Scotch on the Rocks 2010 (an insider's review)
With Scotch on the Rocks 2010 now complete, and a myriad of positive reviews and comments throughout the blogosphere and social media, it is now safe for me to come up for air, although not for too long.
Into the fray
Despite being on hand towards the end of last year's Scotch on the Road tour, and presenting in Amsterdam, Brussels and London in October 2009 for the Scotch European Tour, 2010 was the first year I was involved with the Scotch on the Rocks conference from day one.
It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in creating, organising and running the event, and a task that I think we can safely say we did well, given the issues with the global economy.
Typically at this point I, as others have done over the past week or so, would blog prolifically about the sessions attended, information and knowledge obtained and gained, and whether or not the seating compared to last year.
However, as part of the organising team this year, as well as being a speaker, there was very little time for me to sit down and check out any of the sessions with any real detail; I found myself running from location to location, from session room to registration area, briefly flitting in and out of various sessions and presentations I may have found myself in. This wasn't a surprise to me; I expected to be running around A LOT more that I ended up doing.
As such, I wanted to offer a brief overview of the conference from my point of view this year, as there were so many people involved in some shape or form to collate and organise details, events and paraphernalia to even attempt to implement a marginally successful conference.
Life on the other side
I doubt that anyone could or would sit back and think or assume that an event is put together without any level of hard work involved. Speaking not only from my own personal experience with the SOTR conferences to date, but also after speaking to and hearing tales from other event organisers recently, in the UK and the US, there is a lot of work that goes into organising even the smallest event, whether it's a user group forum, an online meeting or a multi-day conference (at varying scales of size and attendance).
This year's Scotch on the Rocks was no exception, and work began on creating this little beauty as far back as May/June last year, when I developed the holding page for the movie-themed SOTR holding page. Bear in mind this was when I joined the party; I'm probably safe in assuming that the Fuzzy Orange crew members at that time had been planning things a little while before then too.
Even recently, in the run up to the final weeks before SOTR 2010, just as the final touches needed to be put onto the printed items, final arrangements made for hotels, accommodation, travel and other necessities, we had already begun planning out the more intricate details for SOTR 2011.
Although seemingly a log way off, and literally minutes after closing the doors on this year's event, it does sound strange to even consider planning next year's conference. Ideally, you would want to 'down tools' and step away for a week or two to gather thoughts, catch up on much needed sleep (deprivation caused by either planning, late night work, late night drinks, or ANY combination of the afore-mentioned options).
Breaks have been taken, holidays have been booked, and week-long sessions pre-registered in the nearest spas and hotels to unwind with a pampered massage, cucumber eye treatment and a slathering of natural oils to 'unwind'. ( this is untrue.. no cucumbers have been or will be harmed for our relaxation and merriment)
Either way, work is already under way, and it's something I'm really enjoying being a part of.
Remarks, reviews and regurgitations
Firstly, a massive thank you to all of the speakers, who gave up their time and came to join us at SOTR to impress us and unload upon the attendees their hefty knowledge and skills.
From the sessions I made every attempt to sit in on, there were some that I didn't want to miss.
Aral Balkan's presentation on 'The Art of Emotional Design: A story of pleasure, joy, and delight' was as much intriguing as it was amazing to behold on the day. Without Aral mentioning it, you could tell that he was a seasoned presenter with a fantastic stage presence and the ability to present 'with' the audience, as opposed to 'to' them.
Despite the fact that most (if not all) of the CF developers attending the conference may have been there baying for blood after Aral's previous blog post which started the entire 'ColdFusion is dead' saga, the response from the actual presentation was amazing, and I'm sure everyone left that session feeling inspired; I certainly did.
Chris Mills, from the dev Gods who are Opera, put on a fantastic showcase of HTML5 and CSS3. I missed portions of this session as I was intermittently running around, but was excited to see the number of attendees.
I really wanted to have more of a cross-over between the development/design faculties, and asked the Opera guys specifically to come and chat at the conference to regale us with the advancements in browser rendering that otherwise may have gone unnoticed to a large portion of our community, as we sit buried beneath server-side code.
Chris did a great job, presenting in a relaxed, informative way to the group, and certainly gave me some ideas to explore HTML5.
