So, The official ExpressionEngine conference is over for another year and I'm sitting in the office reflecting on the week spent in Portland, Oregon meeting new and existing clients, networking with a new slew of "Engine-ites" and generally basking in the glory of what is simply one of the best communities out there.
Even before arriving in Portland, Saturday afternoon - there was a welcoming party being arranged by members of the community. Meal and drinks for a few turned into a large-scale evening dinner and drinks with over 25 people and others arriving throughout the evening to say hello and join in with the socialising.
First and foremost, the EEConf for me is a business networking exercise. Hippo as a company generate a vast amount of our turnover from agencies/studios/designers in the community and meeting the same people that we do constant work with throughout the year is somewhat comforting and hugely rewarding. It's so easy to forget through the array of emails, tweets and Skype messages that we're dealing with real people and these conferences are a great opportunity to meet and socialise with these clients and to uncover new opportunities. At this point, I'd certainly like to thank Anna for arranging the evening, it was a fantastic evening and a great way to get the week started.
Sunday (at least for me) was spent mostly tweaking and making last minute changes to my impending talks. There were the obligatory tweets from various people in the community who were just arriving and beckons down to the hotel lobby to introduce yourself and/or say hello to long-lost-internet-friends and collaborators. It's surprising how, even through the smallest of one-to-one contact within the community and within our daily working lives how we build connections with people, cue much hugging, kissing and shaking of hands with people who, in any other context, would be considered 'competition' to any agency/business.
Sunday evening started with the organising of a welcome reception/supper for the speakers and after only speaking with Brad and his team sporadically through emails, it was an absolute pleasure to finally catch up with them, thank them for what they have done and spend a few hours socialising and networking with other speakers at the conference. It was an even bigger pleasure to arrive and find that the evening was well catered, with a selection of hot hors d'oevres and a bar offering beer, wine and spirits. It was a truly welcoming evening and certainly made me feel that my participation in the conference was appreciated.
So, day one started early with the registration. I arrived mid-way through the registration and was greeted by Brad and the entire TPS team, a selection of sponsors and the complete EllisLab team, who (amongst others) were handing out a variety of freebies and goodies for all conference attendees. As anyone will know, the way to a geeks heart is through freebies and the buzz at the sheer quantity of free branded t-shirts, badges and glasses was akin to a 6 year old given free reign in a sweet shop.
Once registered, there were boards around the area with directions to one of the three rooms where the talks would be held along with the itinerary of what was being shown that day. It was at this point we were also intro ducted to what should win the award for one of most genius branding exercises for the entire conference, Adrian Macneil of Exp:resso Store, who sponsored the 'Expresso Stall' which offered free coffees/expressos and lattes to all conference attendees.
And so we begin. Suitably armed with a collection of EllisLab/EECoder/EEConf freebies and caffeinated up to the eyeballs on free espresso's we started with a Keynote from Derek Jones of EllisLab. Quite an inspiring talk and made me feel like they'd really stepped up to the plate for this conference. I have to say, EllisLab on the whole have really upped their game in recent months and the attendance of their entire staff at the conference, coupled with their completely open and pro-active attitude was an absolute pleasure.
EllisLab invitation for everyone to be open and speak to them was echoed at the subsequent Q&A session and it was a refreshing change for a company plagued with communication issues in the past to really try and engage with the audience. They have certainly tried to work on this and it clearly showed - even answering some (at times) difficult questions including "Whats happening with CI & MojoMotor" and "What's the worst things you've done as a company".
I won't give too much away as all the talks were recorded and will be available in the next couple of weeks, which is a huge plus to Brad and his team since I spent most of the days talks with one eye and ear on the talk and the second on my impending talk which was scheduled for the end of the first day, however - from what I did hear, the talks were both informative and enlightening. It was clear that all the speakers I'd seen had prepared and researched all of their chosen subjects carefully. With a nice combination of technical, business and strategy talks it appealed to quite a large variety of the crowd.
I wont go into detail about my first talk "Think of the Consumer: Customising the Control Panel", as it will be available on video if you'd like to watch it, but suffice to say, it seemed to be popular with a good Q&A session at the end.
And so day 1 conference finished and everyone headed to the hotel bar to discuss what they'd learned during the day. For some it was vindication that they're doing things 'correct', for others it was a learning curve and an opportunity to grill some of the speakers in some more detail about their talk subjects. There were the usual sea of laptops and mobile devices, users crowded around single devices being shown something particularly 'interesting' or 'new' - there were even add-on developers offering free support for other users of their wares!
Shortly after, the evening reception opened which was fully catered in one of the conference halls with hot roast beef, salmon, pasta, salads and breads and a huge variety of desserts to make even the most decisive of people pause for thought. Throughout the reception, Brad and his team were constantly milling around the room - moving from group to group and engaging with all the attendees. Derek and the EllisLab team were also in the room, deep in conversation with or laughing along with attendees and cracking jokes as if just one of the crowd.
Day 2 started pretty much as day 1 had with the Espresso Stall opening and plying the morning crowd with their obligatory caffeine fix.
My talk that day was scheduled in for lunchtime, so spent the morning again half listening to the talks while putting the final touches on my talk on "Multi-Lingual EE" and adding some lighthearted humour to keep the crowd engaged.
Again, there were a good range of talk subjects - business, strategic and technical to keep everyone happy and it seemed that during all the talks the crowd splintered into the three rooms quite well.
At the end of day 2, all the attendees congregated into the main conference hall for the wrap-up where Brad handed out a number of awards - everyone of them a deserved winner - being presented with a plaque with their award engraved/etched.
It was then that Brad thanked all the team and the speakers, a sentiment echoed by Derek Jones, who also congratulated Brad on putting together an amazing conference.
At this point, Brad invited comments from the audience on 'things he could do better' - on the whole everyone agreed it was an extremely well executed event, with the common theme that people wanted more talks, focussed tracks (business track versus tech track) and more workshops (possibly putting them on separate days).
My thoughts on the conference were that it was one of the best EE conferences I've been to. From the very beginning, I was made to feel welcome, his team were extremely well prepared (even when I realised I'd left my VGA adapter for my laptop at the office!) and even running to get me a bottle of water right before my speech when I'd forgotten (Thanks Jen!).
I think it was Angie Herrera (@angieherrera) who summed it up perfectly by saying that these conferences are like 'family reunions' - and that is right on the money. The ExpressionEngine community is unique in every way. We share work, we collaborate, we help each other and it does feel like an extended family.
What for future years? Brad and the team are 100% committed to the conference and the brand, which was abundantly clear from the organisation in this years conference. His desire is to make EEConf bigger and better next year, aiming to smash the 300+ attendee barrier. Next year, he plans is to switch it to the East Coast (with Washington DC being floated as a potential venue) and then alternate East-West every year. He's also even flirted with a European and/or Australian conference! At this point in time, it feels as though Brad is 'finding his feet' - he's admitted he knew nothing about organising conferences going into this - but I have to say, he did a damn fine job and I can't wait to see what he comes up with after a couple of years experience!
Take it from me, the EEConf is firmly on the tech-map and going nowhere but Up! My advice is to start saving now for next year and come and experience what it means to work in possibly the best CMS framework out there with the absolute best community out there!