Frontend United: “We want frontend developers to think beyond their current knowledge and abilities”

APR 2016

After Amsterdam, London, Copenhagen and Bristol, this year Frontend United, the event for (Drupal) frontend developers and Drupal, will be held in Ghent. Three frontend developers from the Ghent web agency XIO are helping to organise the conference, which will take place in the Sphinx arthouse cinema in the centre of Ghent on 27 and 28 May 2016. The trio (Marieke Hollevoet, Pieter-Jan Baert and Jannick Vandaele) are enthusiastic about the event, which they are organising in their own time. “At this point, we're mainly looking forward to the moment when 250 people will be wandering around the Sphinx and the six of us made it happen”.

Frontend United logo

“Frontend United is the DrupalCon of frontend”, says XIO founder and director Pascal Noppe. The conference grew out of the Drupal community and Marieke Hollevoet, Pieter-Jan Baert and Jannick Vandaele, who are all frontend developers at the Ghent-based company XIO and the organisers of Frontend United 2016 in Ghent, regard their employer's statement as a compliment. 
“It's a compliment, as Frontend United was developed by frontenders from the Drupal community who felt that insufficient frontend knowledge was discussed at the major DrupalCon conference. As a result, they joined forces and set up Frontend United”, explains Marieke.

Accessible for everyone

 “We haven't been to all the editions ourselves, but we have heard all about them, says Pieter-Jan. “Through XIO, we went to the previous edition in Bristol and that's how we were asked to organise it in Ghent this year. We were there with other frontend developers from Ghent and it seemed like a great idea. We had a chat with the organisers of Frontend United Bristol at the time. 

At DrupalCon in Barcelona, we then spoke with Morten Birch Heide-Jørgensen (Mortendk), the original founder of the conference, and heard about the underlying concept. There are a few basic points to be followed: the conference must have a low ticket price to keep it accessible for everyone and, above all, it must take place in a relaxed atmosphere. A welcoming atmosphere is important, it shouldn't be too businesslike. We want to retain this spirit and it was quickly decided that the event would be held in Ghent. From then on, we really threw ourselves into organising it, with our team of six people.”  
Alongside XIO's three frontend developers, Sanne Janssen (Wunderkraut), Thomas De Vriese (O2 Agency) and Mathieu Spillebeen (freelancer) are also helping to organise Frontend United 2016 in Ghent. There is no formal division of roles between the six organisers. 
“All six of us really are on an equal footing”, explains Jannick. “We meet every two weeks and see what still needs to be done and who has time to do it. We also put together the budget for the conference by finding sponsors, although it was a challenge to convince sponsors to take part without giving them too much visibility. Of course they will get some exposure, but we can't offer them the kind of thing they get at DrupalCon, a room where they can set up a stand. It took some searching, but we did it in the end. We also managed to pay for a lot of things in kind: printing, the venue and design etc. It helps a lot if you can eliminate costs.”

As well as the contribution from the sponsors, the organisers' budget also comes from ticket sales.
“We don't have a big budget”, explains Pieter-Jan. “Certainly not if you compare our ticket price with a major conference such as Smashing Conference, there, tickets cost 350 euros. In our case, tickets cost 75 euros and as little as 60 euros for early birds.”

Full frontend toolkit will be discussed

Although the conference is relatively small and has an affordable price tag, it still has several renowned speakers. A total of 26 speakers will be discussing new technologies, functions, knowledge and ideas to encourage people to think beyond their current knowledge and abilities. The full frontend toolkit will also be discussed, with some of the speakers focusing specifically on Drupal.
 “We have several prominent speakers who are well-known in the frontend world”, says Pieter-Jan. “Harry Roberts and Sara Soueidan are two speakers who also speak in front of 2,000 people at large conferences such as Smashing Conf. However, we also managed to land them for our much smaller conference, with just 250 participants. 

Some of the speakers also helped to outline and determine the structure of the new Drupal 8. As a result, they are very familiar with the platform and will be explaining their concepts of the best structure for the use of frontend in Drupal 8. They will give an extra tip here, an explanation there. We're 99% sure we've got Scott Reever, a core maintainer of Drupal 8 who can add modifications to Drupal and Lauri Eskola from Finland and we're still in discussions with a few others.”

 “We're pretty amazed by the level of interest”, states Jannick. “We've already sold almost 200 tickets in just 10 days. Eighty percent of our visitors will be coming from Belgium but it's also nice to see that some people are travelling a long way to get here as they know Frontend United from previous editions and want to spend a weekend in Ghent too. We also managed to convince a lot of speakers to take part for the same reason; we knew that Ghent would be a great city for a frontend conference. There is a lot of demand for frontend developers in Ghent. If you look at the vacancy database for frontend developers, there are always around six wanted in Ghent. Frontend is alive and well in Ghent.”

Sphinx arthouse cinema

It is not a complete coincidence that Frontend United will be held in the Sphinx Cinema, as XIO is a proud partner of the Ghent arthouse cinema and has worked on its website for many years. With large screens, good seats and a cosy cafe with delicious coffee and a fine selection of beers, the cinema is an excellent location for an event with a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. 
“The location must feel creative”, says Marieke. “Two years ago, it was in a graffiti-covered alley in a hipster area of London. And this time it's in a cinema; a beautiful cinema on the Korenmarkt, in the centre of Ghent. When they leave in the evening, people can just head out and explore the city.” 

In their own time

The team of six have been organising Frontend United in their own time, although the three from XIO will be able to recoup much of their time through the web agency's training program
“It's very motivating just to get started. And once you get going, you really don't want to stop”, explains Jannick. “And it's not like we're keeping track of every minute, far from it. It's a very enjoyable experience and you get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

“It takes up a lot of time, but it's worth it”, states Pieter-Jan. “As soon as the site went online, people began talking about our conference on Twitter and started asking us questions. There are people, and mainly people we've never heard of, who are really looking forward to it. People are really responding to it and that's great.” 

At this point, the organisers are mainly looking forward to the event itself.
“The moment when 250 people will be wandering around the Sphinx and the six of us made it happen”, says Marieke.

All information about Frontend United on


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