Elisabeth Hocke, 9/6/2018
FlixTechSummit 2018: learn. share. grow.
Our very first tech conference, the FlixTechSummit took place on June 28th and 29th. Our FlixTech colleagues, as well as our external keynote speakers, shared their insights and lessons learned related to product development, agile, data, infrastructure, collaboration, recruiting and much more. And the people made the event a huge success!
Why a Tech Conference in the First Place? Our Vision
The conference slogan was "learn. share. grow." and it says it all. This first event should get us one step closer to our long-term vision.
- We want to create a culture of sharing and learning among each other.
- We want our people to grow - since it's all about them! Let's enable our awesome people to celebrate and be proud of their continuous learning.
- We want to present ourselves, who we are and that we have our place as tech company, through sharing recordings of talks and summaries.
Sounds good? But how do we trigger people to learn from each other's experience, share their own stories, grow together and get inspired?
A Concept Evolution
When the idea of a tech conference came up, people gladly jumped on board. As organizers, we wanted the event to be an actual conference; our conference for our people. We brainstormed, collected ideas and got inspired from all those conferences we had attended ourselves in the past. What did we love? What did we miss? What would we need to implement already in our minimum viable product of a conference?
A concept evolved where we tried to incorporate the good, avoid the bad, and craft a well-rounded package. The version was still quite minimal. When making things concrete, however, the whole concept got way bigger!
- Given all ideas and submissions, we extended the conference to two days instead of only one.
- We decided to have professional recordings of our talks, so we have decent material to show the world what we have to offer.
- We opened the conference for external guests.
- We even created a public conference website!
We decided to be bold and make a great first event happen - within the timeframe of three months. Challenge accepted!
The Diversity Factor
One of the first steps was to find other people who wanted to drive the whole topic and contribute to bringing the conference to life. It was surprisingly easy to find fellow organizers from different parts of FlixMobility Tech! This was great since one of our goals right from the beginning was to find a group that would represent our diversity regarding roles, gender, age, background and location. Since the general idea of representation and benefiting from different perspectives should not be limited to the organizer group we extended it only to the following.
- It should be as easy as possible for our own people to attend the conference. We decided to do it "at home", at our headquarter offices in Berlin and Munich so people would not need to travel.
- The speakers should reflect our people.
- The program should reflect our topics.
- People should always have two options available to choose from. We had both our locations each as one track, streaming it to the other.
- Maybe most important: people should feel safe. It was a must to have a code of conduct installed from the very beginning, as well as an agreement on how to enforce it.
All in all, we are aware that we still have to invest more effort here, but it was a good start to create a conference that's as diverse and inclusive as possible and makes a statement for future endeavors.
Fostering Growth for Our Own People
We did not want the conference to become a roadshow of our most senior people. Instead, we wanted to have it support people on their way out of their comfort zone, stepping into the learning zone. Public speaking and sharing their own experience can be very scary! Still, it's an invaluable opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Also, we wanted to have the presented topics not be imposed, but be driven by our own people.
It started with the call for papers, asking everyone for talks and workshops. We were stunned at how many people actually submitted their proposals! Way more than the usual suspects who already gave internal tech talks. Based on these results, we decided to not filter out sessions for this very first conference, but support all our internal speakers and get them a slot. Only keynote speakers should be external to provide inspiration from the outside community.
We knew that many of the speakers had never spoken at a conference before. To support them properly, we paired each speaker with a mentor who already had experience as conference speakers themselves. Mentors provided advice, tips and feedback during rehearsals. In addition, one of our keynote speaker, Galina Bankova, facilitated a general speaker training. All these offers were well received and we indeed could watch our new speakers grow, continuously improving their skills.
Last but not least: For us it was really important to thank our speakers as they had a big part in making the conference happen. The least we could do is invite everyone to an actual speakers dinner. It was a great event!
It's happening! Expect the Unexpected
We not only had first-time speakers, we were in fact all first-time conference organizers. We knew this was going to be a bold endeavor taking time, effort and commitment. So we tried to see what experiences other conference organizers had shared already and also what pitfalls to avoid. After all, we only had so much time and people available to make it happen.
We planned for the unexpected, like speakers getting sick. We knew further things would come up - and of course they did. All in all, it seems we managed to cope with those incidents, but we have to admit it was quite stressful. Still, we learned a lot of lessons for the next event!
The first FlixTechSummit finally took place and it was great! Most things did indeed go very well: from setting up the venue, registration of attendees, to catering. Our volunteers did a great job moderating, supporting our speakers as track chairs and making sure the tech setup was working. Seeing an event come to life we had intensely planned for several months was wonderful. Our speakers performed very well and managed to even inspire further people to go out of their comfort zones and consider sharing their experience as well! What more could we want?
We received pretty good feedback about the event and people indeed got inspired to learn from each other and share more themselves. If you want to get an impression of FlixTechSummit 2018 yourself, check out our photo gallery or our Twitter moment. The conference schedule can still be found on our website. Several speakers shared their slides there as well. Even better, we have professional recordings of all the talks and impressions of the workshops. The first videos of our keynotes are already published on our FlixTech YouTube channel. Watch out for more to come and feel free to share via social media using the hashtag #FlixTechSummit!
What's next? After the conference is before the conference, right? We closed our first one with retrospectives, gathering all our lessons learned as well as ideas and proposals for a next event. And there are many of them! We only know another one will take place. How it will look? That's still written in the stars but we will do our best to make it great again!