Saturday, April 06, 2013

Minnebar 2013

Today I went up to Best Buy (there's an annoying name if your B key is malfunctioning) to attend Minnebar 2013.  If you're not familiar with Minnebar, it's a conference (free) with a tech and business intersection focus.  So there's a mix of start up presentations, tech presentations, and things that fall in between.  The presentations come in 50 minute chunks with about six to ten going on at any one time, so there's a lot of variety you get during the day.  If you hang in the tech community in Minnesota long enough, you start to recognize and know a lot of faces as well.

I attended the following (full list of all presentations here).  If you were around me this year, I think I would have recommended going to presentations I wasn't going to.  Probably what I deserve for not sticking to the more technical presentations for the most part.  Not that I'm not impressed with anyone who has the cahones to stand up in front of an audience and deliver a talk, even if just for practice.  Scary stuff.

  • The Crowdfunding Panel: very good panel discussion about various ways to raise money for your start up.  Equity (investors).  Gifts (Kickstarter).  Debt (get a loan).  The consensus of the panel was that a few fully involved investors are better than hundreds of little investors and that the primary benefit of social funding was that it gave you a very strong feeling that your product was something that would be accepted by a larger audience.
  • Fundraising in Minnesota - it's increasing for the most part! I only got to watch ten or fifteen minutes because the room was so packed it was crazy.  I remember the room as the room where Justin Bacon presented his Lean Startup talk - lean being all the rage nowadays.  In the last presentation, one of the presenters stressed that there was too much emphasis on funding then prototype lately, and that it was worth revisiting the prototype and strong upfront work before funding model that, in his opinion, had better results.
  • Make Lean UX - someone has to explain to me the preponderence of women in UX.  I bet there's an article out there.  I have never been to a tech presentation before where I had a woman sitting on both sides of me, in front of me, and behind me.  Maybe it's not a preponderance, but just significantly more than in other tech fields?  Because it's new and men haven't claimed it?  Creative aspect?  Just changing times?  Unfortunately, most of the women near me walked out.  Not because the presenter was a misogynist, but because he didn't cover any new or interesting ground.  Lean is about cutting the crap and getting to something important.  Contrary to his presentation style (sorry if you stumble over here Lean UX guy, but you seemed unpracticed for your talk).  I did push the buy button on the Lean UX book he recommended on Amazon however, so he pointed me at a resource I think I'll get something useful out of when it comes to talking with my own UX folks.
  • Sorting Spaghetti: Structuring Large Javascript Applications - I have a bias.  I know the presenter.  Still, best presentation I attended today, both technically and sense of humor and preparedness.  He's an excellent developer with lots of concrete advice.  He honored the idea of unconference by fielding lots of questions and was capable of talking to all of them.  Glad he's back at my company benefiting our dev teams.  I always learn something talking to him, most of it applicable to my own code base which he helped design.  He also gave me the advice that I might want to use the Bones theme for WordPress while we were standing in the hallway, which may rank at the top of the bits of useful advice I received today.  His advice to strip the Twitter bootstrap buttons out of bootstrap might rank second.
  • Blogging and Open Source: The Power Creating Free Content Has to Either Serve or Enslave You - I met this presenter (and his wife) at Riverplace last year.  He's a highly paid Javascript consultant with a datepicking jquery addin to his name (not just a popular one, but the popular one).  The presentation was primarily about how he hadn't monetized any of his work when he was younger - blog or add in - and felt disappointed about it now.  To me, that's part of the story of being young.  Lots of missed opportunities, so you just pick yourself up and hope you came through the experience with skills that will get you lots of money.  The people who capitalized; they seemed luckier rather than more prepared or more talented.  The most amusing bit was the woman who was in the room before me that started asking him about how to learn about javascript.  I had the strong feeling she hadn't bothered to kick up a browser and type in javascript and Twin Cities.  Let alone just javascript.  And ironic in the context of a speech about monetizing your technical knowledge at a free technical conference.
  • Burning It Down -- Becoming an Agile Company - valid points about using scrum to overcome legacy development blues at a 50-strong company.  But nothing new if you've been doing agile for any amount of time.  It's fair to say "what do you know, you've only done agile at one company."  True, but I've had a few classes with folks who've been around the block.  I mentioned to one of the devs I knew at the conference that I'd just put a developer on my team in touch with his boss for a master's degree interview because he was one of the most knowledgeable large org agile experts I was aware of in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.  And a great former hairband member.
  • Become a Better Designer With Side Projects - this presenter seemed sort of sad, but maybe he was just really nervous.  I do know he was adamant that he didn't want to learn Ruby on Rails.  His side projects made him happy, but he didn't really speak to what he was learning from them.  He talked about how he met experts, that it got him job offers, that people liked the sites...but I was looking for concrete design concepts he learned from them and how he applied them to projects, and how he picked the particular experts he interviewed.  What it was about them that was exciting.  And I would have liked to hear that excitement in his voice.  I think side projects are exciting.  Even the failed ones.  And the ones going nowhere quick, like perhaps a stick figure comic site.  They teach you things you didn't know and give you a playground to try out new tools like Twitter Cards, and Kickstarter projects (so you can experience the frustration of a few folks at that first crowdsourcing panel yourself), and Facebook integrations, and the validity of various web metrics, and first hand experience of what does and does not drive web traffic.
Anyway.  An enjoyable day despite the presentations not being stellar (and that's the point of conferences like Minnebar; if I think I can do better, I should just present).  Saw the husband of the coworker who sits outside my new office.  Saw a coworker who was on the community volunteer committee with me and went into consulting.  Saw Ryan, who I haven't seen in forever.  Saw Brock, but apparently looked right through him.  Saw Eric (not the usual Erik, but Eric), who I hired into my company many years ago and who is now contracting.  Met some of Erik's friends (and Erik was there).  Met a coworker I hadn't met before.  Talked to Brady, who left my company not so long ago. And others.  Given there about a thousand people there (or at least registered) there was a pretty good chance I'd meet at least one person I knew.  Meeting a dozen and catching up on jobs and projects was a pleasant surprise.

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