Dallas TechFest is a multi-technology, multi-disciplinary developer conference held this year it was held on June 19th 2009 at the beautiful Westin Stonebriar Resort in Frisco, TX. Completely organized and run by members of the local community, this year over 400 developers and architects turned out for 8 tracks and 40 sessions covering advanced topics in .NET, RIA, Java, Flex, Cold Fusion and Ruby. Speakers and attendees were drawn mostly from the regional influencer pool around Texas, Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas, with the notable exceptions of a speaker from Boston, MA and a participant from Brazil!
This year’s conference was fantastic. Not only was the content exceptional in all of our tracks, but it was a great chance to see and work with some of our friends in the Java and PHP communities as well as make some new friends in the Cold Fusion and Flex communities. Although early challenges around securing sponsors caused us to have to delay the original start date, we were finally able to find some great sponsors, and raise enough money through ticket sales to bring the whole thing off. All of the feedback I’ve gotten around the content was really, really positive. Each track had fantastic speakers, and everyone was really happy with the results. As this event is first and foremost about the content, I’m really proud of the feedback in this area.
Although nothing ever goes as well as planned, this year’s event had relatively few (and minor) glitches. The biggest problems we had were around some confusion with ticket sales. Our original tiered ticket price model wasn’t communicated very well, and people got confused when they went to register and the cost wasn’t what they’d expected. Next year, we need to do a much better job of making sure that any ticket prices are communicated appropriately so that nobody get surprised. The other big challenges we had was around food and Wi-Fi. With the money we were able to raise, it was not feasible to pay for internet connections for everyone, so each person had to pay for their own. Even at only $9 a day, it was still seen by many as an inconvenience to have to pay for Wi-Fi when so many of these types of events provide it for free. Food was the same way. Last year, we spent less on the venue and were able to purchase a boxed lunch for everyone. With the 2009 venue, it was a much nicer place to meet, but they didn’t allow us to bring food in, and their cost for catering was far beyond our budget.
One question we did get quite often was around ticket prices: “why did you guys charge money this year? It’s always been free before…” Simple answer? We needed the money. Between the cost of the venue, and what happened last year, it was critical to us that we get a relatively predictable number of attendees. Now that we know this works, it will be easier for us to plan to feed people next year without fears of a repeat of 2008. What happened last year, you ask? 650 people registered for Dallas TechFest least year, but only 255 actually came out. We had to give away about 250 boxed lunches that would otherwise have gone to waste. having a small amount to charge people ($25 in most cases) was a great incentive for people to actually come if they did indeed register. Hopefully, we’ll have additional sponsors earlier in the planning cycle next time, and can make some better plans around a cost structure, but I don’t see this becoming a completely free event next year unless the economy turns around by then…
Next year, we’re going to look at solving the food and internet problems without sacrificing too much around the quality of the venue. We will also probably charge again next year, but might consider doing a 2 day event so that people who can not attend on one day (due to work, or family time) can attend on the other day. We can monkey around with the price to include in internet and food, but I would rather not charge any more than I absolutely have to.
Before I sign off, I wanted to make sure and thank all the folks that worked so hard to make this event successful. From our Sponsors (Microsoft, Odyssey, GeneXus, DeKlarit, Credera and GenuTec) all of our organizers and volunteers (Tim Rayburn, Erik Weibust, Omar Villarreal, Dave Shuck, Jonathan Campos, Teresa Burger, Adam Keys, Geoff Dagley, Tim Stiles and Jason Ragsdale) as well as the nearly 40 speakers at the event. It would not have been possible without all your help and support of the Dallas developer community. Thanks for all you do!