Review: ZendCon 2009 & Uncon Chaos

Well, ZendCon has officially been done for a week… so what is there left to say that Ed Finkler, Travis Swicegood, Helgi Þormar Þorbjörnsson, Ivo Jansch, Michelangelo van Dam, Akeem Philbert, Anna Filina, Jason Austin, and Bradley Holt haven't said?

Well honestly, not much… so I'm going to do some quick hits and move on.

The Good

First, Zend deserves special thanks for all the support they gave the unconference this year. Our rooms were in the main space, we had whiteboards, there was a message on the schedule page of the program, there were mentions during the opening keynote, and they even let me write an email to all attendees.  Wow. Andi and Eli and Andrea deserve a major thanks for that one.

Next, the location was great. There were very few people in the attached hotel, but most of us were staying across the street, so it made meeting up incredibly easy.  Even better, there were some great bars and restaurants within a 10 minute walk.

Next, this year we tried a rolling release on the Unconference scheduling. Instead of doing it all at once, the voting was continuous and by mid afternoon, we'd schedule the following day.  It gave us the opportunity to adjust and adapt the schedule based on events while simultaneously giving people a chance to find out about the sessions happening each day.  Huge thanks to Stefan Priebsch for suggesting this after php|tek 2009.

Most importantly in my book… the conference attendees were amazing at pitching, voting, and attending Unconference sessions. This year we had too many sessions to choose from and the voting became fast and furious and not all made the cut.  To those who did, THANK YOU for presenting or moderating or just generally sharing creative ideas.  You guys did a fantastic job all the way around.  To those who didn't make the cut… don't forget that php|tek is this May.

The Bad

The coffee… where'd it go? If you haven't figured it out by now, the
vast majority of software development and developers are driven by
caffeine.  After each break, the coffee would disappear in a matter of
minutes.  There were literally times where I'd be walking to the
coffee, stop to say hello, and turn back to see the coffee rolling away.

The planned parties were mediocre. Yahoo didn't do their regular party.  The open bars had a mediocre selection and overall they were relatively short.  Luckily, the Microsoft crew – led by Josh Holmes – made arrangements for us to run amok at the Bing Party in downtown San Francisco.  Throw in an open bar and a free copy of Windows 7 and there was much amok-running going on.

The Ugly

The opening keynote was… lacking. It consisted of a series of well-rehearsed but incredibly dull project presentations and a product demo.  Generally an opening keynote should energize and get people excited for what is coming.  In some ways, it served the opposite purpose and dampened my enthusiam about things.

A few of the presentations were terrible. Yes, at most conferences, there is a bad presentation or two, but there seems to be this growing pride in getting slides done at the last minute and going on with zero rehearsals.  Personally, I find this annoying and borderline offensive.  There are quite a few people who are spending huge money – quite often thousands of dollars – to attend.  It's disrespectful to give them anything less than your best.  And yes, I've been guilty of it before and I don't plan on ever doing that again…

Disclosure: I'm so horribly biased on this one that I have nowhere to stand… I was the Unconference Chair, the highly esteemed Eli White (aka Zend Community Manager) is a good friend and Zend was even cool enough to not only pay my travel/hotel expenses, but they also set me up with one of the nifty Netbooks.  Luckily, being biased is not the same as being wrong…