Space City JS2016-05-17
Space City JS just wrapped up this past weekend and I've had some time to decompress. I had a great time in my second year volunteering and I'm brainstorming ways to make it even better.
I was really impressed with the variety of speakers the organizers managed to wrangle, both in experience and geography. I was pleasantly surprised with some of the local speakers, whom I've heard speak at local meet-ups, the quality of their talks was markedly improved for the conference.
The conference theme was "a focus on creators of open-source", and I have to admit, I didn't know what to expect. I was tremendously impressed with the breadth covered by the talks, as well as the application to which the speakers addressed. I'm thinking specifically of Colin Estes' talk about Node at NASA, for at least some of the audience, the key takeaways were in how to introduce new technologies at a more conservative organization. It didn't matter that NASA is miles apart from the day-to-day of the conference attendees, the lessons learned were directly applicable to plenty of folks in a city like Houston, packed with established, conservative companies in fields like medicine or oil and gas.
Hosting the event at TMCx for a second year in a row and I'm even more impressed. I think we made better use of the space by providing full tables with built-in outlets so that plenty of people could setup laptops closer to the speakers/stage, rather than pushed back along the walls and crowding the outlets. This is something a lot of conferences don't manage well, as was the case at Clojure Conj in the Warner Theater.
I pick on the Conj because it, like Space City JS, was a single track conference of approximately the same size (what I would term a small conference).
Losing power briefly during Chris Oakman's talk, while unfortunate, served to demonstrate that with the attendance levels we had it would still be workable to speak without a mic. The acoustics were pretty good for a space of its size.
The quality of food was good - excellent by most conference standards. My issue is with the options made available to vegetarians, the organizers might have more insight into the expected number, but from what I saw it was largely an afterthought. I don't see any harm in catering a second, smaller menu to anyone with special dietary needs, rather than trying to work within the available menu at a barbecue restaurant.
Reflecting a personal bias here, I was a touch upset to learn that Katz's coffee lost power and the conference lost our promised supply of coffee. There's nothing to do for a situation like that and I don't think it reflects poorly on the conference or Katz's but it did set me wondering on how feasible it would be to drum up coffee from a second source within a limited time-frame like that. Otherwise, would recommend Katz's sponsorship again, A+ coffee.
Areas to Improve
I heard multiple times during the pre-party, at the conference, and before the event of how non-obvious the website was. People had issues finding the information they needed quickly and some had difficulty identifying where to buy tickets. In my mind this is an easy problem to solve and probably caused by the desire to make an impact. The site has a lot going on, and some of it is technically impressive - but ultimately it doesn't matter if it fails to address it's primary goal. I think we could take it down a notch next year and have this problem solved.
I am almost reluctant to suggest it, for fear of making the event too "big", but I think we could have improved attendance with better outreach to other meet-ups and groups in the area. The Node JS Houston and Houston JS meet-ups are some of the most lively meet-ups I've been to and I think we could have driven stronger attendance simply by making it known at other meet-ups that there was a conference happening. I'm thinking specifically of the Python Web Development meet-up and its ilk. I think I need to make a better effort on this front next year.
I go back and forth on this one, but I think it's ultimately worth addressing. I think the pre-party could have better served some of the attendees by offering alternatives for anyone not drinking, an option for iced tea would have been a small concession to make, in addition to the available glass of water.
The band felt a bit like it missed the mark, it's difficult to suit music to a crowd so large and most of the attendees wound up shouting their conversations over the music.
A Great Conference
Ultimately, I had a great time at Space City JS. The speakers were engaging, the attendees were interesting and the whole thing flowed along nicely throughout the day. Hats off to the organizers for pulling off a great event.
In the future I'll be looking for ways to be more useful as a volunteer in the days leading up the event, as that seems to capture the lion's share of the work required. The flip-side of this is that the organizers could probably broadcast if they need help in the weeks or months prior.