BizConf 2010

One of my highlights of last year was going to BizConf, so I was very happy to be able to go back to Amelia Island last week for the 2nd annual BizConf.

CJ Kihlbom, Randall Thomas and Marty Haught having lunch in the sunshine

Photo by Obie Fernandez {: .caption}

For me, the greatest part about attending a conference is hanging out with lots of great people. This is especially true about BizConf, which just as last year attracted a bunch of smart and interesting people who were eager to share their experiences. I learned just as much from them as from the presenters.

David Allen

David Allen shows how you feel when you're not "Getting Things Done". Photo by Obie Fernandez. {: .caption}

One of the many excellent presenters was David Allen (above), the creator and best-selling author of Getting Things Done (which all attendees got a copy of). David gave a really inspiring keynote and an engaging workshop about how and why you should do GTD.

Corey Haines

Corey Haines moderated the Software Craftsmanship panel. Photo by Obie Fernandez. {: .caption}

One of my favourite moments of the conference was the panel on Software Craftsmanship in Small Business. It was lead by Corey Haines, who was kind enough to invite me to be on it together with Gustin Prudner, Paul Pagel and Obie Fernandez. It was a real honour to be on the panel alongside such esteemed colleagues, and we had some great discussions.

Obie and Desi are in over their heads

Conference pool parties are awesome. Photo by Lan Bui. {: .caption}

Fitting to a conference in Florida, BizConf finished with a great pool party. Relaxed atmosphere, good food and drinks, great people and lots of fun. That pretty much sums up the whole conference. I'm already looking forward to next year!


BizConf Reflections

In my post about the business value of conferences I mentioned that I would attend the conference BizConf, which I now have. This is a short review of my experience there.

It was hard to believe that this was BizConf's first year. The organizers did a great job making sure that everything ran smoothly and everyone had the best experience possible. I certainly had. The setting—the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island—was fantastic. While I spent most of the time inside, I managed to find some time to enjoy the beach.

Beach sunrise on Amelia Island

The reason I spent most of my time inside was that the sessions and conversations at the conference were so amazing. Limiting the number of attendees to just 75 people really helped define the conference as a place of great discussions among peers.

Since there were usually four simultaneous sessions the number of attendees in each sessions was very small—sometimes less than 10 people—which made the sessions very intimate and interactive. Some of them were just really fascinating group discussions with incredibly knowledgeable and experienced people like Jerry Weinberg and Johanna Rothman.

I was amazed by the consistent high quality of all the sessions. I was going to try to list some of my favorite sessions, but there were just too many of them! The content ranged from tactical to strategic. A great mix of simple, practical advice and higher level talks about the purpose of running a business.

The small group made everyone seem very approachable. And since the attendees were 75 of the nicest, most brilliant people in the business, the conversations were really great. This was my favorite part of BizConf by far. Having so many peers to discuss the challenges of running a business with was worth the price of admission alone.

Some of the great people at BizConf

One big difference compared to most other conferences I've been to was how few people had their laptops up during the sessions. Lark said it best:

You can tell a great conference... when there's no chance to tweet! #bizconf was rich, full-time intensity!

I realize that I'm rambling a bit here. I apologize. What it comes down to is this: Will I be back next year?

Hell yeah!


The Business Value of Conferences

In our business—like many others—there are two things that you need more than anything to succeed: the right skills and the right people. The best place I know to get both is at conferences.

The development team here at eLabs—Anders, Jonas and I (CJ)—just got back from the absolutely amazing FutureRuby conference in Toronto. It was hands down the best conference I've ever been to. The presentations were great, the people were great and everything was organized with such an amazing attention to detail by the good folks at Unspace. While the total cost (including the conference fee, hotel rooms, flight and loss of income) probably exceeded US $20,000 for us, here's why I think it was worth it:

The Right Skills

The most obvious benefit is of course the things you learn from the presentations at the conference. Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, I find that I get more out of the presentations that aren't really trying to teach something. For learning the ins and outs of a technology I prefer a good book or online tutorial. No, the presentations that I think help me the most when it comes to improving my skills are the higher-level, more philosophical ones that make me think in new ways. That's much more important in the long run.

FutureRuby got this right. While there were some presentations that were too focused on some technology, the great presentations by Jon Dahl, Brian Marick, Dr. Nic Williams, Foy Savas, Matthew Knox and others more than made up for it. These talks will inspire us to improve and expand our skill sets for a long time.

The Right People

While getting the right skills is important, getting the right people is much more so. The right people can always acquire the right skills. The inverse is not necessarily true. So how does going to a conference help you get the right people?

First of all, you can of course meet the right people at the conference. If you're looking to hire developers a conference is a great place to be looking (though I think a user group is even better). And even if you're not hiring at the moment you're bound to meet a bunch of great business connections, helpful peers, and friends. We certainly did.

Getting the right people at a conference is also about keeping the right people. Going to a conference as a team is a great way to strengthen your company. Having inspired and motivated colleagues is just as important as being inspired and motivated yourself.

CJ, Anders and Jonas of eLabs enjoying Toronto

So far, I've only been to technology conferences—such as FutureRuby, WWDC, Scotland on Rails and RailsConf Europe—but next month I'll be traveling to Florida for something different altogether:

BizConf is an exclusive conference for entrepreneurs, consultants and people who run web development companies. The presenters they've lined up sound fantastic, but I'm just as excited to meet the other attendees. A couple of people I met at FutureRuby—Dr. Nic Williams of Mocra and Gustin Prudner of Entryway—are going to BizConf too. It was great talking with them at FutureRuby and sharing ideas on running a web development business, and I can't wait to meet them again along with all the other attendees.

BizConf is limited to 75 attendees and the early bird pricing ends today (July 15th) so make sure you register now! I hope to meet you there, or at another conference.

/ CJ

PS. FutureRuby also inspired us to dust off our old dream of NordicRuby again. We'll see what happens.