Organizing a technical conference — MKE DOT NET 2017, in Review

As a follow up to my “How to organize an amazing technical conference” post, I wanted to share a review of the MKE DOT NET 2017 event from an organizer’s perspective. It all starts with a lot of preparation and planning, and a team of passionate people who all want the same thing — in this case it was an amazing technical conference close to home! I’m proud to communicate that we have achieved that goal, and as my friend Steve Hicks says…

Saturday was f**king amazing. We absolutely killed it.

Speaker Dinner

The speaker dinner was a blast! Third Space Brewing has a uniquely awesome space and it is easy to forget you’re in a brewery. They don’t serve food, however we had Sobelmans catered in. The environment lent itself to encouraging conversations and there was much to discuss.

MKE DOT NET 2017 — Speaker Dinner

I hadn’t formally met all of the speakers and this was a great chance to express our appreciation for their efforts and get to share stories. Friends were made along the way!

The Event

It was an early day for me, I woke up at 1:45 AM overwhelmed with excitement, anxiety and a bit of nerves (not necessarily in that order). I wanted the day to be flawless — but I realize that the most important aspect of this event is the attendee perception rather than the organizer’s nitpicky point-of-view. I see a lot of opportunity for growth and improvement, as do my co-organizers who share a candid eye for perfection. As with previous years, this is a learning experience and we aim to deliver the highest quality technical conference for our beloved developer community!

MKE DOT NET 2017 — Conference Guide

Another successful “run” of Milwaukee’s premier technical conference is now complete, and if you were one of the lucky attendees you might not appreciate the pun. Unbeknownst to all of the MKE DOT NET organizers there was a Milwaukee Brewers Mini Marathon the morning of our event. This meant that conference-goers were battling variations of GPS’s that thought they knew the way to the conference center. The fact of the matter was that there was literally only one entrance and it was from the south — making it very difficult and time consuming for morning arrivals. Despite this we only started 30 minutes later than scheduled.

We were busy updating the website, pushing the entire schedule back 15 minutes and planning on skipping the first break altogether. I was updating what I’d communicate after the keynote — as I was one of two emcees, Amanda Daering and I shared the stage. We were prepared for all of these little inconveniences — a year of preparation helps. We have learned to make the most of every situation.

This extra time was beneficial, as we were having issues with the conference center WIFI (and even LAN line). The hotel A/V techs were scratching their heads for a while, and Maria ended up using a MIFI for the keynote instead. During all the connection attempts, Maria’s computer tripped BitLocker — and the saved key she had was no longer valid. Luckily Rachel Krause was near by with her computer. They were able to run over to the hotel, use Rachel’s computer and allow Maria to unlock her laptop. Likewise, there were a few issues with getting the live stream functioning as desired. The stream was initially freezing and we couldn’t get the slide deck overlay (PiP) without risking losing the stream altogether.

We never claimed to be Channel 9, but we’ll do our best!
“It Starts With a Search” Keynote by Maria Naggaga
Maria Naggaga

Maria Naggaga performed a powerful keynote in a very timely manner, and it actually put us back on schedule. We were very fortunate to have such a passionate keynote presenter. Maria was literally amazing! She was so easy to work with and responsive to emails, DM on twitter and text messages. She is a down-to-earth and relatable rockstar. I can’t thank her enough — Thank you, Maria! 😄

Our Friends From Holosoft

We are so fortunate to have such good friends. We asked Lance Larsen and Travis Feirtag of Holosoft if they were interested in setting up a VR / AR room. This room was dedicated to their live demos all day long and we cannot thank them enough. They had over $25k in virtual and augmented reality headsets / hardware, as an attendee you had access to all of this to try out.

Steve Hirscher (Centare) and Lance Larsen (Holosoft)

Excuse Me Sir!

Despite having all this expensive gear, sometimes petty thieves want something a little more personable. Travis wears a cowboy hat and it makes him an official badass! While demoing all day, he had left it in the back of the room. When an old man walks into a VR / AR demo room and ignores all the hardware and then noticeably makes a beeline for the cowboy hat —you might think, “what is he doing?”. The man continues to turn around and immediately tries to exit the room, that is when Travis yelled!

Excuse me sir! Are you with the conference?

The old man dropped the hat, he was caught … mumbling something to himself he scurries away. At least the hat was intact, a minor victory.

Token of Appreciation

We thought it would be a good idea to try a few new things this year. First we opened up a number of free admissions to colleges, and wow did they go fast — in fact we ended up increasing the number. Along these same lines, we opted to extend a token of appreciation to our first registered attendee of the event. Matt Snyder purchased his ticket back in March, 164 days before the day-of-the event. This was an amazing thing to recognize, I was honored to present to him on stage a free admission for next year’s event. We are excited to continue both of these new initiatives from now on.

Thank you, “Original Early Bird”!

Breakout Sessions

We are so lucky to have such a great speaker lineup. Every speaker cared deeply about the success of the conference and were willing to not only help us (the conference organizers) but also the other speakers. We had a speaker cancellation and we had decided that we were not going to back-fill any speaker slots for cancellations. However, when Jane Prusakova went to attend the “How to have code reviews developers actually want” session — she learned that it had been cancelled. She wanted to use this session to strengthen her talk that she had just prepared “Effective Code Reviews”. Jane sprang into voluntary action and was eager to ensure that a code review talk was given. So we decided we shouldn’t constrain her obvious passion. Thank you, Jane!

Other than a few mishaps with A/V, which we had anticipated — breakout sessions went off without a hitch and were extremely well received. A special thanks to Steve Hicks, Rachel Krause, Adam Pritzl and Ben Felda for ensuring that this ran smoothly! If you didn’t attend and you’re curious who our speakers were you can find that here along with the official schedule.

What people are saying

This is one of the best organized and executed events that I have ever attended — David Berry
This event keeps getting better every year. — Paul Aldrich
Serious speaker talent here at MKE DOT NET today! — Chris Woodruff
Good talks and great community at yesterday’s MKE DOT NET conference — Jim Schram
Had a great time today at MKE DOT NET. Walked away w/ great ideas for my WI .NET User Group and got a new RxJS book. Great day! — Mike Harris
Great day at MKE DOT NET so far! Proud to have this so close to home. — Cody Haws
If you are looking for a great conference next year, put MKE DOT NET on your list. Really well organized and awesome shirt! — Joel Karr
MKE DOT NET you all are awesome!!! Thank you :) — Maria Naggaga

For more community commentary on our event follow us on twitter @mkedotnet. Likewise, our #mkedotnet hashtag is pretty active too.

Happy Hour

We ended the busy day with a happy hour, where we raffled off prizes, enjoyed music and a beer. This year’s glassware was an etched stein, and as with all previous years a drink ticket. This is one of several ways that we say, “thank you”.

Thank you!

As I communicated at the speaker dinner and all day during my emcee duties, thank you! Without the developer community there would be no one to present to and no one would register. Without sponsorships we wouldn’t have sufficient funding to facilitate the event. Without the team of organizers…well, organizing — this event wouldn’t exist. A special thanks to Tarisa Hoppe — she was involved in helping out with literally so many different aspects of this event, yet her name is usually never associated with it. Thank you, Tarisa! Finally, thank you to the speakers who travel and prepare talks, this takes a ton of work. Without all these things aligning — this post wouldn’t exist, but it does…and for that, I thank you!