Thursday, 7 November 2019

Dreamforce - It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Dreamforce - It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

At the time of writing (Nov 7th 2019) Dreamforce is 12 days away. This year will be my 10th consecutive year attending, which doesn’t seem possible but here we are. In spite of my best efforts, I have learned a few things over the years which may be of use to those heading for their first event.

Packing List

Comfortable Shoes

While this feelst like a hackneyed trope, it really is one of the best pieces of advice, especially if you are exhibiting. You’ll be on your feet a huge amount of time, especially once you factor in breakfast sessions and parties, so make sure you aren’t in agony from a couple of hours in. If you need to put on smart shoes (to present, for example), pack them in your rucksack and switch into them only for as long as you need them.

Battery Charger

While you might think your phone has plenty of charge, Dreamforce days are long days. Yes there are charging points, but do you really want to stand there for 45 minutes just charging your phone. It’s also a great way to make new friends if you have some charge to spare!

Space in your Case

You will pick up swag, water bottles and your Dreamforce backpack. Make sure you have enough room to get them home. Also, remember that when picking up your Dreamforce backpack, you may now have two backpacks to manhandle. This is surprisingly easy to forget and it gets real old real quick fighting your luggage all the time.

Exhibiting is Tough

The first year I went to Dreamforce was, like so much of my career, just dumb luck. BrightGen had decided to take a stand, and one of the sales team who was due work the stand took up an offer elsewhere. So a couple of weeks out I was suddenly going to Dreamforce, but on a Booth Staff ticket. This ticket allows you entry to the expo and keynote broadcast rooms and that’s about it, so any ideas I had about attending sessions were not to be. Not that I would have had any spare time anyway, as for some reason everyone was really interested in talking to us about service management contracts even though we were the other side of the world with an 8 hour time difference.

Working a stand is a hard job at Dreamforce, as it’s a multi-day event. Early starts and late finishes are the norm and you have to make sure you are ready to pitch your wares at a moments notice. Don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of four long days on your feet, typically followed by Salesforce or customer events, so you’re still on duty. This is one trip I really wouldn’t want to recreate.

Fitting in Sessions is Tough

One piece of advice I always give to those attending for the first time - don’t sign up for too many sessions, as you won’t get to them. However many you think you’ll be able to make, it will be less, for a variety of reasons including the following.

Moving Buildings Takes Time

Even if it seems like they are really close to each other, such as moving from Moscone West to the Hilton, which as the crow flies is about 50 yards. However, you have to get out of your breakout room, which will take a couple of minutes, longer if you have questions for the presenter. Then you’ll have to get down one or two escalators - if multiple sessions or a keynote have kicked out at this time, you’ll be queuing there for a while. Getting out onto the street from ground level is a snip, but then you have to cross the road. If it’s anything other than early in the morning you’ll find a few thousand people with the same idea, so you’ll have to wait a while.Then you’ll funnel in to the Hilton, figure out where the room is and if you are early enough, join the queue of registered attendees. If you haven’t allowed enough time you’ll find that general admission has been opened up and there are no seats left. Suddenly your planned-to-the-second agenda is blown to pieces and it’s just after lunch on the first day.

If the buildings are a long way apart (Rincon Center to Moscone, for example) it has taken me 30 minutes to get between them around lunchtime. Don’t forget that you are in the middle of a big city, so you have all the standard delays that come with that plus Dreamforce traffic on top.

You Will See People You Know

Even if everything else goes to plan, you’ll bump into someone you know, either in person or online, and stop to chat with them. When you finish chatting you’ll realise it is now 10 minutes into your next session, which is in a different building to the one you’ve been chatting in. This happens to me all the time.

Keynotes Are Busy

Marc Benioff’s keynote is crazy busy, and if you are planning to attend that in person then you really don’t want have anything else to do for at least an hour before. The queues will be huge, and the metal detectors won’t help.

Anything involving American politics will be popular - Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama both generated queues around the block, which made any kind of movement, towards or away from the keynote, very difficult. I expect Barack Obama to be like this but multiplied several times.

Getting out of the main keynote rooms takes ages, as there are usually 5,000-15,000 people trying to funnel through 4 doors onto a few escalators. If you want to get anywhere quickly, either leave a few minutes early or wait 10-15 minutes.

The Trailhead Zone is Awesome

Once you get in there you won’t want to leave. But you’ll need to, in order to go to the next session that you’ve tried to cram in. So leave yourself some time to explore. I spend a lot of my time here.

Get to the Trailhead Zone Early

Most of the hands-on areas fill up really quickly, so if you don’t want to spend more time queueing, get there as soon as it opens. It also means that there will be plenty of swag once you’ve completed your challenge/trail/quest/whatever it is called this year. The lines for things like spinning the admin wheel of fortune, headshots, t-shirts etc are usually short or empty, so if you move quickly you can cover a lot of attractions in a short time.

And Stay There

As I mentioned earlier, I spend a lot of my time here. Not particularly for the hands on side of things, but for the theatre sessions. I usually prefer these to the full on breakout sessions as they are more bite sized and I can get a quick introduction to something I haven’t worked on before and if it piques my interest, I’ll then go off somewhere and learn more about it. There’s always a talk going on somewhere and you can just pitch up and start listening if something takes your fancy.

Don’t Forget your Badge and Lanyard

10 years ago you could get around with just the badge in your wallet, especially for the after parties. That’s no longer the case and you typically need the whole thing everywhere. Remember that you don’t have to wear it all the time on the street to advertise the fact that you are a tourist. 

You aren’t out with your Friends

By this I don’t mean that people are unfriendly or unhelpful, quite the reverse given the well-publicised Ohana community spirit. What I mean is that you aren’t out on the lash with a bunch of mates who will think it hilarious if you get smashed and cause a scene. You’ll be among colleagues, customers and partners who will expect you to behave in a professional manner. It’s very easy to undo a huge amount of work and hard-won goodwill with a single drunken episode, so always remember you need to stay in control.  Even if you don’t care about the effects on your own reputation and career, nobody else is there to watch you make an idiot of yourself.

It’s a Marathon not a Sprint

Dreamforce is four days, so don’t kill yourself trying to do everything on day one. This goes double for the parties - you won’t get much return on the investment for your trip if you are hungover all the time, and this will definitely reduce the sessions you can make it to (or stick around in!). If the lines are long in the Trailhead zone, get an early night and turn up first thing the the next morning - you’ll be glad you did.

Don’t feel bad about taking a time out whenever you need to. While there are mindfulness/quiet zones at the event, getting away from it all for a little while can be a nice change of pace. I usually walk down to the Embarcadero area and spend a few minutes looking at the bridges, boats and water.

Above all, have fun - don’t get so hung up on trying to do everything that you don’t enjoy the experience.

Don’t Miss Sessions

  • Mine
    I’m on at the Developer Theatre at 3:45 on Wednesday 19th, taking about UI Testing with Selenium and NodeJS.

  • Marc Benioff’s Keynote
    All the big announcements come at this keynote - there are plenty of overflow rooms if you can’t get there in person, and it will be streamed live.

  • Developer Keynote
    If you are a developer you’ll definitely want to see this one. Arrive early for decent seats.

  • Trailhead Keynote
    Always a riot and one of the loudest keynotes you’ll come across. Sit down the front to be deafened by excited MVPs! 

 

 

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