Monday, September 11, 2006

RubyConf*MI, a Retrospective

In the aftermath of a successful RubyConf*MI, I wanted to check back in with some of the organizers to get their feedback on how it went, and what they learned. After taking a short break to recover from all their hard work Craig Demyanovich, Zach Dennis, Brandon Keepers, and Mark Van Holstyn were kind enough to answer a few questions for me. (You can read my pre-conference interview with Zach, Mark, Craig, and Brandon Keepers here, and a pair of conference wrap-up posts are here and here.

What do you think was the biggest success of RubyConf*MI?

Craig: Some people said that the attraction of the conference was simply that it existed. Imagine it like this: "I couldn't attend RailsConf in July, and I won't be able to attend RubyConf in October. Bummer. Hey, wait! What's this? Another Ruby conference? Only $20? I don't have anything going on the 26th! I'm there!" That we could provide something great, especially for those who, for whatever reasons, couldn't attend the bigger conferences was our biggest success.

Zach: The interaction, communication and sharing of ideas. It is very encouraging and motivating when you get people people together, and those people talk and listen to one another.

Mark: I think the conference as a whole was great. I know I had a lot of fun. I think the biggest success was the ability to meet and talk with others. I enjoyed meeting new people, especially at Grand Rapids Brewing Company afterwards.

Brandon: People came, they enjoyed themselves, and hopefully they left knowing more than they came with.

What was your biggest surprise?

Zach: That people wanted coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, so I never thought twice about having it at the conference. Next year we will have lots of coffee!

Mark: I was surprised how many people we were able to attract, especially those who traveled many hours to get there. I am glad that we were able to spark so much interest and hope to make that grow next year.

Craig: I must say, I was also surprised a few days before the conference to read on the Ruby mailing list a post wherein a RubyConf*MI ticket was offered because someone couldn't make the trip from, I think, Minnesota. I thought it was great that someone would plan to come from that far and offer his ticket when he couldn't make it.

What do you plan on changing for next year?

Craig:Well, some people seem to like a cup of coffee in the morning; we should have some to offer. ;-) Also, I'd like to be able to offer a few prizes to the attendees. Beyond that, I'd have to have a look at the detailed feedback we collected, which I haven't yet been able to do.

Brandon: Next year, we want to step it up a notch all around: better preparation, better marketing, better communication, a bigger variety of topics, better refreshments.

Zach: Personally, I would like to do a two day conference where one day focuses on speakers and presentations and another day focuses on more of hands on training lab. I haven't talked to the everyone else on this yet, but I think that will make the conference more productive for those who attend both days.

There will definitely be more beverage choices, that is for sure!

One thing I don't want to change is keeping costs as low as possible for those who attend, to help encourage and promote the growth of ruby and the interaction between students, hobbyists and professionals.

In hindsight, what do you wish you'd done better in your prep work?

Brandon: I wish we had done a better job of building community leading up to the conference.

Craig: We should've started a bit earlier. However, the idea for the conference was only born sometime in the Spring, if I recall correctly. Given the short time to make it happen, I'd say we did well. Another idea: we should've asked for more advice from people who have planned and executed a conference. We've all been to various conferences. We had some idea what it would take. Doing it, though, was something else.

Zach: Overall things went pretty smooth. I know that we'll try to get more of the correspondence out of the way up front rather then trying to write announcement emails and brochure-like marketing papers as they're needed. Not that we were at Kinko's the day before the conference finalizing and printing things, it was more like 6:30pm Friday. ;)

Any advice for would be regional conference planners out there?

Zach: Have a great time planning your conference, keep an open mind, and get feedback from as many people as possible as early as possible.

Mark: Start planning early, get many peoples opinions, and don't try to do everything yourself! It is very rewarding to be able to bring such a wonderful day to so many people.

Craig: Start early! Many things will take longer than you think. Also, keep it simple. We had many grand ideas for the first RubyConf*MI; I'm so glad we didn't try to implement them all!

Brandon: Zach, Mark, & Craig are right on: start early, get lots of people involved, and have fun. The only thing that I would add is you should have someone that can be the "task master". Most of our planning was by committee, and while that is helpful and necessary, there are times when things just need to get done.

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