Monday, January 17, 2011

CodeMash 2011 Wrap Up

CodeMash 2011 is in the can and I’m mostly recovered after a weekend at the Kalahari and several naps yesterday.

Behind the scenes we organizers had a number of issues that gave us a load of last-minute grief, but hopefully we did a good enough job that most of those issues never leaked out in to public.

One of the big things we’ll refactor for next year is our approach to keynoters. Every year in the previous conferences we’ve had the same basic setup: 20 – 30 minutes for attendees to get their food prior to the keynoter kicking off their talk. This let us hold meal periods to 90 minutes, enabling us to not lose an additional breakout session right after keynoters. This also enabled us to get three great keynoters each conference, something I don’t think any other conference around does.

This arrangement has worked extremely well in the past; however, this year attendees made it clear by their Tweets and especially their behavior during the keynotes that they wanted a better separation of meals and keynotes. As a result next year we’ll likely drop down to one single keynote following a longer meal period. We’ll lose one additional breakout timeslot, but it will give everyone more time to deal with the logistics of getting though the food lines. I’m personally saddened by the loss of the two additional keynoter slots, but we need to follow what our attendees are pushing for.

Note on the food lines: Unfortunately, we had two meals that were quite honestly train wrecks regarding long lines at the buffets. I’ll personally take the hits on these due to some miscommunications with the venue’s catering folks regarding timing. This is the first time in five conferences we’ve ever had this problem. I covered the issues with the Kalahari’s awesome staff during the post-conference wrap up with them. Please trust me: the problem of grossly backed up buffet lines will never happen again. Ever.

Note on the Thursday lunch “keynote”: It wasn’t a keynote. This was specifically a special launch event. We thought it was a wonderful opportunity to have something of a global impact showcased at CodeMash. We’d be happy to consider other vendors approaching us for future events of a similar nature. We’ll also work harder to ensure everyone understands the differentiation between launches and keynotes.

We’re also going to consider refactoring the notion of allowing family members to eat with the attendees. As was very obvious, CodeMash has been extremely limited in venue space the last couple years – the dining hall is completely full with attendees, so there’s no physical space for family members or guests to eat meals alongside the attendees. Previously it’s also been a nightmare to deal with the separate billing required to cover food costs.Thankfully two things have happened that remove a couple significant roadblocks.

First, our move to Eventbrite for ticketing has GREATLY reduced the headaches associated with our registration system. We should be able to handle the mechanics around separate meal-only tickets now. Secondly, the Kalahari is adding on new construction that jumps their conference space from the current 18,000 square feet to well over 120,000 square feet. As a result, we’ll have physical space to seat a lot more folks. We won’t turn CodeMash in to a huge 5,000 attendee conference, but we certainly should have the space for attendees and guests to chow down together.

To be clear: Guests during mealtimes isn’t a done deal, but we’re certainly going to have a hard look at it.

OK, so on to a few things I consider highlights of CodeMash 2011 – and I have a much different view of things I personally find successful than most other attendees.

  • The waterpark party. Wow. I figured a few hundred folks would be down in the waterpark. Instead, when I finally got down there at 11:30pm to check on the status of things I saw a waterpark filled with happily screaming people. And that was the adults! Kids were having even more fun! This will definitely be on the list for future events. (I’d fear for my personal safety and health if I dropped it off the list.)
  • The Wednesday night band. There’s an amazing story behind The Womack Family Band and Chris Castle showing up, but I’ll leave that for another post or you can ask me in person. Chalk it up to the amazing great karma CodeMash seems to have picked up over the years.
  • Open spaces. This year’s open spaces were, to me, the most successful yet. We’ve had more sessions on the board in previous years, but this year the conversations in the Grand Hall were all intense, highly engaged, passionate discussions. It was just awesome to see those going on.
  • My Wednesday at midnight (appropriately) dive in to “Are You A Werewolf?” I was physically wiped out and emotionally drained after a long, stressful day when Steve Smith and others in one of the game rooms hollered at me to join the game. That 45 minutes of fun got my head back on right and gave me the kick to roll through the rest of the conference. Many thanks, folks!
  • KidzMash. Another “Wow.” Melissa Insko took off with this and added on a whole second day of activities. Lots of great stuff going on there, and I’m so happy she and Darrell Hawley did such an amazing job lining up fun things for the kids and families.
  • The attendees. CodeMash is great because we get great speakers to show up and deliver great content, but CodeMash is awesome because we have an amazing crowd of attendees who show up excited about learning and ready to get engaged with new ideas and people they’d otherwise never reach out to. Thanks to all of you!
  • On a closing note, I have to thank the amazing crew who puts on CodeMash. A large number of newcomers to CodeMash don’t understand that the conference is organized and executed completely by volunteers – and a tiny crew of them at that. I’ve heard of similarly-sized events having volunteer staff of 30 – 100 staffers. We do CodeMash every year with SEVEN, plus a couple on-site helpers.

