EmberConf 2016: The Morning-After Post-Mortem

Not shockingly, while I started this the day after EmberConf, it sat around for a while. I’m awake again now.

EmberConf just ended, and I’m still feeling both high and low. These are independent and unrelated emotions: there are things I’m so pleased with, and some things I’m so determined to do better next time!

Overall, the conference was a super amazing experience. I always like to joke about how EmberConf is a little gathering of 1,000 of my closest friends, but it’s not really a joke. There are so many great people I get to see and meet at EmberConf (most of whom I wouldn’t otherwise see), and it’s a highlight of my year. If you joined us, I hope you feel similarly.

Over the next few weeks my team and I will spend lots of time dissecting every part of the conference in an effort to improve everything we can for next year. It’s important that we do it now, before the memories are gone, and before the emotions settle in. It’s also important that we do it again later, once the emotions have faded, when we can take a second less-charged view of it all.

Very few attendees take the time to submit our formal feedback form, but between those that do, and all the people who stopped me on-site to share their thoughts, I have a pretty big list of things people liked, disliked, and wish were tweaked. I don’t have conclusions for all of the things I’m mulling over, but there’s still time for that 🙂

If you’re a repeat EmberConf attendee, or this was your first time but you’re interested in conference logistics, you might find this post interesting. This is mostly for the conference and meetup organizers among us who might find it helpful.

For those of you who keep reading, I’m optimistic that some part of your experience (the good and the bad) is represented here, and will make sure you know we’re thinking about the things you’re thinking about. That we care, and want everyone to feel listened to, and have the best possible time ❤ If you have a thought I haven’t touched on here, please fill out your feedback form and/or email.

Table of Contents

  • Single vs. Double Track
  • The Day Before
  • The Content
  • The New-to-Confs Experience
  • The Food
  • The Ladies
  • The After-Hours
  • The Swag

Single vs. Double Track

At EmberConf 2015 we sold out with 625 attendees, for a completely single-track show. This year, we grew to nearly 1,000, and compromised with a partially single-track, partially double-track conference.

So many people!

One of the biggest things we waffled about when planning the conference was one track versus two, and an experimental compromise seemed like the best way to really figure out what did and didn’t work. So that’s what we did. Each day was half keynote mode (aka single track) and half track mode (aka double track).

When splitting to two tracks, you introduce a lot of choice that people may not love needing to make. The goal is to have every talk at the conference be great, so there were lots of worthwhile talks competing with each other. Surely a good problem to have, but FOMO is also not amazing. Knowing that all the content was recorded helps with this, but not in the moment when an attendee is trying to decide which talk to go to.

When we’d been single track at 625, lots of folks commented that it was the largest single track conference they’d been to. Most times an attendee hadn’t appreciated a talk, the feedback had been “if there was another track, that would’ve been better: the talk wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t interesting to me.”

It was also, as you’d imagine, a really large space, with a large, potentially intimidating number of people, and that can get to be a bit much for some people (one of whom may or may not be me…). Last year, I remember thinking that EmberConf 2015 had been the largest single-track show we could really get away with. Now I’m less sure.

Being able to see the contrast of keynote mode and dual-track mode side-by-side was helpful. There was a clearer sense of excitement and togetherness when the room wasn’t split. Practically, the space was also brighter and airier without the airwall pulled shut, and that contrast made some people feel like the split-track rooms were drearier.

On the one hand, lots of people appreciated getting to stretch their legs when they changed rooms, but on the other, Track 2, a ~2 minute walk away, sometimes felt like it was outside the hub of activity.

People felt like Track 2 wasn’t part of the main hub. Track 1 doors all exited to Registration, our Photo Booth and all our sponsor tables, whereas Track 2 doors exited to a long hallway back to the Track 1 exits / main hub.

Needing to move around every couple talks also made people keenly aware of where they were—and weren’t—seated. As the conference went on, people were more inclined to camp out in one spot because it was a good one, and sometimes to even sit through a talk they might not have stayed in, just to save a good seat for the following talk.

