GitLab Commit - The Little Conference That Could - And Did

GitLab Commit - The Little Conference That Could - And Did

This post contains the links to my GitLab Commit Brooklyn session “Never Hire a Butler to do a Robot’s Job” as well as an interview I had with Alan Shimel at GitLab Commit.

I’ve spoken at a lot of conferences and I’ve experienced a good number of the many ways that conferences can fail to deliver.

GitLab Commit had three major things working against it that made me wonder what the experience would be like. First of all it was a first time conference for GitLab. Secondarily it was only one day. In my experience, many one day conferences are thinly veiled marketing events with shallow, slapped together sessions. And finally, session slots were 30 minutes - unless it is a 5 minute lightning session, I’ve never seen a session length that short.

My expectations weren’t high, but I was delighted to be wrong on all counts…

Pssst: You can still catch GitLab Commit in London on October 9th or San Franciso on January 14th.

My first hint that this was not going to be a slapped together event was what I experienced in the speaker pipeline after being accepted to speak.

The GitLab conference team had a clear lead-in project plan, a slide template and scheduled a couple practice run throughs with speakers. They also offered opportunities for interviews with and to publish articles at a variety of top DevOps news sites. While it was confidence inspiring to see that the details and marketing were being handled very well, the real proof came at the conference.

The evening before speaker dinner was held at Bouley Test Kitchen - it is the laboratory of Chef David Bouley. I never thought being a subject in a laboratory experiment could be so awesome. Six scrumptious small plates were served in the beautifully intimate and eclectic dining space. However, the most impactful thing was the open welcoming intimacy that the GitLab folks brought with them. From what I hear it is not hard work for them to create such social climate because it is just part of their culture.

Some conferences have real ethos to them - an energy or vibe that can be felt - but generally they have 3 or more days to get that vibe up to full volume. Taking time to wind up is not how GitLab does vibe - the Commit conference hit the ground running.

There were warm welcomes everywhere and the same positive energy I felt from the speaker treatment was available in abundance for every attendee.

My concern about session length was unfounded - speakers (including myself) had to be vigorous and on point with a clear, value focused message. So the length seemed to help create conciseness in what was delivered.

Another interesting thing was the subtle and tasteful presence of the branding everywhere. The conference was spread across three hotels, a coffee shop and a night club / bowling alley. In each venue the GitLab brand was worked into all kinds of small details and in a way that complimented the existing design features of each venue. In replacement wall posters, on mirrors, as lighting, painted on the streets, as lit up drink stir sticks and many more places. However, instead of screaming at you in neon blasts - it was blended into whatever environment you found yourself in. The conference actually blended itself into Brooklyn’s look and feel so as to feel native to the town.

Combined with the warm positive energy of the staff and presenters, the approach of integrating into Brooklyn’s vibe and amplifying it toward GitLabs brand, gave GitLab Commit an instant, full volume vibe right from the beginning.

I had the pleasure of running into the author of this approach, Emily Kyle. She summed up the uniquely engaging approach of the conference as a “Neighborhood Takeover”. And that it was - but it was not a hostile take over - rather it was “blend in and amp up the vibe”.

GitLab Commit really ended up being The Little Conference that Could for me - thanks for a refreshing and energetic event GitLab!

Just In: GitLab published a summary video that does a good job at capturing some of their conference vibe:

You can still catch GitLab Commit in London on October 9th or San Franciso on January 14th.

Never Hire a Butler To Do a Robot’s Job:

Interview with Alan Shimel of Digital Anarchist and (Click the play icon after the page loads):

Original Session Abstract: