Running Great Technical Conferences

As some readers may know, for five years I ran a small (about 350 people) conference here in Boston. Originally called Flex Camp Boston (and obviously focused on Flex), it was renamed RIA Unleashed and subsequently Web Unleashed. The event still exists, run by FITC and occurring this September in Toronto. I loved running this event, and generally enjoy running events overall. This is why I was interested in reading How To Plan And Run A Great Conference Experience by Zach Inglis. It’s a very good article and you should definitely read it if you have interest in the topic. However, I had several points I thought needed adding and one I disagreed with. Much of this was mentioned in my comment there but not I’ve edited it and amended it a bit. On paying speakers - One complication I came across (at least for US based conferences) was paying international speakers. There may be legal/tax laws that complicate paying international speakers (especially over certain dollar amounts), and this may vary from country to country, depending on where you are running your event. I don’t know the specifics but it’s worth noting. Promotion - In my experience, getting the word out was the hardest part of running any event. It’s common for first time organizers to think they can rely on high profile speakers to get out and promote your event, but they are usually mistaken (nothing against the speakers as I’ve been one many times). Promoting the event required a lot of research on things like relevant user groups or mailing lists and the use of targeted discounts (I used codes) to figure out which avenues worked best and double-down on them. WiFi, WiFi, WiFi - It’s so hard to get this right (because you are often at the mercy of the venue or vendors) but so important for a technical conference. Complaining about WiFi at tech conferences is like complaining about the weather, everyone does it from time to time. It never seems to be perfect, but pay close attention to this as it can really ruin the experience if your WiFi is unusable by a large portion of your audience. Expect to lose money? - The author states that you should and it is the one area I disagree with. I nailed down sponsors to cover the guaranteed costs from day one - before the conference was even announced. I learned quickly (an;d through trial and error) where you can cut costs and minimize risk. Things like find out what the minimum guarantees are to secure your preferred venue and only guarantee that (they can always up food or other expenses but they will never lower them once you sign); and plan on a range of 10-20% no shows (regardless of how much you charge - for free events this is much higher) and plan food and swag accordingly (you’ll learn your percentage range over time and this can be useful even to carefully oversell seats, which can really improve profitability). The point is, with careful planning, this doesn’t have to be a money loser. I always had the expectation that I would not make money but I also was not going to lose money (not including time spent, obviously). Organizers who lose money are less likely to run the event again, which, in and of itself, does a disservice to their attendees. Be prepared to be scared - My first year I sold out quickly. However, this is not necessarily the norm (and wasn’t in subsequent years). In fact, a majority of tickets will be sold during the last 2-3 weeks. A month before, you may be scared out of your mind that the event will be a failure only to find that you sold out or hit your targets in the end. This became a pattern every year after the first and is something I have confirmed with many conference organizers. However, you cannot be reactive, relying on last minute promotions to salvage things. Start any big promotional push early enough that it can have an impact in those final two weeks because, most likely, any promotion you start in the last two weeks doesn’t have enough time to get the traction it needs to succeed. (A side note on this topic, it seems that many people make the decision to attend early but wait until the last minute to make purchases - I’ve done this many times myself, and can explain why last minute promotions don’t have a great impact). If you’ve run an event and have tips and opinions to share, I encourage you to comment on the [article]((

Posted by on 16 August 2014 | 6:12 am

The Best Features in ECMAScript 6?

Recently I had the chance to attend QCon NY. Actually, I was fortunate enough to be on the programming committee and to lead a track there. My track was called “Beyond JavaScript” and one of my featured speakers was Dr. Axel Rauchsmayer speaking on ECMAScript 6 (i.e. the next version of JavaScript). I was very excited that Axel was able to attend all the way from Munich, as he is well known expert on ES6 (and author of the new book “Speaking JavaScript”). During my time at the conference I was able to interview Axel. We mostly discussed the process whereby new features are added to the ES6 spec, using JavaScript for enterprise development and which features Axel is most excited about in ES6. So what two features did Axel choose as his favorites in ES6? I think you may be surprised, but you’ll have to watch or read the interview on InfoQ to find out.

Posted by on 23 July 2014 | 6:12 am

Comparing Static Site Engines

As part of researching for restarting this blog as well as for my work developing the Telerik Developer Network, I researched several of the most well-known static site engines. Specifically, I tried to build this site using Jekyll (which is what I ended up using), Harp and Roots. These were the three engines listed prominently on the resource site. I really think that many sites, especially those focused purely on content, can potentially move away from dynamic, CMS-driven site architectures that can be a burden to maintain, to purely static HTML with a “back-end” that generates the site locally. I wrote up my experiences and review of each for the Telerik Developer Network in an article entitled “Static Site Engines Battle Royale”. If you are interested in static engines, are considering a move or are just curious what the whole thing is about, check it out.

Posted by on 22 July 2014 | 6:15 am

Starting Anew

Almost 10 years ago, on January 1, 2005, I started a blog called Remote Synthesis. The name came from synonyms for “Cold” and “Fusion” as ColdFusion development was my primary focus back then. A lot has happened in 10 years. The blog gained a good deal of popularity during the years that I was working on my popular ColdFusion code generator and posting the ColdFusion Open Source List. It remained somewhat popular during my years working with Flex and running the Flex Camp Boston conference (later RIA Unleashed and now Web Unleashed). Eventually, when joining Adobe, my focus started to drift from that blog to publishing elsewhere - on the Adobe Developer Connection that I was helping to run and other writing responsibilities. In 2013, I started a site called Flippin’ Awesome (now part of The Modern Web). While it included the contributions of many authors, including myself, it took most of my free time and effort to keep it going. It became very popular (and still is). I kept trying to blog, but found my focus and interest waning. Compounding this was the fact that my blog ran on a severely outdated version of ColdFusion and old CF-based blogging software and that it looked hideous on mobile. While nearly 10 years of content has some value, most of the content was outdated and I had no intention of fixing this. Thus, I decided it was time for a fresh start…which is what you are looking at. I don’t plan to blog frequently, but occassionally. I know my audience will be limited, but…so what?! My audience back in 2005 was 1 - just me.

Posted by on 1 July 2014 | 5:15 am