This past week I attended Future Insights Live 2013 in Las Vegas, NV. The conference is geared towards people in the tech industry who want to stay on top of the latest development, design and business practices.
Here’s the short review: I had an amazing time at the conference this year and, whether it is in Las Vegas next year or not, I will be attending again. The long version is slightly more nuanced, but results in the same conclusion.
This year, the conference started with an optional full day workshop on one of several topics. Because the workshops were optional, they came with an additional charge on top of the conference ticket. The one I attended was hosted by Paolo Fragomeni and was focused on Node.js – what it is, why you might use it and how you would do so.
I loved the workshop I attended and feel like I got a lot out of it. Paolo was really energetic and full of passion for the topic and the format that he used for this particular workshop really resonated with me. In the morning, we went over the basic concepts used in Node, the philosophy behind node and some of the cool things you can (and people are) doing with it. In the afternoon, the workshop switched focus to more hands-on learning. We paired up with others in the workshop (I met an awesome dude named Gilber from Costa Rica and worked with him) and extended an attractive and functional (but kind of boring) chat client written with Node.js. Each pair was given a different task to work on – Gilber and I added several actions sourced from the IRC beginner’s guide to the chat application:
/me– starting your message with this command would replace it with your nickname when messages were broadcast to others
/nick– this command allowed you to change your nickname at any time after you had initially set it
/notice– this command allowed you to private message another user based on their nickname
We had a lot of fun implementing this and built it in such a way that we could pop in new commands as easily as writing a new callback that did what we wanted.
The conference keynotes (big group based sessions at the beginning and end of every day) were fairly good. In particular, I was really inspired by Carl Smith’s keynote “Your Money & Your Life: Designing a Business That Won’t Kill You”. It was amazing how Carl integrated his personal story into a wider narrative that, for me, was ridiculously inspiring.
Another highlight for me was Bruce Lawson’s “How to Destroy the Web” – a satirical look at all the things people have done and continue to do in a way that doesn’t open the web up to its full potential. There were a lot of laughs during that keynote and the phrase “Hippie Bullshit” was used multiple times with an accompanying picture of a neon-green bull with marijuana leaf tattoos.
The sessions were a mixed bag and I think most other attendees agreed. Sometimes you would step into a session and it would totally knock your socks off. Other times, it would amount to a 50 minute product pitch. Of all the sessions I attended, I thought two were really fantastic and want to comment on them specifically. They both included a combination of speaker preparedness and the content itself.
Josh Cramer did a fantastic job with his session “How to Build Apps Better and Faster Using Lean Startup Principles.” As far as session names go, that is quite a mouthful and if you hadn’t attended it I wouldn’t fault you for thinking it was going to be one long bullshit pitch about the lean process and how you can only do development this one way. That is not what it turned out to be at all – it was a well-presented end-to-end discussion of how you can work with your clients and customers to create things that people will want to use. I loved this session and it was probably my favorite of the whole conference.
Meanwhile, in a completely different vein, John Bender presented a session called “Math Envy and CoffeeScript’s Foibles.” I think that most people walked into that room expecting to hear about using CoffeeScript for development or to be presented with an alternative. I know that’s why I was there. Instead, John spent 50 minutes entertaining us all with an in-depth look at programming language syntax vs. meaning and ways to analyse those things. It took me back to my days in college (which was awesome) and John did a great job explaining everything in detail all the while making the subject really entertaining.
One of the big problems I had with Future Insights Live last year was that I felt there wasn’t really a great way to randomly meet people. They addressed that this year by making the lunch tables bigger, setting up stand-up tables around the main conference location and getting sponsors (most notably modern.IE) to provide communal spaces. I met so many awesome people this year at the conference, and this was a major highlight for me. Here’s a brief overview of people I met:
- A team of six developers and designers from Costa Rica who came up together to learn more about the web
- The user experience director at the World Wildlife Fund
- A pair of Canadian’s (brothers) who run a business doing location based service-business tracking
- Someone from the Google Adwords marketing team who took an impromptu video of me giving what was essentially a testimonial about how I used Google Adwords to launch my freelance business
- A teacher from Devry University who was looking to stay on the cutting edge
- Several people who worked inside of either an agency or small business as part of the technology team
- A Fort Wayne native who had transplanted to Houston – we bonded over a shared love of Chicago
- Two awesome US Bank employees who somehow managed to resist going and laying by the pool in favor of learning about the web
- Members of the Quicken Loans web team, including a dude who works remote from Florida but is originally from South Africa
- Two keynote speakers, including Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror and StackOverflow fame
If you take a look at that list, you’ll see what a variety there was in the attendees at the conference. It was amazing to have the chance to just touch base with all these different people and find out how they were working, what they were working on and what they were working with.
The food was pretty good overall – much better then typical conference fare. I especially appreciate the fact that fresh fruit was available at every break and that the coffee tasted good. I’d like to throw a special shout out again to modern.IE for providing an espresso cart every afternoon. The espresso cart baristos were super awesome and friendly and it was nice to chat with them for a bit every day.
If I enjoyed alcohol I would have been overjoyed on Tuesday because MediaTemple sponsored drinks after the closing keynote. I didn’t partake, but plenty of people seemed really excited about it.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, Future Insights Live 2013 was a great conference. I really enjoyed myself – I learned a lot, met a bunch of great people and came away inspired by some of the sessions. It was well worth the cost and I expect to attend again in 2014. Thank you to the Future Insights team for putting on a great event!