Overall, no conclusive thoughts or decisions about what to do at EmberConf 2017. I’m thinking I might have been too quick to jump to conclusions last year; that maybe we can have a 1000+ person 2-day single-track conference. Perhaps the benefits of having a common experience and of not needing to make tough choices about where to go, outweigh the potential “ZOMG so many people!” feeling I’d been worried about.

All that said, there are some logistical track-and-room-related things I know we’d already want to tweak for next year.

If we do have multiple tracks:

  • We need better communication to remind people that we’re swapping to dual-track mode. We didn’t remind people, mostly as a result of getting a bit flustered by our opening keynote running significantly over the allotted time. It ate up some planned announcement time, and I didn’t end up sneaking those important announcements back in.
  • We need better track signage. We had multiple schedules outside and inside both track rooms and those schedules did list the name of the track, but it would’ve been helpful to have giant TRACK 1 and TRACK 2 labeling signage outside each door to each room.
  • This year, our tracks roughly shook out to more beginner, and more advanced. Roughly, I say again. It wasn’t intentional when we accepted the talks, but it was intentionally split that way once the selection was finished and we looked at all the content together. If a clearly targeted group of beginner vs advanced talks were to be the mix again in the future, we might consider just labeling them that way. Yehuda has suggested Practical and Theoretical as potential track titles in the future.
  • Our website schedule layout wasn’t originally designed to accommodate two tracks, so it’s no surprised that when we shoe-horned a second track into our existing design, it didn’t work well. Despite having two talks listed in each slot, lots of people didn’t consciously connect the dots to realize “oh, that means this is a double track show” and “oh, this means I need to choose between these talks.” This problem should be easy to fix. I know our designer would’ve done a better job if we’d given him all the info up front; we just hadn’t yet known.

Regardless of whether we do single or double track:

  • I’ve already decided that next year, barring logistical complexities, the theater-style seating (chairs only) goes in front, and the classroom-style seating (chairs + tables) goes in back. An attendee suggested this and as soon as he had, I realized it was an obviously superior idea and felt silly for not having done it that way to begin with 😜 The attendees using laptops being up front meant that everyone who wasn’t, those who wanted to really focus on the speaker, were stuck way in the back, distracted by all the laptops. Switching the seating areas also means that both the front and back of the room are desirable spots for different reasons, as opposed to this year, where it felt clearly like the good seats were up front, and the less ideal ones in the back.
  • In addition to people camping out in seats because they liked them, we also had people remaining in spots for non-optional reasons—and I think we can do a better job of helping those folks. I’d like to have a means of reserving seats for attendees who are visually impaired, hard of hearing and/or disabled, so they can stay in the spot that allows them to participate most effectively. Not everyone is comfy leaving their things behind when they pop out for, say, a bathroom break, and if giving up your spot means risking not being able to be able to see or hear the next talk, you’re in for a pretty stressful day.

The Day Before

For the last few years, we’ve done a workshop or two on the day before the conference. Last year I added some optional fun things to that day, and this year we expanded both things. It introduced about a million different new points of failure, and thankfully none of them exploded.

Specifically, we had several half-day training sessions, and several differently-themed walking tours of Portland. The former helped raise funds for things like scholarships and speaker expenses. The latter made no money at all and might have even lost some, but it made me happy to be able to offer them.

From all reports from our Monday fun stuff, people had a great time, and appreciated having an activity they could bring their significant others to. The tickets mostly sold out a couple weeks before the conference, which is just about perfect. Enough spots for nearly everyone motivated to go.

Trainings are of course more subjective. It’s near impossible to keep everyone in a class happy. No matter how many times you repeat the intent and pre-qualifications for the session, you’re going to end up with some people who thought it went too fast, and some people who thought it went too slow.

The venom with which the very few unhappy people often insult the instructors, the conference, or even just plain old me, is frustrating, but it’s also par for the course. Not everyone has tact, and not everyone can express dissatisfaction politely. It’s usually annoying enough that I reconsider having the trainings at all the next year. So that’s where I am now, and probably where I’ll be until I forget the sting and realize the work overwhelmingly clearly makes more people happy than sad.