    The core organizing committee, aside from myself, are:

    All youse folks are awesome, and it’s amazing to work with you again and see you do tremendous things. (Want more details on how cool these folks are? Read my post from last year I am not CodeMash.)


    Anonymous said...

    Jim - Great conference, yet again. Every year you guys do an awesome job, making this a can't miss event for me and many of my colleagues.

    A thought about the keynotes. I added to the fodder a bit by lashing out through twitter at the MC during the Ford keynote. By his own admission, what Ford was doing with tech wasn't ground breaking stuff, just new for the auto industry. I understand people wanting to talk, and support it. I think the MC (sorry, I don't know his name) handled the talking terribly. Effectively, he treated the attendees like children and admonished us for talking. I half expected "go to your room, your grounded" at the end of his diatribe, but instead was told to "leave if we wanted to talk". Cool, we left.

    I, too, would be sad to see the keynotes go. I really enjoyed Chad Fowler and Scott Chacon's keynotes. I like the different perspectives they presented.

    I guess in short, I'd encourage something along the lines of keeping the keynotes. Offer attendees two eating areas, one for "talkers" and one for "listeners". If you are interested in the keynote, go listen to it. If not, have a separate area for attendees to eat where they can talk. Perhaps post signs highlighting the two areas.

    Again great conference, I'd encourage you to not veer too far from the winning formula you already have.

    Anonymous said...

    +1 to the idea of talkers vs. listeners eating areas if it's possible. I like the fact that you can hear three different perspectives in the keynotes instead of just one.

    Although the MC could have handled it better, IMO it's just plain rude to talk through someone else's presentation. There were plenty of other areas where people could convene to talk. Possibly, the long buffet lines contributed to people not getting to sit, eat and converse before the speaker started.

    Anonymous said...

    Jim - another great conference by you and your folks, I have been to all 5 years of CodeMash and have enjoyed most of the keynoters throughout. While I don't necessarily agree in the way Keith handled the situation, I do believe that the people who where there talking during them to be very rude (and acting like children) and should have known better. I think having separate eating areas is a good idea to keep the keynotes but allow those that are not interested to eat else where. As for the problems with the lunch, I think it would make it easier if we could go to a boxed lunch like we did in the past to help shorten the lines and spread out where they are at to reduce the lines further. Another thing the staff could have done was when the food was ready and the lines were starting to let those that were there go ahead and start that way the lines don't back up as far. Besides this, the staff at the Kalahari do a wonderful job and I think it is a great venue for such a great conference. I hope with the expansion next year, there will be other places to hold the Open Spaces because where they were this year did not work out too well, there was music playing and quite a few people sitting around chatting. Thanks again for all your hard work.

    Anonymous said...

    One other suggestion whenever Jim Weirich is speaking make sure he is scheduled in one of the larger rooms, his talk was packed and was in the small room.

    Jim Holmes said...

    @ 3rd Anonymous poster: we will never, EVER go back to box lunches!! :)

    The buffets offer us MUCH better food options. They've always worked smoothly in the past -- we unfortunately had a couple timing issues that caused the long delays. It's fixed (Thursday dinner worked great) and won't happen again.

    Also, to folks in general: I understand some folks got their feathers ruffled by Keith's brusque message -- but frankly it would NOT have sunken in to the offenders if he'd said it in any other fashion. I'll back him up 100% on how he handled it -- you don't want to know how I would have dealt with it. We'll also work on changing the environment, which is the right answer anyway.

    Anonymous said...

    Jim and all organizers.

    Another great, GREAT, CodeMash this year. The conference is huge fun and an amazing value. Thank you to you and all the organizers.

    I'll also weigh in on the keynotes. There are two sides to the issue.
    On one hand, yes, the audience(including myself) was too loud. The noise level was not respectful to a CodeMash guest.
    On the other hand, the highlights of the Ford keynote were a dry, bullet-point laden presentation (with no sound the first 10 minutes) and a poorly-timed, childish diatribe by the MC.

    As you can imagine, there was much talk about the Ford keynote in the hallways but I heard no one say the solution was to remove 2 keynotes and 1 breakout session. That seems like an overreaction to me. Personally the idea of losing 2 keynotes is bad but losing a breakout session would be awful. In terms of mindshare that's a huge amount of opportunity lost. Perhaps a better, simpler solution would be to schedule the keynotes during breakfast and lunch periods and a reminder to the attendees, at the beginning!, to make the extra effort to keep the noise down to a respectful level.

