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7 things we learned at Umbraco UK Festival
Umbraco UK Festival (sometimes known by its #umbUKfest hashtag) is the UK conference for the Umbraco development community, and a key place developers and digital teams access, discuss and share best practices and new innovations in the platform.
With a welcome return to an in person event this year, our Head of Software development, Ian Grieve, and Senior Software Engineer, Jamie Townsend, went along to join in.
Jamie picks up the tale of what they discovered…
How to make life easier for devs and content editors with templates
At Shout we have been very busy planning and creating prototypes, exploring how we combine best practices and standards with a user-friendly approach, for both developers and content editors.
How can we make the mundane parts easy, and save our brain power for where it really adds value?
Lotte's talk, 'Start as you mean to go on with custom templates', essentially went through the steps involved in creating and consuming your own Visual Studio templates.
Templates for projects, files and resources make it easy for users to start with a working set of code. Creating custom versions lets us create projects with the exact flavour that we need to fit our working practices – and crucially to meet the requirements of clients.
This helps to speed up and improve consistency across our development lifecycle. With so many clients currently migrating to new versions of Umbraco and building up multisite estates, this is going to make everyone’s lives easier.
Niels covered how to extend the backoffice of Umbraco, in his talk 'Mounting your UI in the New Backoffice'.
This has so much potential for making lives easier for content editors – think custom dashboards, or an editing experience designed specifically for your users, with everything they need, and nothing they don’t.
New ideas for using the Content Delivery API
There’s much talk in the Umbraco community about the new(ish) Umbraco Content Delivery API, and how it is unlocking a headless approach for all sorts of projects.
Some of the ideas were really creative, and inspired lots of ideas for creating engaging solutions with a headless approach.
Very exciting times to be a developer using state of the art technologies!
How to use AI in Umbraco search
Well of course we couldn’t make it through a tech event without talking about AI…
Henk Boelman’s talk, 'Umbraco, Azure OpenAI Service and Azure Cognitive Search' covered in detail how to use the power of AI to take your website search to the next level. Henk is a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft, and an Umbraco MVP.
At Shout we already use Azure Cognitive Search for most of our projects, so it was very interesting to see how we could use the OpenAI Service to enhance the results returned.
By providing data to the OpenAI Service, along with a set of instructions (such as the type of search the user is making, i.e., looking for products in an e-commerce system or searching for content on a marketing site), you can improve the relevance and usefulness of search results.
Of course, like with all AI models, the more information you give the OpenAI Service the more tailored the results.
The most eye-opening part of the talk for me was the restrictive instructions you should set.
Many of us have seen the result of asking a service like ChatGPT opinionated or controversial questions to see the results... so we know the potential risks.
Using Restrictive Instructions can protect against potentially harmful responses and ensure responses are on brand, even using the tone of voice the business needs.
AI is very powerful, but of course, "With great power comes great responsibility".
Gone are the days of boring search results by keywords, we can't wait to test out what we have learned to create next-gen search results for our clients.
How to bridge the gap to Umbraco 14 with web components
Staying ahead of new versions of Umbraco is a big part of why we go to conferences in the first place.
Like many, we’ve sometime struggled to justify creating new Umbraco backoffice features, knowing that Umbraco are replacing the back-office entirely in (Q2 2024).
We’re always aware of building in technical debt that would then be a stumbling block or complication to upgrading client projects to the new versions of Umbraco in future.
This talk outlined ways to bridge this upgrading gap by creating new features in the current Umbraco Backoffice, but by using Web Components, which is the technology Umbraco are using to build the new back-office.
This bespoke approach enables the creation of features/components with the latest and greatest tools at our disposal, but with the added benefit of making the path to upgrade Umbraco smooth for our clients. Win-win for everyone.
How to get out – and stay out – of the developer rut
The final talk which I really related to was 'Escaping the developer rut' by Rachel Breeze.
I’ve worked in this industry for 20 years, and I have felt everything Rachel discussed many times! It was refreshing to hear I wasn't the only person to suffer from ‘the rut’.
Rachel shared a range of ideas we can use to get out of the rut, and how we can help our colleagues and engage in an open and constructive dialog.
The talk also highlighted tools and techniques we can use to empower our colleagues, such as peer-to-peer development, code reviews and code analysis software to ensure everyone is working in the standards the company has set.
This enables quicker onboarding and enables the developer to move from project to project knowing exactly what is expected. All helping us keep out of ‘the rut’!
A really inspirational talk that can not only make us better developers but better human beings.
A little care and attention can enhance the event experience.
Between the talks we had the opportunity to network and discuss the talks over a freshly made coffee from an in-house barista (Who was kept very busy as you can imagine!!).
The Umbraco UKFest organisers clearly made a lot of effort to keep the event sustainable and welcoming. Swag bags included a reusable water bottle and water was freely available all day for top ups.
The coffee was from a local business and used recyclable materials. The lunch (which was EPIC by the way) was also provided by a local company using sustainably sourced ingredients in fully recyclable containers.
Still the Friendly community I know
The last Umbraco Event I attended was Codegarden 2019. Since then, between cancellations, and a growing family, I've been unable to attend an event. So, when Shout offered to send me to the UKFest I was very excited.
I was also apprehensive as it had been such a long time out of the loop, would the community remember me?
Of course they did!
The renowned 'Friendly' community met me with open arms (and hugs of course). It was really nice to catch up with so many people on a personal level before/during and after the talks.
So much has changed but one thing remains – the community is still accessible and welcoming to all.
I have definitely caught the bug again, and I came home excited to get involved in more community events, and full of ideas for the Umbraco Newcastle meet up too.
Ian and I came away having really enjoyed the talks and pleased that all of the work we have been doing matches that of the future vision of Umbraco and the wider .NET community.
Shout and ShareMyToolbox have been shortlisted for Best App in the 2024 Northern Digital Awards.
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