This was my first time attending. One of the Support team’s managers has attended the leadership summit, but no one on the team had attended the Expo. Since it seemed to be more process oriented than anything else, our managers decided to send me and one other team member.
Said manager also attended (surprising us!) in order to get more applicants for our open Support roles.
Talks, panels and workshops
The majority of the conference was taken up by talks and workshops, usually 2 talks, 1 panel talk, and 2-3 workshops happening at the same time. It certainly provided a nice variety of sessions. Choosing what to attend wasn’t too hard either based on the topics that appealed to me.
While all the talks are recorded, I find that it’s hard to find time to watch them afterwards even if they’re available, so I did attend a number of talks anyway. Nevertheless, since they _are recorded…
My recommendation for anyone attending in the future is to skew towards workshops and panels.
Some workshops were longer talks with a small element of interaction, or had lots of interaction but were more for entertainment than practical hands-on exercises. Others were quite practical and provided good takeaways despite trying to distill what is often a half day or full day workshop into an hour.
The panels were interesting as they provided multiple perspectives on particular questions. I also really liked the format where some questions were prepared in advance, while other questions were taken for the audience from highest ranked to lowest. (All panel sessions used a site where audience members could enter questions and vote on ones that have been submitted.) The panel speakers were often specifically chosen with a range of organization size and types as well.
For all sessions, whether it was “good” unsurprisingly heavily depended on the speaker(s). Though in workshops, it also partly depended on the participants that you were grouped with. Many of the workshop facilitators specifically asked participants to join a group where they didn’t know anyone which provided more diversity in views when doing the exercises.
Sponsors and activities
While all the sponsors had swag and most were the usual pens, keychains, stickers, and tote bags, some were interesting and/or different:
- cupcakes (since no food was served at the conference)
- notebooks (while not unusual, one table had really artsy covers on them with no branding!)
- pins (also not unusual, but one sponsor had unbranded, high quality ones)
- socks in a tin
One thing I found quite different than at a lot of other conferences I’ve been to is the number of sponsors who have genuinely fun activities, many of which encouraged you to hang out at their booth longer.
- Support bingo card (though I can’t remember which sponsor this was)
- speed typing test (TextExpander)
- my favourite: card mailing station: pick a card, write a note, add an address and ZenDesk sends it for you
I appreciated that there was a Welcome Party the evening before the conference started. It was a nice way to get to know some other attendees before the start of the conference so that there were more familiar faces.
Almost all the other social activities were self-organized around a specific activity, though I joined a lunch group that was actually focused on a specific topic, namely the mentorship program, Aspire. It was a great way to get to know some more people in a small group setting while also learning about how the program works.
In the end, the question is, would I go again? or recommend a teammate to go?
The answer is maybe.
Personally, even though I enjoyed the conference, I didn’t feel like I had anything substantial to bring back to my team. It was a great way to validate that a lot of what we’re doing is what other organizations recommend and have found to be successful. We’re also fully remote but many of the talks assumed in-person interactions.
Previously, I felt the need to attend conferences because I was often the only one doing the type of work involved in my job. There was no one else to turn to within the organization, so I had to rely on the community. Whereas in my current job, we have a decent (and growing) size team where we all do the same work.
If you need to network, then definitely go.
Despite what I just said, I thought it was worthwhile for us to go. Since we’re actively hiring, it was a great way to get our name out, and to talk to people about GitLab and the amazing Support team we have. The manager who attended specifically sent people our way if they wanted to know more about the day-to-day work. I also gave out stickers (and often my card) in the hopes that it made the interaction more memorable.
Next year, I would want us to submit proposals for sessions, and send whomever gets accepted. I think we have a lot to contribute, especially from a remote-only perspective.