Conference season

Beck at Yahoo! Hack Day

Beck at Yahoo! Hack Day (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

Sometimes, it feels like I spend my life at conferences, either as an attendee, a speaker or maybe even just for some meetings with people who happen to be there. By and large, they are very well organised and it’s rare that I feel that the time I spend there has been wasted.

A few weeks ago, I had a free pass to a two-day conference down in London. The venue was local, the subject matter should have been of interest; cloud, SOA, mobile and REST and the price was certainly agreeable, so why did I only attend day 1?

Firstly, the venue itself didn’t endear itself to me. Although South Kensington is technically in London, it is hardly well-connected. Secondly, the conference took place in Imperial College London which is a sprawling university campus. Not only that, but the signage telling you where you needed to go was pretty poor. Even then, assuming you actually found the right room, there was a really good chance that the agenda had been changed without notice and you were in the wrong place.

Even if you found the right room, the breakout sessions were only about 45 minutes, so the speaker had just enough time to introduce himself and the subject before wrapping up. The sessions were either too superficial for the familiar or over the head of the novice.

All was not lost though. Over lunch, myself and a colleague bumped into Richard Johnson, the American founder of, in a local pub. His presence was completely coincidental and had nothing to do with the conference. He told us the story of how he remortgaged his house, his business, his dog and his wife to come up with the princely sum of $4m which he blew on a 30 second advert during the Super Bowl.

His was the first dot-com to do so and Yahoo! acquired the company shortly afterwards. Eventually, Yahoo disposed of the operation and it formed the foundation for which is one of the biggest internet recruitment companies around.

So although the conference itself had lost its sheen, the trip was not totally wasted. I probably learned more during the half hour chat with Richard (who was a total gent) than I was ever going to learn in the odd 45 minute breakout session.

So in a roundabout way – that conference was worthwhile (even though it wasn’t).


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