We've been conducting a survey of Summit 2018, now that it's in the past, and wanted to share some of our immediate take-aways. The survey is still open for Summiteers until end of April 2018; you should have the URL in a follow-up email and can inquire in the Slack team if you need it.
The week kicked off with a huge hiccup, as the mail-merge used to produce the event badges dropped nearly a third of them, and we (I, really) didn't notice until far too late. Huge apologies, personally, for that massive screw-up on Monday.
Monday's breakfast was a little touch-and-go as well, as our first 200 arrivals consumed more than 500 breakfast sandwiches, leaving many Summiteers with nothing. I'd stopped making the "don't pile your plate" announcement last year, which may need to be reinstated. We're working on ways to deal with that on arrival day, when folks are coming in unevenly and announcements are difficult to make with consistency. We may move to a plated breakfast model on Monday, versus a buffet, although those are a great deal more expensive and make it harder to accommodate special dietary needs.
One comment I specifically want to address, because it's important to me:
If it was by choice that's one thing, but if there was any ounce of pressure to get the women into those costumes... that seems a bit... not cool? It was awkward. I know it wasn't to the level of 'booth babes,' but still had a similar feeling to it.
This is referring to @TheDevOpsDiva and @MSFTJenny, who appeared costumed as the PowerShell character. I want to be absolutely clear that these women are members of our community; Missy is an MVP Award recipient and Jenny is a Program Manager on the PowerShell team. Both created their costumes and appeared entirely of their own volition because they thought it'd be fun. I'd never permit an event I worked at to pressure anyone, female or otherwise, into appearing in a costume (unless we hired an actor specifically for that purpose, which wouldn't be something Summit would do). I entirely appreciate and respect the concern here; I'm not trying to attack the commenter. I just want to make it crystal clear that the women had the idea in the first place on this one.
Monday otherwise went off well, although some folks did feel that the Team Lightning Demos were overly Azure-heavy. Given Microsoft's extreme cloud focus these days, that's less than surprising, I suppose, but it's well-noted for the future. We know not every Summiteer is an Azure customer. We'd actually deeply love some engagement from other cloud providers, and are hopeful we'll see that in the future.
Actually, we did have one more snafu on Monday: our first attempt at lunchtime vendor sessions fell almost entirely flat, and we won't be using that as a sponsorship opportunity again. More on that toward the end of this article.
One of our breakfast selections, a French toast bar, didn't get a lot of love - and honestly, our logistics folks were a bit saddened by it as well. Most Meydenbauer hot breakfasts always include some sausage or eggs or bacon for those inclined, but the French toast "package" was just that, and nothing more. We've notes to watch for that in the future. We know folks prefer a more well-rounded breakfast. Sorry for that one.
Overall, I personally felt the food was great as usual, although food reviews are always a mixed bag. We know some of you would just prefer pizza all week, or "simple foods," but we're trying to accommodate a huge range of backgrounds and preferences on a budget, so we do the best we can. We heard a lot of "low carb" requests, but know that each meal was planned by a professional chef and a registered dietician to meet current nutritional recommendations; we obviously can't accommodate every possible dietary preference, and so we try to aim the middle ground of following basic guidelines for meal composition. We'll continue that going forward, and hope everyone can appreciate the rather impossible situation you get into when trying to feed 400 people on $78 per person per day (conference venue food isn't cheap, folks, and our venue is actually the best deal in town).
Finally, Thursday wrapped with Iron Scripter, which was our first competition of this kind. We'll do it again, and we've already taken numerous notes to improve and work out kinks. Strongly noted is the need to provide more specific detail of the competition in advance, so that people can figure out how they'll participate. Huge thanks to everyone who participated - we hope you had some fun on the last afternoon.
Some of what's on tap for next year: We're going to launch an OnRamp track, which will be a separate ticket at the same price. Those folks will participate in our Monday General Sessions, meals, and evening events, but they'll have their own hands-on class content otherwise. We'll have some of the industry greats teaching, with the idea of bringing new blood into our community each year. And, we'll be partnering with sponsors and Tech Impact's IT Works program to provide OnRamp scholarships to young people, often from disadvantaged situations or underrepresented groups. They'll all have completed a basic IT Operations education, including A+ and Cisco certifications. Our only sponsorship packages in 2019 will each include at least one scholarship, and we hope this can eventually help increase the diversity of our community in many ways.