The Content

Having reviewed the feedback forms submitted so far, I know that there were one or two super crowd favorites, but also that I got a lot of different replies to the “what was your favorite talk” question. Most talks made an appearance in those answers, even with the small sample size. This makes me happy, and feel even better about the overall quality of the presenters and their talks. Everything wasn’t for everyone, but most things were for someone, and were great for someone.

Indeed, some talks were more popular than others, and during some sessions, one track was significantly more full than the other. That said, there were no talks in either track with shockingly few attendees. No audience sizes that would’ve made the speakers sad. This also makes me feel good.

It’s never easy to predict just what that year’s crowd will end up preferring, but you just hope that there isn’t anything on the roster no one wants to go to. On that, we succeeded.

Admittedly, I didn’t see most of the talks myself. There have thus far been no reports of terrible talks, and too many reports to count of “that really made my day/conf/year” and “that was exactly what I needed to hear/learn.” So to myself and my program committee I say mission accomplished.

As will happen, there were also one or two (that’s not just an expression; we only know of two) moments in talks that some (the same one or two number) attendees didn’t appreciate for more sensitive reasons. I wasn’t in the room for both of the moments in question, but even those reporting their discomfort qualified the reports with “I don’t think it was meant this way, but…” and “I’m sure the speaker didn’t realize this, but.”

We take things like this incredibly seriously. That’s first. We make separate, special announcements at our Speaker Dinner, and then again early on Day 1, to encourage people to treat each other well, and to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. I use the word uncomfortable on purpose: you can easily make someone want to leave a conference without necessarily ticking one of the boxes on a standard list of types of harassment. We of course don’t want any actual violations of the code of conduct or law, but we also don’t want anyone to just generally make people feel crappy.

Up front, I want to say that I’m immensely appreciative of people who are able to report something that made them uncomfortable without inflammatory rhetoric, assumption of evil motive or calls for retribution. It’s never easy, when you’re feeling isolated, offended and/or uncomfortable, to take a step back and see beyond the heat of the moment.

Speaking in terms of practical positive resolutions, when things are reported without vilifying someone who more-than-likely made a mistake, we get better results for all involved parties. Since the offender usually didn’t mean the offense, in a calm confrontation, they are more likely to default to apologetic and sad, instead of defensive and afraid.

Importantly, it means they’re more likely, right then, to also think about how to not make the same mistake again. They’re also more likely to communicate to their own friends about it with the focus on “I made a mistake, let me tell you about it so none of us make it again” instead of focusing on how attacked they felt when confronted.

Again, putting aside legitimate frustration when reporting something bad takes extra effort, and I’m grateful that the folks in these particular cases went to that (unnecessary) extra effort.

I heard about both things after the conference (today), and intend to spend a bunch of time today thinking about how to best communicate the specific concerns to the speakers in a way that helps them not make the same mistakes again. I’ll also spend time thinking about if there’s anything we can do with the post-conf materials (slides and videos) to perhaps remove or edit the moments in question.

The New-to-Confs Experience

For the second year, we ran a small Mentorship Program as part of EmberConf. People expressed interest in being either Mentors or Mentees when they bought their tickets, and a couple of weeks before the show we emailed the first folks who had opted in, until the program was full.

The program was targeted not towards “Mentee: I’m new to Ember” and “Mentor: I’m an Advanced developer” but instead, to “Mentee: I’m new to conferences and standing in a crowd of 1,000 people sounds scary” and “Mentor: I’ve done this a bunch of times, and want to help you get to know people and feel comfy.” Naturally there are correlations there, but that’s not the point.

A number of new conference attendees expressed that they wish there had been some kind of mixer or program to help them ease into EmberConf. My answer was… there was, it just filled up before you could opt in 🙁

The program is small and intimate, and I think its size is a large part of why it’s successful. I’m not entirely sure how to get around that.