    Anyway, it was a great conference, including lunch lines and all the keynotes.

    Mark Haskamp
    mrhask at gmail dot com

    Anonymous said...

    Keith's "brusque" message may have rankled the crowd but the timing was awful. By the time he lashed out the only thing it definitely accomplished was to embarrass the speaker.

    --Mark Haskamp

    Ryan Cromwell said...

    It was awesome. Had a blast and learned a ton. Hope you all get a much deserved break. See you next year.


    Mike said...

    Hi Jim,

    It seemed that we also had issues with sound during the keynotes. I would also suggest that someone from the Kalahari IT staff stick around for about 5 minutes into a keynote to be sure the levels are good and that there is no feedback.


    Steve Horn said...

    From my perspective everything went off without a hitch. No doubt, this is due to your scrutinizing of details and ability to refactor.

    Had a great time, can't wait to do it again!

    Jon Kruger said...

    Personally I'd be sad to see the keynotes go... as far as people being rude, I think a lot of this had to do with not being able to hear the speaker. It took a lot of effort to hear what he was saying so I think a lot of people decided they would rather just talk, which made it worse. I don't remember ever having this problem in the past, even during the less interesting keynoters. I thought TJ had some interesting stuff to say (even if it didn't apply to my career like the other keynoters), but it took more energy and focus to follow it because I had to listen harder. If the sound were loud enough, I wonder if it would've been too much of a pain for people to talk over him.

    Every year it seems that 2 of the 3 keynotes are really good, so I'd be sad if we only had one and that ended up being the one that wasn't as good, or in this case we would've missed out on either Chad or Scott.

    mgroves said...

    I was going to leave my critical two cents on the keynotes, but honestly it's minor hiccup compared to the rest of the conference, which was amazing.

    Vanessa said...

    Hi Jim-

    It's so great to hear that using Eventbrite has helped things run more smoothly...we love to hear that!

    Congratulations on hosting such a successful event!
    Vanessa (Eventbrite's PR Manager)

    Anonymous said...

    The buffets may offer "more" food options but it doesn't mean it is always good. I would have rather had a good ham or turkey sandwich and chips than whatever that "roast beef" was on Friday.

    Anonymous said...

    With box lunches on Thursday, I would not have had to wait until after 1 o'clock to finally get up to the buffet and then they ran out of chicken and we had to wait another 15 minutes while they cooked up more. Also, if you are looking at allowing family to purchase meals would it be possible to make meals (maybe lunch and dinner optional)?

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Jim - As everyone said, another great CodeMash and kudo's all around to all of the organizers. Overall the issues with the food and the talking during keynotes are minor and while you want to learn from each year to make the next better you don't want to over-react.

    The lines for breakfast and diner were great because people arrived at varied times. At lunch everyone is there all at once and in a hurry to get to the keynote. It's no surprise if you're trying to move 700 people thru 6 lines even at 15 seconds a piece it will take almost 30 minutes. Speaking personally, I attend for the people and presentations so I would gladly eat a boxed lunch rather than lose keynotes, breakouts or even chat time at the lunch tables. Maybe a happy in-between might be to have one serving table with simple boxed lunches and the other two with hot meals?

    As far as the noise went, yes it's rude to talk during a keynote but responding with more rudeness is probably not the best approach. A simple reminder would probably have sufficed. I'm always reminded by the saying that if you treat people like children, they will act like children and if you treat them like adults, they will act like adults. I teach an after school programming class to Jr High students and they get pretty rowdy but I've never had to chastise or belittle them like that to settle things down. I suspect he didn't intend to come off quite that strong but once again another lesson learned towards making future years even better.

    Don't let peoples feedback on the 0.01% of things that didn't go perfectly overshadow the other 99.99% of things that went great. CodeMash continues to be a great event and I think everyone who attended is already making plans to attend next year.

    Thank you for all your effort and time that went into making CodeMash the success it is.

    Corey Haines said...

    As always, Codemash was well done and enjoyble. I would hate to see the keynotes go simply because we had misunderstandings this year.

    I think the idea of separate lunch rooms is a reasonable one to consider, as there really is a need for a large area where people can sit and talk. The A/V problem was a huge contributor, as I was sitting in the back and couldn't hear a thing. This definitely contributed to a difficulty in remaining interested in the speaker.

    I posted an idea to the mailing list that was inspired by the MS launch event. I'd love to hear thoughts on that:!topic/codemash/C_M-uHUaWZc

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