My First CodeGarden: expect the unexpected

How much fun can you really have at a conference..?

When I first heard about Umbraco CodeGarden, my colleague was talking about how much fun he and his fellow Great Staters had last year. I remember thinking ‘it sounds pretty cool, but... it's a conference!?'. Roll around to this year and I got the chance to go, and I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. I expected semi-disappointing filter coffee but what I got was Hawaiian shirts, boxing matches and a whole load of insight from the Umbraco community.

First things first, down to business

It all kicks off in Odense for the Umbraco Business Summit, where we learned about the roadmap for Umbraco and what was in store for the coming year. The summit functioned like your average conference – you attend various talks, learning about things like how to manage multiple sites in Umbraco, Umbraco’s acquisition of Outfield Digital, splitting up into groups and drinking lots of coffee. All very normal so far. However, I got my first glimpse of what was to come when Umbraco Product Owner, Lasse Fredslund, reached behind a statue, grabbed a ukulele, and sang a song about Umbraco, encouraging us to all join in during the chorus. And so, the ‘festival’ began. Afterwards, we headed to the Hawaiian themed pre-party held at Umbraco HQ, and immediately you got a sense of how strong (and wild!) this community is. It was here that I also realised just how many nationalities were represented, and in the wake of Brexit, coming together with so many different people from different places under a common theme felt really valuable.

The real deal: CodeGarden 2023

So Codegarden begins and even just arriving at the venue felt like an event. It had a festival vibe, with deck chairs, paddling pools, a giant rabbit, a swag shop, games, and people everywhere having a good time. Although I arrived alone that day, I wasn’t alone for long: the friendliness of the community shone through and I was greeted by some familiar faces.

The quality of the talks were excellent. As someone with very little Umbraco experience, I was concerned that a lot of things would go over my head and of course, some things did. But mostly there was so much value to be taken from each talk I saw and there was a good balance of technical vs. non-technical talks as well as Umbraco specific vs. more general tech talks. I learned more about Umbraco, what it offers, the new delivery API, composable architecture concepts, and much more. I even learned some incredible debugging techniques!

Web Components

I was particularly interested in the sessions on Web Components as it’s something I knew very little about. The first was by Westbrook Johnson who talked about Adobe’s Spectrum Web Components and how they are used across the various Adobe apps. He talked through the power of web components in terms of the ability to lazy load content and the encapsulation provided by the shadow DOM (e.g. style scoping) so you can easily plug them into multiple apps. He also talks about how the shadow DOM frees you to make more drastic edits between versions with fewer breaking changes.

However, web components do have some downsides to be aware of, and he introduced us to some of the pitfalls e.g. the extra care you need to take around things like accessibility.

Practical advice

The second was a talk by Julia Gruszczynska who introduced some really useful, practical information. This included things like the difference between an element’s properties and attributes, and how events bubble in the shadow DOM.

These talks really got me thinking how we could perhaps leverage web components at Great State to build a framework agnostic library of reusable, customisable components. These wouldn’t replace frontend frameworks of course, but could be used at opportune moments to complement them and hopefully speed up the development process as well as. We could even use Umbraco’s Lit web component library if we wanted to write an extension to the BackOffice.

The breaks gave us a chance to socialise, ‘network’, and also gave me a chance to meet some of the women of the community, something that’s hugely valuable to me as someone working in such a male dominated environment.

Some final thoughts


It’s important to mention that my ticket to CodeGarden this year was free as part of a scheme to increase the diversity of the event. It’s really encouraging to see Umbraco making efforts in this area, and it was obvious that they thought about this when choosing their speakers. From what I’ve heard about previous CodeGardens, this effort is definitely paying off. But as always more can be done, particularly with regards to racial diversity and so I hope to see even more improvements in the future.

Well worth it

Overall, for me CodeGarden was genuinely an amazing experience. Not only did it feel like a holiday, but I learned so much about Umbraco and open source in general. I met some incredible people, made friends, got to know my colleagues and client more - something that will really help in a work capacity, especially in the post-pandemic world of remote working. I realised that for a community with so many in-jokes, it doesn’t take much effort at all to be ‘on the inside’ given how open and welcoming everyone is. I was also really encouraged to hear topics like diversity, sustainability and mentorship be central themes, showing that as a conference it is really thinking about wider issues.

Above all, I feel like I’m way more likely to contribute to Umbraco and open source in general. As a woman, contributing to open source can be daunting and for me, CodeGarden broke down a lot of my internal barriers and doubt, and that’s part of the reason why it’s so special.

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