We had 22 pairs of Mentors/Mentees. Participants were introduced to their pairs about a week before the conference via email, and then again Monday night at a wine and cheese mixer event, complete with ice breakers and a speed-friending style game. So even though Mentees came to Portland not knowing anyone, they started Conference Day 1 with ~40 friends, and also having met a few Core Team and Community personalities. The feedback from the program participants has been amazing. Great relationships were forged, friendships kicked off, and a lot of the intimidation-factor just poof, gone.

As an aside, I was disappointed by the few Mentors and Mentees who pulled out last minute. I’m not referring to the “we had our baby early” and “my spouse unexpectedly lost their job” type of cancellations, which are always going to happen.

I’m instead referring to the “actually, there’s a party I want to go to instead” type of cancellations. It was a small program, and every spot taken meant someone else didn’t get in. I wish people took that more seriously, though I’m not sure how I can make this better.

I don’t yet have an answer to the scale problem. Growing the program would likely eliminate much of the value of it, and it’s unlikely that I’ll have the staff (and budget) to run several concurrent versions of the program. Pondering other ideas.

The Food

The food was great. We spent weeks and weeks working with the Chefs at our venue to settle on a menu that was tasty, suitable for a fast-moving buffet line, and would appeal to most attendees in some way.

We also spent a ton of time working on accommodating our various special meal requests. Vegetarian, Vegan, Dairy Free, Nut Free, Gluten Free, assorted religious restrictions (including ones that literally required me to go look up parts of the old testament), and a couple things I hadn’t known were things.

We sent everyone (often individual) emails a week or so before the conference talking about exactly how we were going to accommodate them, and sharing the full detailed menu so they could each decide if things would work for them, or worst case, if they wanted to make other arrangements.

For people with complex dietary restrictions, needing to figure out what’s what on-site can be stressful, and I like to eliminate that. If you know in advance, you can decide what works for you when you’re not blocking 400 people behind you from their lunch.

While we did make it work for everyone we knew about, somehow, the venue served mostly similar meals both conference days for the Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free crowd. I’m a bit frustrated by this, because I’d noticed it a couple weeks before the conference and told the caterer it wasn’t alright, but somehow missed that the revisions they made didn’t change the food enough. This should be easy enough to fix next year, but I’m irked that it happened.

The Ladies

As you hopefully noticed, we had a ton of amazing women on our roster this year. This was intentional and hard-won. I’m incredibly proud of all the women who spoke at EmberConf, and blown away by the caliber of the job they did. I’m also pleased and astonished that I couldn’t meet all the women at EmberConf: there were just too many of us!

Every year at EmberConf there’s more and more work, and new ways we focus on improving things. In past years, we’ve had some great lady speakers, but never enough lady speakers; if you’ve been to other conferences in tech, this is not unique to Ember. As a woman in tech myself, I’d been wanting to focus more on this for years, and after EmberConf 2015, I committed to doing it.

I had no idea what I was doing, let me say that loudly and clearly. I was clueless, and also terrified. Tackling diversity is lofty, and also scary. What if I said the wrong thing? What if it didn’t work? What if everything got turned upside down and somehow my efforts make the problem worse?

I wish I could tell you there was an answer than assuaged all my concerns. Some inspirational quote, leader or moment. There wasn’t, but I just decided to jump in and try anyway.

I wanted to tackle diversity at large, but I also knew that was an even bigger problem, and I also wasn’t sure I had personal insight into the needs of all of the various underrepresented groups in tech. So I decided to focus on women, a group that felt less scary to try and focus on, being a woman myself, and also a group that I felt I had some insights into.

Specifically, I could remember lots of diversity initiatives that hadn’t helped me, and some that had made me feel less welcome, instead of more. More practically, I also just generally thought that focusing on one thing at a time would make my efforts more likely to succeed.

I also didn’t want to just… do what everyone else is doing. There are a million and one well intentioned people, efforts and organizations trying to fix the pipeline problem. And it’s true that we definitely have one. But what about the leaky bucket problem? What about all the women leaving tech? What about all the amazing women already here who we could help turn into our next community leaders?

