Scotch on the Rocks 2011 (an insider's review)
Last week saw the momentous return of Scotch on the Rocks, Europe's longest running ColdFusion conference.
This year was a special occasion in the life of the event as it was finally returning back to it's spiritual home in Edinburgh, Scotland, having spent the last few years in London as well as travelling through Europe for a the Scotch on the Road tour.
Back Where We Belong
Having spent the last few years holding the conference in London (if not moving it around Europe taking it to people - how's that for door to door service?) it would be understandable for a number of attendees to become complacent with the geographic location and not want to travel any further to a conference. Let's face it, there IS a large number of ColdFusion houses and RIA agencies in the city, so it would be understandable if they'd prefer not to travel too far.
Travel is not the only consideration for events. It's also the added issue of trying to justify the travel and time off to any management too. Losing a developer for two days within your own city is one thing. Sending them to the other end of the country is another.
Having said that, the initial reaction to the move 'back home' during the closing speech at our 2010 event was an extremely positive one, and the number of attendees at this year's event proved that travel was not an issue.
Perhaps it was the call of the bagpipes, the idea of exploring Edinburgh and it's hidden catacombs, it's amazing architecture and historical values, the desire to taste haggis and a damn fine scotch.. regardless of reason, attendance to this year's event was at an all-time high and tickets sold out, helping to make sure that SOTR2011 was going to be an event to remember.
Having the conference in the hotel where the majority of attendees were staying was also much more of a bonus, greatly reducing the need for extra travel to and from the event. The Apex International hotel was also perfectly situated on a lovely street, minutes walk from Edinburgh castle, which many attendees could see incredibly clearly from their hotel windows. The staff were helpful and friendly and helped to make our life a little easier when it came to organising the event, so a massive thank you to them.
The location for the event worked very well, and the attendees I'd spoken to about it seemed to agree. The separate conference rooms on the first floor provided adequate space for all sessions, and the keynote room with extended P.A and multitude of screens proved a benefit on the occasions it was packed full of people. It's just a shame we weren't able to successfully hook up the Guitar Hero battle through the P.A and over the projector.. hopefully next year :)
Room 3 was the smallest of the bunch, and for the majority of the time worked perfectly well in terms of seating. There were sessions and presentations when even that room was full to burst, with attendees finding spaces on the floor before spilling out into the corridor to watch from there.
For us, we had a difficult task trying to preempt which sessions would be the most popular based upon a number of factors, and try to allocate the rooms accordingly based upon our estimates. Again, the majority of the time this worked perfectly well and we had each room allocated reasonably well judging by the attendees per session. There was an occasion when a room needed to be changed to accomodate more people for a session, but on the whole the balance was about right.
Ideally, next year will see the smallest room opened up into two rooms to hold more people.. (the hotel simply need to take a sledgehammer to one wall and create a movable partition.. simple, right?) Perhaps we'll push out a survey for all attendees to register their preference for sessions prior to the conference, which would better enable us to work out the room priorities based upon actual attendee feedback.
One of the greatest things about Scotch on the Rocks is the attendees. I was watching from the bar the night before the event as people were starting to check in to the hotel and make themselves comfortable. It was like watching long-lost friends meeting again.. in many cases, we probably see each other once a year (probably at SOTR), but despite this, it's such a close family feel and everyone gets on very well. I loved seeing people so excited to see others again and genuinely happy to be together at this event.
This year saw the highest number of attendees in total (223), with a staggering 14% new to ColdFusion, as well as a number of students from Edinburgh university eager to find out more. That was fantastic news, and incredibly exciting to see the next generation of developers interested in ColdFusion as a development platform.
Attendees make it the most fun and provide the atmosphere too. I'm incredibly lucky enough to class many as close friends, and for that I'm grateful as they all rock!
The speakers for this year's event were fantastic. A massive thank you to each and every one for giving up their time to come and share their knowledge (and drinking stories) with us all.
This year not only saw the return of seasoned professionals and conference speakers from a variety of sectors and languages, but also a mix of some new speakers (some making their first leap into public speaking). Regardless of previous history and experience, all of the speakers at SOTR2011 were amazing and it would be much harder to run a conference without them, so a huge thank you to them once again.
It never ends! Planning and preparations for SOTR2012 has already started (truth be told, it actually started BEFORE SOTR2011 had begun.. yeah, how's THAT for organisation?).
As most if not all of us know, SOTR2012 will once again be held at the Apex International hotel, but most importantly are the dates for the diary:
8th - 9th March, 2012
Book these dates off now to avoid disappointment and ensure you are able to attend!
Running around and lack of sleep/food.. it's what makes a conference organiser so svelte and streamlined, right? RIGHT? Yeah, I thought so. :)
Once again, it's near impossible to catch any of the presentations in full if you're organising the event, although I was able to sit in on a few before running off to handle something else. (I need to keep this figure in shape somehow) laughs at self and tucks belly back under belt
A massive thank you needs to go out to my cohort and partner in crime Andy Allan, and the ever-lovely Leanne Allan for organising this event, as well as the ever-talented and awesome Cate @ Gorilla Works for her copy/content/design skills. Big thanks also go to Rob Parkhill for helping us out throughout the conference.. jetlagged and tired, he now knows what it feels like to stuff name badges and move boxes around. Thanks Rob! Also a thank you to Trevor Ward for his help and assistance throughout the conference.
This year seems to have been a big hit with all attendees. The response and feedback we've received from speaking to people as well as Twitter feedback seems to indicate that it was a big success! Many people were lamenting the fact they had to return back to normality after a fun few days, and were already wishing SOTR2012 was upon us. Don't fear, it will come soon enough!
Thank you for making Scotch on the Rocks 2011 a superb event, and I personally can't wait to see you all again next year!