. To say it was life-changing is an understatement, and I implore you to go to the Wisconsin event in July or attend the one in Texas next year; I know I’ll be there.

Picture of Ryan Furrer and Brian Morrison