Michelle Bakels on React Miami, developer wellbeing, and the state of South Florida tech

‘There were a lot of people who thought React would be dead right now or would have fallen out of fashion. But we’re actually seeing the opposite.’

By Riley Kaminer

Michelle Bakels is making waves in South Florida tech. Among the hats this Palm Beach-based technologist wears are program director of developer health for Delray Beach hiring platform G2i, chair of the board of directors of Code Palm Beach, board member of 1909, and organizer of Javascript conference React Miami.

Refresh Miami sat down with Michelle to get her thoughts on React Miami, her various developer wellbeing initiatives, the state of South Florida tech, and more.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Refresh Miami: How did React go? Any reflections, now that you’ve had a couple of weeks to recover from all the excitement?

Michell Bakels: It went phenomenally well! We had over 400 attendees from 21 countries and 33 US states – plus lots of locals there as well. We had 30 speakers from all around the world, from experts in the field to first time speakers. And it was great to partner with eMerge Americas again.

RM: Tell us more about some of the most thought-provoking talks from React.

MB: One of the talks that was particularly popular was from Una Kravets, who talked about how the best javascript is no javascript. That blew a lot of people’s minds – even people with 20 years of development experience were tweeting about how much they learned.

Another really interesting talk came from professional baseball player-turned developer Anthony Shew from Vercel. He talked about mental tooling, or how developers can become the best they can be.

Our keynotes are always a hit, and this year’s from Kent C. Dodds definitely did not disappoint. He is very well known in the web development and React communities and did a talk called the web’s next transition.

We’re actually in an interesting place right now with React. It’s rare for a web library to be so prolific for this long. There were a lot of people who thought React would be dead right now or would have fallen out of fashion. But we’re actually seeing the opposite: a new confidence to take it into the next era of web development.

RM: So what is the next era of web development?

MB: The web is really going to become the predominant interface for tech software. Fewer and fewer desktop applications are being built, and it’s the same with mobile apps. As mobile web  browsers get better and better, developers don’t want to incur the pain and expense of developing mobile apps. 

Meanwhile, the web is just getting really, really powerful to the point where you can even develop applications fully on web browsers. You don’t even need to have local programs installed for a lot of applications. So I think the future of the web is that it really dominates the interface of our tech experiences.

RM: What initiatives are you working on to promote developer health and wellbeing?

MB: At G2i, we’re about to release the developer health operating system: a guide that helps developers prioritize themselves in order to be the best they can. The stereotype of the developer – working through the night and prioritizing work above everything else – is not a particularly idyllic one. But many brilliant developers who did this 10 or 20 years ago are now going back and saying that that was the wrong way to do it, and that they should have prioritized their health. There are still people who support a “hustle culture” kind of developer, but we are starting to see a shift.

RM: What are your thoughts on the state of South Florida’s startup scene?

MB: It’s in a really healthy spot. We had a lot of momentum in the boom of 2020/2021, but that time was very chaotic – it was hard to find signal in the noise. Now that we’re a couple of years off of it, we can see that people have stayed and companies here are growing and hiring local talent. I think the future looks positive but requires some monitoring – some community vigilance. 

React Miami MCs Ptah Dunbar and Andronica Klaas, pictured here at the Opening Party.


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Riley Kaminer