This week I returned from my very first Joomla! and Beyond conference. It far surpassed my expectations. I never intended to go. I remember thinking three years ago when the first J an Beyond conference was announced that they picked a bizarre name for a conference. It sounded like a silly take off of the Buzz Lightyear's often repeated catchphrase "To infinity ... and beyond!" from Toy Story. Then three years later, here I am wearing my Super J t-shirt at the conference. I'm glad I lightened up, otherwise I would have missed out on the experience of meeting so many really cool Joomla! rock stars.
My adventure started in Chicago last February when I met with Alice Grevet and Dianne Henning of Open Source Matters. The two ladies strongly encouraged me to attend this conference. When my wife agreed with them I realized there was something I might be missing about this kind of event. When tickets became available I bought one and booked the hotel. I was starting to get excited about meeting all the people I follow on Twitter and read about online. I was looking forward to a leisurely break from the daily work routine. Then something completely unexpected happened.
This is where all the Joomla! rock stars meet
I received an email from Brian Teeman suggesting that since I was coming such a long distance to attend, why didn't I submit a proposal to do a session while I was there? Wow, that's novel, it never occurred to me to do that, after all, I was going for the first time. This is where all the Joomla! rock stars do presentations. I didn't consider myself to be one of them. It was now only four days to the session proposal submission deadline. Yipes! What was I going to propose? I decided to write one and I mentioned to Dianne I was working on it. She asked me what I was going to speak about and I replied that my talk was going to be about promotion / marketing / advertising. Then Dianne sent me the outline of the proposal that she and Sandra Ordonez submitted. I read it and it contained most of the ideas of what I was going to do. At this point I figured I'd just bow out of submitting a proposal and attend their session. I quickly rebounded and changed the direction of the one I was working on. My proposal became "Secrets of Getting an A+ Joomla! Reputation and Attracting A+ Clients". Shortly afterward I received notification that it had been accepted. So much for kicking back and enjoying a holiday, now I had to create a presentation. But presentations are what I do best so I just got on with it. I fired up Apple Keynote, sourced some music and videos, assembled them together around my thoughts and experience from being in sales and marketing over the last few decades.
Finally the day came to board the flight from Toronto, Canada, to Frankfurt, Germany. The conference centre was at the Dolce Bad Nauheim Hotel with an address of "Elvis-Presley-Platz 1". So what's up with that? Apparently in 1958 Elvis Presley served in the US Army and spent time stationed at the Ray Barracks near Friedberg, Germany, only about three miles from Bad Nauheim. Elvis lived in two different hotels in Bad Nauheim and got kicked out of both of them before finally renting a house to live in. He also met his future wife, Priscilla, while in Bad Nauheim. So it was fitting that the J and Beyond promotional materials with the tag line "Meet the Joomla! Rock Stars" uses an outline of the King himself.
The Dolce Bad Nauheim Hotel is lovely. It was the perfect venue for this event. The meeting rooms were great, the facility has good food, and there's a neat pub right in the hotel that I spent time meeting new Joomla! friends from around the world.
So why should you consider attending a Joomla! and Beyond conference?
My wallet is stuffed with business cards of so many really cool people whom I met at this conference. I intend to stay in touch with all of them. You come away from an event like this with an expanded view of the potential of Joomla.
You meet great people involved in every aspect of the Joomla! project and community. These people are intelligent, talented, articulate, and very friendly. I felt accepted by everyone. This is a big deal because up until then I thought the only people truley respected in the Joomla! project are the hard core developers who write the code that Joomla! runs on. Joomla! is so much more than that. It really is a community of people that contribute in many different ways. I was delighted every time someone discovered I was JoeJoomla and they were genuinely happy to meet me.
I also got a chance to be exposed to many products and services that I haven't had the chance to try out. I came back with a long to-do list of things to further investigate which I am certain will find their way into my toolbox of offerings for my clients.
Oh, and the socializing was amazing. It really is something to meet people from all over the world that have so much in common with you. I got to meet and talk to people from Bulgaria, Moldova, South Africa, South America, various countries in Europe, and North America too. It makes the world seem like a lot friendlier a place. Maybe the politicians should get involved in an open source movement.
More people from North America should try and get over to Europe for a Joomla! event. You'll envy the way the people from Europe use their smart phones without a care. Everyone from North America who was there were paranoid about their phones connecting to the cell networks in Europe and getting crucified with roaming charges. The system in Europe is much more affordable and convenient. People in Europe have a much better relationship with technology than we do in the Americas.
You know you are among the geeks when...
During a session in the main conference room I was sitting beside Radek and Sigrid Suski from sigsiu.net, of SobiPro fame. They were monitoring their pet birds at home on their iPad while listening to the speaker. Nice birds by the way.
I also had the privilege of participating as a Judge for the J!OSCAR awards. This was another unexpected delight. I was invited to participate by Victor Drover who was the only other Canadian at the event. Victor is the Founder and CEO of Anything Digital, a well-known Joomla development shop based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He also helps organize the J and Beyond developer conference.
So, I went from buying a ticket to J and Beyond, to being a presenter and being introduced to the whole crowd as one of the J!OSCAR award judges. Now if that is not getting the biggest bang for your buck I don't know what is. I can't guarantee all this will happen to you if you go to a Joomla! and Beyond conference in the future but I can tell you this, you won't regret it. I made so many new friends and felt very knit together with the Joomla! community at large. It reinvigerated my enthusiasm for Joomla! and I am certain it will do the same for you.