Inside the UK’s biggest Umbraco event

Dare West’s Senior Developer Mike Bull takes us on a guided tour of the Umbraco UK Festival held recently in London.

As a developer, I've worked with the open source content management system Umbraco for many years now, and have attended plenty of user groups in that time. But one thing I’d never done was attend the Umbraco UK Festival. That is until 4 November this year at CodeNode in London.

For the past seven years, the hard-working guys at The Cogworks have organised the annual Umbraco UK Festival, and each year it gets bigger and better. With over 300 people in attendance, visiting from all over the world, it’s the second largest Umbraco event in the world, second only to the official Umbraco festival – Codegarden in Denmark. The venue this year was CodeNode in Moorgate, and I can’t speak highly enough about the place. All the tea and coffee you could drink, ample space for everyone, padded chairs – it had the lot! After a bit of socialising and filling up on caffeine, we all made our way to the main room for the introductory talk.

After an introduction to Cogworks, and the venue, we dived right into the engine room, almost literally, of Umbraco HQ with Kris Deminick. It was a great introduction to what makes an average day at Umbraco HQ in Odense, and how they operate as a company. It was particularly interesting to hear how they’ve managed to fit their SaaS offering Umbraco Cloud into their company, and how they manage their day-to-day dev processes. As an audience of developers that primarily work in agency environments, it was good to hear how a growing software company is run, from sales to dev to support.

After a quick break, and a nice chat to a couple of the guys I recognised from Twitter and the Our Umbraco forums, I moved onto Theo Paraskevopoulos’s talk on personalisation in the digital finance sector. As someone with experience of the legal and financial sector, I was looking forward to hearing how he’d managed to use Umbraco in an environment with constraints you don’t usually find in other industries. His talk highlighted, above anything else, that trust was the leading factor, and I think that’s something we can all take away from this talk.

Next up, I joined a group of people and built a lego city!

As fun as this may sound, it served a good purpose, and that was to highlight how the Scrum methodology works. Rather than simply playing with Lego, those of us in the Scrum lego workshop were tasked with building a Lego city for our client (and workshop host) Ania Kierczynska. One of the most common selling quotes of Umbraco to clients is that Umbraco is like Lego, so it was good to actually put this into action and use Scrum when building something out of Lego. We got to grips with Scrum ceremonies, and learned how to work in a team to build everything a city could possibly need, from a nursery to a McDonalds. After some teething issues, we all pitched in, and built an impressive city together that fitted the client’s wishes.

For my last session of the day, I decided to head over to the unit testing workshop to learn some tips on how to unit test an Umbraco website from automation guru Anthony Dang. As a huge fan of automation and test-driven development, it was great to get an insight into the processes that everyone else in the Umbraco community follows. We went over some basic unit tests for the Umbraco APIs, explored the joys and pains of mocking using Moq, and ended by discussing and implementing a number of useful design patterns – namely Service, Repository, and the Unit of Work patterns. While many of the concepts are already widely used, it was great to hear how people are solving problems with them, and their experiences of building Umbraco using these techniques.

Last, but certainly not least, was the keynote. ‘Mr Umbraco’ himself Niels Hartvig took to the stage to discuss this year in the Umbraco community, and his vision for where Umbraco will be going in the future. This included a great demo of deploying through Umbraco Cloud (the artist formerly known as Umbraco as a Service – or UaaS) with the new pending changes feature and Courier 3, along with the coming changes to the package installer within Umbraco itself. Niels highlighted that the growth of the Umbraco community, and the level of quality shown by the community illustrates that there has never been a better time to be a member, and I think many Umbraco devs would agree.

After the keynote, a couple of prizes were given out to people in the community followed by some closing comments, then we all headed to The Globe for a couple of drinks to celebrate a great day.
All in all, I would say that this year’s incarnation of the UK Festival was a huge success. The location was fantastic, the talks were high quality, and the workshops had something to offer everyone. We were definitely spoilt for choice, and if there were more hours in the day, I would’ve loved to see all of them.