There’s lots I could overshare about all the things I thought of, but in the end my TL;DR was “there are already a ton of amazing women in our community. I want to focus on helping encourage and elevate the women who are already here, rather than seeking out new people to bring in.”

As a bonus, having more women who are public role models to our community could, in the medium and long term, itself help with bringing new women into our community in the future.

I launched the initial conference website with only 2–3 pages, and the Women Helping Women program page was one of them. I had enough ideas to fill a little list (the “what we’re doing to help” section) and roped in some really talented Ember lady-devs to put some friendly, encouraging and just as importantly, impressive faces behind the effort. In my head, in addition to saying “we’re going to help you by doing XYZ,” I also wanted to be saying “look at all these talented women doing great things! They’re just like you, and there’s no reason you can’t be on a list like this too!”

Since June of 2015 I’ve been working really hard on the WHW program. I targeted a number of events and efforts at the program, and also opened some of them up to the general public. Some of the things we did:

  • Hangouts where members of the group talked about their first speaking experiences, their fears and doubts, and their successes and failures.
  • Hangouts where members of the group presented talks they wanted to give at upcoming conferences, meetup groups and other events, so they could have a safe, encouraging audience to test content on, where they’d get positive reinforcement and also constructive criticism.
  • Hangouts where we collectively brainstormed talk submission ideas, with program committee and core team guests present to answer questions, provide feedback and encourage submissions.
  • Emails where we all shared helpful blog posts and content dealing with some of the issues we were facing, and discussing what we thought of them.
  • Emails where members of the group shared things they were working on, blog posts they wanted to post, talk proposal ideas, etc., to get feedback, encouragement and ideas.
  • A mentorship program with matchups made months before the conference, to help aspiring speakers encourage each other and get proposals in the works months before they were due.
  • Introductions when members of the group expressed interest in speaking at smaller events, like user groups, to help get their feet wet with speaking experience in an environment less intimidating than a giant conference.

I also culminated all the WHW efforts in several on-site events, some of which were WHW-specific, and some of which were open to all:

  • A pre-conf workshop where Bear Douglas, a friend and all around impressive conference speaker, developer and human, delivered a two hour workshop on public speaking. (Everyone loved this, Bear is basically the best ever.)
  • As an addendum to Bear’s session, an opportunity for our lady speakers to workshop parts of their talk with the entire class for in-person feedback and support, which several of our speakers found incredibly helpful.
  • A later opportunity for full rehearsals in one of the rooms at the conference space.
  • And an intimate super-tasty luncheon where we all socialized in-person and got to know each other.

In the end, I can’t speak directly to how much my efforts helped, but we had a dozen incredible women on our roster this year, most of whom I hadn’t known or known about before starting the WHW program. We also had plenty of women submit who didn’t make the cut. Point being, overall, our lady submissions for 2016 were exponentially larger than all our past year’s lady submissions combined ❤

I think the WHW efforts were part of that, and a number of our speakers reported as much. You rarely get to draw a direct connection between an effort to help with something like this, and an immediate (same 12-month period!) result. I feel lucky.

Sometimes a bit of encouragement can go a long way. I had people encouraging me when I first got involved in Open Source, and it made a world of a difference.

Lack of lady leadership in tech is a problem, and I wanted to make a dent in that, but I also wanted to feel like what women there were in my community, I actually knew. I’ve been to conferences before where I could pick out a couple of other ladies in the audience, but without knowing them, it didn’t do much to help with feeling like I was isolated and stood out.

A lot of the Monday activities were geared towards getting to know each other. Before EmberConf I could name maybe 8–12 Ember women I knew well, and would be excited to run into on the street. Now I can name about 40, and recognize another 40–50 whose names I don’t recall. That’s still of course a small number, when you consider the overall audience… but picture that giant conference venue again. It’s a lot less isolating with all these other familiar women’s faces in it. Not to mention all the women at EmberConf I didn’t get to meet.