Speaking of diversity, this is a common thread. I want to include one particularly well-written comment from our survey, but this wasn't the only one with this general theme:
* Acknowledgement by leadership that this is a problem might help
* Some orgs can help include speakers, attendees from underserved communities
* More active pursuit, but _not_ solely for diversity might help. There are some fantastic folks out there... This might be tough to do
Let me address this a wee bit. First, because many folks don't realize it, Summit has no paid employees. We're all doing this on a volunteer basis, in our spare time, and it already consumes a lot of that spare time. While I 100% agree with the above, and absolutely acknowledge the problem the IT industry has, in general, with diversity; we simply don't have the human-power to actively pursue particular presenters or attendees. We just don't. Adding one $60k salary to our (currently non-existent) payroll to handle this would add almost $350 to each ticket we sell, once you factor in payroll taxes, worker's compensation, and other overhead. That moves us to a $1950 ticket, which is more than anyone has indicated they're willing to pay for. What I'd love is for someone to volunteer to take on this task for us, as volunteers currently take on every other task we have to perform. I suppose, if I'm being snarky, I'd say it's all well and good to tell us what we could do better, but it's a lot more valuable to jump in and actually help us do it.
We've also seen comments like:
it would be great if we could offer some financial assistance to get some more diversity to the conference.
As noted above, we're going to try very hard to do that. Bear in mind that we're a nonprofit; we don't really have "extra money." Financial assistance without sponsors means raising the ticket price, and then we have to actually find those needing our assistance (which we're hoping to rely on Tech Impact for, since they're already working with them). Money and human-hours are this particular organization's main constraint; anyone willing to help solve that with a large donation or by contributing their time to help solve the problem will be welcomed with open arms, I promise. Drop me a line at donj@ (that's my email alias; you can likely figure out the domain name since you're on the website).
And bear in mind that we don't get huge sponsorships. If we got 4 (a record), that'd be 4 scholarships. If we bumped everyone's ticket price $20, we'd get 1 more. Five folks is about 1% of our attendance. I'm not saying we don't do it because it's not big; I'm saying that, even if we're hugely successful, it's not going to be hugely visible. I don't care about the visibility; we're going to try and make this happen because it's the right thing. Just know that it's not going to be an overnight turnaround for an industry with epically poor diversity.
On another topic: Booze. This also comes up in our survey, such as when we asked attendees what one thing we could drop from Summit:
Alcohol, but have no illusions that I will ever attend the summit and not be drinking with friends and peers. ?
I get it. I drink myself; I've had others tell me they don't mind being around people who are drinking (in moderation), and others tell me they won't be in an event where alcohol is served. All perfectly fine perspectives. Our goal is to try and make Summit inclusive, which means not making anyone feel like they have to be left out. Many, many people enjoy an alcoholic beverage during social events, and we'd like to accommodate them. We'd like to do that in a way that doesn't make non-drinkers feel they aren't welcome. Going forward, we're going to make sure that soft drinks are always complimentary when possible, or when we're paying on consumption that non-drinking attendees get the same number of complimentary beverages as those who are drinking (that's always been our intent, but it didn't get correctly implemented this year). We're absolutely looking to build events that do not focus on alcohol as a centerpiece; we want our attendees to be that centerpiece. But we also don't want to go further down the path of dividing our community when we're supposed to be helping bring it together; separate "drinking" and "non drinking" events just feels like we're building walls, not bridges. I'm deeply open to suggestions; drop a line to me (donj@ is my email alias, and if you're here, you can likely figure out the domain name) if you've any ideas. One thing to bear in mind is that, one reason we offer complimentary beverages (which should include non-alcoholic) is to help level the playing field for folks who may be on a tight budget, so that they can participate as fully as they want.
Recognize, too, that there's literally no possible way to have a "quiet dinner out with everyone" when "everyone" is 400 people <grin>, which we did have folks suggest. We do try to leave Tuesday and Thursday for folks to form their own smaller, quieter groups and head out together.
Anyway - that's just some of our early take-aways, and some of what we're planning for next year. We're always open to suggestions. Seriously. Anything polite and constructive is welcome, and you can email me directly (I've referenced my address twice in the above), if you like, or comment right here.