WE MADE A CONFERENCE!!!
Hello readers of the blog; if you didn’t hear about it, WE MADE A CONFERENCE!
Firstly, on a personal note, I feel pretty awesome. Awesome and humbled. I spent several years (as I think everyone knows by now) as a standard agency recruiter; making hundreds of (normally annoying) phone calls to companies who didn’t want to talk to me or to candidates who had the attitude that I was ‘just another recruiter’. To run groups that developers actually want to attend is brilliant; putting on a full day ‘IDinLondon conference’ where over 50 people attended – amazingly only 50% of whom had been to one of our events before – is literally mind blowing. I’ve come from a background of ‘everyone hates us so they’ll hate you’ to one where companies actually phone me and say ‘Hi Adam we love what you’re doing, can you help us hire?’. Yes, awesome is most certainly the word I would use!
So, how did the whole conference thing about? I blame Sebastian Witalec. If you attend the IDinLondon events you’ll know Sebastian; he’s from Poland and is a Technical Evangelist for Telerik. One day (before or after an event, I don’t recall which) Sebastian said to me, “Hey, Adam, you know what would be cool? If we held our own conference!”. I’m quite sure I laughed at him for a few minutes before I realised that he was serious (it was a bit awkard I’ll be honest). I think we were both excited about the upcoming NDC that we were attending and, taken in by the moment, I agreed to do it.
Running meetup groups (we’ve got 6, check out www.idinlondon.co.uk) is one thing, few hours in the evening, beers and snacks on the side and 2 x 30 min presentations. But a conference, could we do it?
So, planning got underway. All of the group organisers were messaged about the possibility of a conference; some people, like Magdalena Marczak (Polish group) and Rodrigo Laranjo (Portuguese Speaking group) jumped straight into supporting us. Sebastian even enlisted his Spanish girlfriend, Aurora to help us out. At the first meeting we laid out a plan; what did we want to achieve? When would it be? Who would do what?
Over the next few weeks we started telling people in the groups about our idea; it was really well received. We asked people if they wanted a weekday event or weekend; weekend was a clear winner. The people had spoken! We could have taken a route like ‘The Apprentice’ and just ignored them, but at the end of the day they’re the users, and you do what your users want at the end of the day, right?
We wanted to keep the day free, because at the end of the day our events normally are free, so why would we charge for this one if we could avoid it? I asked everyone to see if they knew of anyone that could be interested in sponsoring the event. I remembered meeting with a chap called Michael in early 2014 and he mentioned that the company he was working for, Twilio, were really keen on sponsoring events in London to promote their brand so I dropped him a mail to see if they would be interested at all. They were – great! Unfortunately a couple of months after getting in touch with Michael he left Twilio, but his successor, Marcos was keen on our idea and wanted to get involved; Sebastian and I met him for a coffee and told him about our vision for the conference. What we wanted to achieve, when we wanted to achieve it. He was on board and wanted to add value so we agreed that Twilio would build us an app whereby people could order hot drinks via text which was excellent.
We had four face to face meetings in all about the conference and a Google Hangout too (which was new ground for me!) and at each stage we had a general conversation about each part of the event to get feedback from all involved and then set out clear deliverables on things like ‘checking regulations at the event location’ to ‘finding baristas’ or ‘find a first aider’. I had to be the big bad wolf who assigned tasks and deadlines to it all! Trello was a god send with this.
The people involved in the planning were brilliant, working autonomously to make us have a great day; Magda for instance sent me a list of cool gadgets that we purchased as prizes on the day – remote controlled helicopters, a smart wrist band, a drone – and Marek kindly donated a Wifi hotspot he had but never used.
Planning for a conference looks easy on the outside, but trust me it really isn’t, especially when you’re still trying to make placements to pay the bills too. I’ve been going grey since I was 18 (I’m 35 now!) and I’m quite sure this conference planning added at least a million more greys to my head!
It was all worth it on the day, however, when people started to flood through the Thoughtworks (who kindly donated us their office for the day) doors and sign up on the day and began to mingle. I can’t believe I wasn’t the 1st one there on the day; Sebastian beat me there with Aurora, as did Magda and Pawel; my excuse is that I don’t live in London!
We had an excellent setup – in the main ‘kitchen’ area the Baristas had set up, people were able to order in person or over text. Rodrigo brought his 3D printer and set it up (and let me tell you developers flock around a 3D printer like bees around honey!). We had my own daughter, Macaela, signing people in with Magda, and Amaad & Vlad set up with Learning Connexions giveaways with a roulette wheel and guessing games for people to get involved with. Marek even sourced a product that was setup on a Raspberry Pi connected to a 50” screen which picked up on the #IDLConf hashtag and displayed tweets and pictures which was really cool. Click these links to view the videos and pictures.
Lunch was covered by Thoughtworks and even the Italian guys said the Pizza was really good! Telerik chipped in with sponsorship too which enabled us to have some cool t-shirts made up (all of which were claimed but I’m yet to see a picture of someone in their IDLconf shirt!) and record the talks and day through Relish.io.
Probably one of the most nervous times of my life was when I had to do the Keynote – talk about me, the groups, what I do and how it benefits people. I did a count at the end of the day and 52 people attended. I know that’s not exactly Guinness World Record for conferences; but it’s not bad for a recruiter attracting developers to an event where he didn’t even pester them about jobs, right?
At the end of the day I sat on a train and took a giant breath. I’d actually (with an immense amount of help) put on a Dev Conference. Wow.
Will we run IDLconf again next year? Watch this space….. 😉