How does one begin to sum up 3 full days and 4 nights spent socialising and learning with a wide range of Umbraco developers from around the world? It’s going to be a long post but one I hope will provide a good overview of the Umbraco way and Codegarden, the annual festival held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

I guess the best way to do this would be to break everything down into chunks and try and outline why I’ve come back reinvigorated having met some amazing new people and seen some real areas where as a designer and someone who’s not an Umbraco developer, I could contribute to spreading the word and improving the system.

As my readership on this site is very designer focused, Umbraco is a free, .net based, open source CMS that we at Offroadcode use to build sites and powerful web tools for our clients. Codegarden is the annual festival/main meetup/conference and something of an institution.

Table of contents

As it’s a lot to cover, I’m going to break down my experiences into a few sections as follows:

The Festival

kedelhallen

I’d heard many many things about Codegarden and the efforts the Umbraco guys go to in order to amuse and entertain the attendees ┬ábecause it’s a full 3 days with attendees coming from all around the world, it’s important to create an atmosphere and there’s certainly that.

Held in the stunning Kedelhallen in Copenhagen it’s a lovely venue with a large main hall, side room and hack area along with a small bar and plenty of free tea and coffee and then a great outside area with Umbraco deckchairs for hanging out and enjoying the sun (although it did rain one day).

I loved the many, many little touches around the place the whole time such as the suncream and umbrellas that were left near the doors!

Codegarden is definitely a festival rather than a conference. With about 50% of people having been before, it’s a catchup for a global community of developers and the day doesn’t end at the final talks, everyone heads out for beers and continues discussions and friendships. It’s a very welcoming environment for sure.

Talks & Presentations

I was interested to see that despite the very developer heavy attendee list, there was a great effort to start reaching out to front enders and designers such as myself with some good talks about a variety of subjects including a fantastic overview of the migration of the Liverpool.gov.uk site to Umbraco.

liverpool-migration

I missed Liv Madsen’s talk Meet me in the browser but there was a lot of great feedback about it and I’ll be watching the video at some point (all the talks are going to be available on video by the way).

Like much of the rest of the festival and I guess the whole Umbraco ethos, the talks were friendly and open while remaining professional and informative. A good balance from most of the ones I caught. All the talks had good time allowed for Q&A after too.

With two days of talks and then the 3rd day being allocated for open sessions where you could suggest a topic and breakout into groups to discuss there was a lot to take in but I didn’t feel obliged to run from room to room as there was always something going on or a discussion happening in the hack room too.

New Umbraco Developments

For my fellow designers reading this, a bit of backstory is required here to place into context just how impressive some of the updates are that were announced this week.

This time last year at CG12, the Umbraco team announced that the V5 software they’d been working on was going to be killed outright. It had spiralled out of control and direction somewhat and the difficult decision to bin it was the right one and they’ve since refocused efforts on V6.

One of the most interesting updates for me was a demo of “Project Belle” from Per. The updated UI and complete rewrite of the system to be responsive was lovely. For those designers who’ve been following the proposed Ghost CMS on Kickstarter you might do well to follow Umbraco with this update because it shares a lot of the proposed slickness that Ghost promises but with significantly more power under the hood because it’s a full CMS. The backend of Umbraco hasn’t been great for a long time so it’s awesome to see some snippets of this major update. Looks awesome.

One of the other significant updates is that the core of Umbraco is now on Github. It’ll be interesting to see how this improves the offering over the coming months.

Along with that, Umbraco will also be available as a hosted solution similar to WordPress.com although I don’t recall if the link is available just yet.

Hackrooms and packages

Hackrooms appear to be a pretty lively space at Codegarden and the source of a lot of quick fire innovation when teams of people physically work together. I know there’s a million posts about how a distributed team is effective etc but honestly I’ve never experienced the level of speed and combined thought that comes from working in the same room.

Codegarden features a package competition on the final day where anyone can demo a new package they’ve written and it’s often a mix of hilarity with some joke packages but also some excellent, useful tools come out of it. A couple of highlights included a really neat tool called Census which was intended for use when you inherit a site and it shows at a glance what templates are actually being used and where along with doctypes etc. Really good for knowing if it’s safe to delete what you think but aren’t sure is legacy stuff.

I’m not sure if I’ll find a use Dang’s multi-lingual swear adjusting content tool but you never know …

Open space sessions

I like the idea of the final day being free of a formal talk schedule and instead having open spaces where everyone gathers initially to submit any topic they’d like to discuss and then people are free to break into groups to talk more and shoot ideas around. It’s a nice relaxed way to spend the last morning and I caught a couple of discussions about making Umbraco more accessible to non developers as the initial learning curve getting into the CMS is steep and the documentation and videos on getting started are a little scattered around.

The difficulty (from my front ender/non-dev perspective) Umbraco has is that because it’s more like a CMS framework than something like WordPress which is pretty clearly defined (pages/posts), Umbraco gives you the tools to completely structure a site in any way you like.

There is no pre-defined set up or structure unless you install a starter kit which helps give beginners a jumping in point. This means Umbraco is an insanely powerful tool for prototyping and content first design but there’s probably a little way to go before the amazing power of a developer focused tool is easy to grasp for a front ender although some of the Belle updates and it being rebuilt using angular.js look like they might make it easier for folks like me to start building more tools.

The social side

This is a festival. It’s not a conference in the traditional sense. Like so many meetups and conferences, you often get as much or more from what happens over beers in the evening and the Umbraco guys put on a boat tour of Copenhagen, Umbraco Bingo and a sit down meal with some crazy prizes and entertainment

ole-erling umbraco-bingo swedish-beer

Improvements I’d make to Umbraco

As I mentioned earlier in some of the breakout sessions there was talk about trying to bridge the gap from install to having a site up and running and I honestly believe if that could be nailed with tweaks and improvements to the install process and the initial setup for non developers without devaluing or deemphasising how powerful Umbraco is.

I’m going to put forward some thoughts once I get a chance to sit down and run through the whole process again but I’m keen to follow on from the openness and ambition to make it a CMS that breaks into wider use over the next year or so and try to remove some of the barriers to front end and non developer folks using Umbraco.

This was a really open festival and considering the subject matter and core audience, I didn’t feel out of place as a designer and it’s clear that lots of effort is already being made to expand the focus of Umbraco to attract more users from a wider range of backgrounds and I’m looking forward to being more of a part of that through the year.

See you next year – H5YR!

James Young

Written by James Young

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