As a 'virgin speaker' at conferences, I had little doubt that John's presentation at SOTR was going to be anything less than superb. An incredibly knowledgeable developer, as well as User Group manager for the Devon CFUG, John's discussion on 'SQL to HQL' was fantastic, and one of only two presentations I was able to sit through the whole way through.
The information passed to the attendees was incredibly detailed, but not 'in your face' theory. I was incredibly impressed at the level of samples and work that had gone into the presentation itself, with a detailed working example of each step to display the code and the output for every step.
Having taken John's 'cherry', we really hope he'll continue on the speaker scene and obtain more stage time. :)
I missed out on Ben's first presentation on Monday morning, as I was in the other room giving my presentation on 'Getting started with Adobe AIR'. I was lucky enough to be able to catch a fair portion of his second slot, 'Applying Twitter's API "Best Practices" In A ColdFusion Application'.
I love writing ColdFusion wrappers for public API's, and having written the monkehTweet API wrapper to interact with Twitter, I had a fairly good understanding of how their REST-ful API operated. This made this particular session of more interest to me, as it was fantastic to see how a similar REST system could be developed using ColdFusion.
As you would expect, Ben had a fantastic series of well-written and documented examples and code sources, and an incredibly detailed understanding of the best practices involved in emulating or creating a similar system in our beloved native language.
Sadly missing the end of the presentation (again, I needed to run off somewhere else), I'm really looking forward to checking out the code and samples which I'm sure Ben will make public at some point.
The staff at TigerTiger were incredibly helpful when arranging the event at their venue. A massive thank you to the manager Nathan and another staff member (so sorry I forgot your name) who helped me unload my car packed FULL with conference bags, sweets, brochures and everything else. That stuff weighed a ton.
Although quintessentially not a conference venue, I thought that the two-tiered layout of TigerTiger gave us a certain level of separation between the 'speaking rooms' and the networking/chillout/registration area, which certainly had enough seats and booths to house most of us as we enjoyed the free bar and met other attendees.
The rooms may not have been ideal for presentations, maybe not in comparison to other SOTR events, or other conferences; the dance floor built into the main room, although immense in it's coolness, didn't help that much, but we had to deal the best we could with the limited resources and options available to us at the time of booking and arranging the conference.
As Andy (Allan) mentioned in his final closing note at the end of the day on Tuesday 25th, a lot of the resources and options available to us when organising the event were limited, primarily thanks to the global economic craptaculon that hit the world a few years ago.
A five-year plan was developed to counteract the financial crisis, and to ensure that Scotch on the Rocks carried on in some shape or form. Two years in, we were delighted to announce that we were nearing the end of the 'lean times' and that things would improve from here.
Having said that, 176 people attended SOTR this year; the highest attendance for a single SOTR to date, which is fantastic, and as the numbers have been steadily growing year after year, it's clear to see that the community has always been behind the event and have kept it going.
Needless to say, the stress and worry of the last few days organising the event had lifted mid-afternoon on the final day, and watching Andy and the crows reactions to the updates and news on the plans for SOTR2011 was amazing. I swear I heard genuine excitement and happiness from the crowd when it was revealed SOTR was planned and fixed for the next three years, and that it would be back in it's spiritual home of Edinburgh, a beautiful and exciting city indeed.
More details of pricing (staying at the same price as this year), venue (Apex International in the city center) and hotel rooms can be found on the Scotch on the Rocks blog post.
Ultimately, my first foray into the hidden, back-end depths of organising a conference was fantastic, and I think we did a great job; (cue the trumpets as we blow our own for a little while :))
As mentioned at the start, we had fantastic help and input from numerous sources, including Cate (@gorillaworks), Nick Watson manning the registration desk, @ciqala for being uber-early on both days to help us set up and unpack... there are actually too many to mention all in all.
As for me? Sure, I missed out on some/most of the sessions throughout the two-day event, but it was more than made up for by being a part of a fantastic team organising a great conference.
The ability to meet faces new and old, catch up with people you know quite well 'virtually' on Twitter and from blog posts in real life was a massive bonus. I always like to think of events like this as not only an educational session, but also somewhere you can make new friends, new contacts and have fun, as well as catching up with old friends (and some fruity newcomers :) )
Hopefully the attendees had as much fun at the conference as we did. I certainly loved every moment of it, and am looking forward to 2011 with a clearer picture of what to expect when organising the event, and a higher level of excitement as I personally believe next year we're going to blow the roof and make it the best yet!