There’s lots of good work going at other shows too, I’ve heard. Personally though, I can’t think of another tech conference where I met or even saw from afar nearly that many lady-devs. There’s still so much work to do, but every bit of progress ought be celebrated, and I’m still a bit high from this one.

I’m still processing how it all worked out, and how it could’ve been better. My biggest fears are about next year: can I do it again? Can we do it better? Will all the same ideas be dull and ineffective on a second go-round?

It took a solid ten months of effort, with significant time devoted every week of the year, significant outreach and more extroversion than comes naturally to me, by far. So thinking back to my earlier thoughts about wanting to also focus on other underrepresented groups, can I possibly even fit more in?

Like most other things, I don’t have answers yet. But hopefully they’ll come.

The After-Hours

Most people expect parties (plural) at conferences, and most years, we make that happen.

In 2015 we hosted a Game Night themed afterparty: board games, arcades, air hockey, foosball, skeeball, and game-themed handouts that included a card game, book about games, dice game and more. It was my attempt at a party that wasn’t solely about booze. We did it in 2014 too with a venue that had bowling, karaoke, arcades, shuffleboard and more.

I also do one-drink-ticket-per-person at all events where we serve alcohol, and I make announcements calling it out; one drink on us, cash bar after that if you’d like more. The TL;DR is that the simple act of needing to pull out your wallet and pay for your own drink makes it a little less likely that people will drink to excess simply because it’s free. My days of hosted open bars are over, and I feel good about that decision, even though it can make people assume I’m just being cheap.

Back on track though. This year, we opted for a single hour-long happy hour on the evening between the two days. My intent was that it’s enough time for everyone to grab their one drink, and self-organize into unofficial group events on their own. We had a big board where people could post activities they wanted company for (which was only moderately successful) and actively encouraged people to make friends and plans.

More than anything, this was about bandwidth. If your party is more than just booze, it takes more time, money and effort to make happen, and with scaling from ~625 to ~1000 attendees, I opted to spend energy focusing on things like the WHW program, live closed captioning, improved signage, etc. On a bunch of other extras that I hadn’t done before, admittedly, at the cost of not officially organizing a big party.

After the fact, everyone having been happy and entertained, I’ll probably just make this the plan from the beginning in the future—at least barring specific sponsors who appear to help with the heavy lifting.

I didn’t feel like the conference lacked anything because we had a short happy hour instead of a long party. I also liked that it encouraged various community groups and companies to host their own evening events, small and large. It meant there were more different things to do.

Admittedly, you had to go to the effort of finding yourself something to do after 7pm, which maybe isn’t perfect for some of us, but was overall a great compromise that pleased most people. The conference has entertained you from as early as 8am to 7pm. Seems good.

The Swag

Swag is awesome, and fun, and is another thing that takes all year to get right. Every year I find myself pressured to outdo the previous year, but also panicked about how if I do outdo last year, how will I possibly outdo this year, next year? It’s a vicious cycle 😝

I surely overdid it a bit this year, if only just in terms of the dollar amount per person spent on swag. The highlights:

  • A nice large bag that I’ll actually use post-conf (for me, for the gym!). 3x the price of the usual throwaway or reusable grocery bag type option, but probably 10x more likely to be used by people. I also chose to brand it just plain Ember, rather than conf-specific, so it was even more likely to be used post-conf. Can’t be sure I can afford bags like this every year, but it’s nice when I can.
  • Custom pins featuring the Tomster, Zoey, the iconic Tomster glasses and the conference logo. I want pins to be more of a thing because they’re impressively detailed, but small enough that they don’t feel too wasteful. They’re also priced well enough that I can do fun sets, instead of blowing the budget on just one pin. I’m pondering.
  • For those folks who showed up for early registration (which helps with the lines), we had custom Socks. Mind blown, by how excited people were about these socks!
  • Stickers. So many stickers! Tomsters, Zoey, random fun stuff, and a bunch of sponsor stickers. The staple of a community oriented conference.
  • A mason jar mug with a bright orange cap and the Ember logo. I ordered these so long ago, the entire contents of the bag changed two or three times over. Originally, I’d been planning a generally hipster-themed swag bag, but over time everything but the mason jar mug fell apart. I think it was still independently charming ☕️
Mason jar in the center!
  • The conference tshirt, of course. As usual, on soft, ideally tri-blend shirts, in both mens and women’s sizes (v-necks for the ladies, a big hit). The toughest part with shirts is getting the size mixture right. We did better this year than I have any other year, but still probably left a few folks without the perfect size for them. The manufacturer also ran out of the exact line we were using about halfway through printing our larges and mediums, so if you noticed that some pieces were slightly different from others, you didn’t make that up.
  • Tomster bust toys. We’ve had a toy to give away each year since the original EmberCamp and I love them. They’re the most labor-intensive item in the bag, taking somewhere from 6 to 10 months to prototype and produce, and are (almost?) totally worth it. This year, production, shipping and customs delays had me a bit panicked that they’d never make it in time. And they didn’t! The very last “we absolutely have to have them by X” date was six weeks pre-conf, and low and behold, no luck. My team and I spent hours and hours on the phone in the weeks leading up to EmberConf as well as on-site once the conf had started, refusing to give up on these. All those calls and a bunch of magical “pay these nameless fees and they might make it through customs” payments that felt uncomfortably like illicit bribes, they finally arrived early afternoon on the last day of EmberConf, and we made it work!
These are fun and collectible, and also good gifts for those with kiddos at home wanting a souvenir.
  • …and an assortment of sponsor-sent items, none of which were crap, which makes them a complete success in my eyes. Kudos to all our sponsors for their choices.

Overall, other than the late arrival of the toys, no real regrets on this front. Unsure how I’ll up the game next year.

I’ve also been thinking lots lately about the conference tshirt, and specifically, about how lots of people go to lots of conferences, and it can get a bit wasteful.

I’m not sure how to feel about it though: do I have too many conf tshirts? Yes. But that’s a product of the fact that due to my job, I go to numerous tech conferences per year. I don’t think that’s true for most attendees, and so for most of the audience, it’s still that meaningful useful piece of memorabilia it once was for me.

Miscellaneous Other Thoughts

  • The Hallway Track lounge was a smashing success. A designated quiet space with couches, tables and power, to sit and decompress a bit. We didn’t talk about it much, and that worked well: when you discovered it on your own, it wasn’t packed.
  • My staff is amazing. Being able to work with the same volunteers year after year after year is a luxury, and the people I’ve somehow found myself surrounded by are wonderful.
  • The non-volunteer part of my staff is amazing too. Earlier in the planning, Kait spent the second and third quarters of 2015 helping me get all the early ducks in a row. Giving me the support I needed to really focus on new things, like the WHW program and shifting to dual-track. Closer to the show, Crystal’s incredible work ethic and attention to detail helped make sure nothing fell between the cracks. I’m privileged to get to work with such amazingly competent and talented women every day.
  • Someone came to me concerned about an incident that may have offended another attendee (not certainly, but possibly, and they were pretty broken up about it). I’ve spent hours poring over the photos of the area I now know the attendee was sitting in, and asking all the questions I could think of to figure out who the person is, so I could reach out and express those regrets. But I couldn’t. Turns out, in a group of ~1000, it’s tough to identify a single participant from a day-old vague description and probable jacket color. This kinda just sucks, and there’s not much I can do now other than hope the situation was misread, and that the person wasn’t put in the suspected uncomfortable position.
  • I really liked the number of sponsor tables we had. It was pretty perfect for making the rounds, having meaningful conversations with all of them if you felt like it, and not so many that it was intimidating or too commercial-feeling.

I could go on for a while no doubt, but I’m out of steam. Good thing too, this got pretty long. If you have replies that are beyond a couple sentences, please do email rather than commenting.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and I hope I have the energy to do it better next year. It’s my favorite excuse to have all the cool people I can think of come hang out, and I’m grateful for all the amazing EmberConf experiences I get to have with y’all ❤