The Feels of SUGCON
Just got back to Boston from having a whirlwind trip to Berlin, Germany. Before all of the feels and emotions escape me, I wanted to get my reflections out from this amazing journey! First and foremost, the Sitecore Community. Y’all! This is really what this conference is all about. While Symposium is really the branded marketing conference highlighting the platform, the Sitecore User Group Conference is really a celebration of the incredible User Groups found across the globe. Whether we’re talking with co-workers in our own cities, or chatting with developers on the other side of the planet through Sitecore Slack or Sitecore Stack Exchange, this is probably the best international community I’ve been a part of. And this conference is a shining example of that community.
Having never been to Germany and this being my second trip to Europe I was pretty excited about the journey there. Nevermind the 5 times I watched Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman on just the flight to Germany, which is probably the best movie I’ve ever seen. Flying over Germany was incredible and the weather was perfect! The following Sunday there, a group of us went out to see Berlin for Berlin. We took a 4+ hour walking tour of the city, and while there really is way more city to see than what we had time for, we were able to experience the history of Berlin.
Our day in Berlin started off at the Brandenburg Gate after experiencing the public transit system and Bus (H) M41 from the Estrel Berlin hotel and conference center. Starting off in what used to be East Berlin, we visited the Memorial of the Murdered Jews and reflected on the past and the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime. From there, we saw the only mention of Hitler’s bunker, which is now just a dusty parking lot. We then walked over to a portion of the interior Berlin Wall and the only remaining building from the Nazi occupation that wasn’t destroyed to rubble, highlighting the gigantic architecture of that period.
We then took a water and restroom break and then continued our journey through touching on pieces of West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie first (which is really just a tourist trap) and then winding back up in East Berlin checking out the Konzerthaus and Operahaus, Humbolt University, the memorial of the book burning (which was an inaccessible tomb of empty shelves that can only be seen through a dirty “skylight” buried on a public plaza). There was also some amazing architecture in a small area as well that was fun to look at. Last, we saw the Alexanderplatz and the tower accompanying it.
Finally, the tour ended and the group headed off to Aufzturz for some lunch and a group photo. From there we headed back to the hotel, but not before capturing some Banksy street art. This would end up being the only time I got to see outside of the convention center except for a brief jaunt of Berlin nightlife on Tuesday night.
As far as the conference went, I spent more time being actively paying attention to the sessions I went to, instead of taking a ton of pictures. Which is sad, because as I surfed through my camera, I realized how few pictures I actually took. I’m especially sad by the lack of pictures that I have of the panel that I did on EXM, but it’s hard to take pictures when you’re the one doing the talking. So I’ll summarize the two days.
Starting off in the afternoon, per usual MO for SUGCON, Terry and the Product Marketing and Evangelist team kicked it off speaking on the Evolution of Sitecore, the evolution of the community and giving us some hints on what the future holds in store.
We were then transported to Sitecoreland by Jason Wilkerson and Rich Seal, giving us a taste of how IoT in an xConnect world can improve the customer experience. Driving interactions through push notifications, using Commerce and SXA to build upon an immediate buying experience, and understanding the need for the deliberate use of data.
This was followed by an awesome panel by Kam Figy taking us on the GraphQL train and teaching us how we can gain some real efficiencies in how we query for data from a client context, instead of large RESTful API’s that provide more data than needed for a given operation. In his words, “Give your RESTful API’s a rest!”
Alexei Vershalovich followed up showing us an xConnect and Marketing Automation Omni-channel demo. The only thing I really remember about this demo was the fear of that it put into me for how slow the conference wifi might be and that my presentation was at risk if the wifi didn’t get better by the next day.
That’s when I realized I needed to make some adjustments to my presentation and spent the next session in the Speaker’s lounge running through my presentation and making edits as needed. That way, if the wifi truly didn’t work, I had the ability to shift how I would present the story I was telling.
We rounded out that day together, celebrating the Hackathon winners as well as hosting the Sitecore MVP recipients for 2018. Lots of hugs, high-fives, and selfies were taken… except not by my phone. Last, but not least, Day 1 ended with myself and Jason St. Cyr being Team Captains for Sitecore Feud. A Sitecore Community themed version of Family Feud that was REALLY fun! My team ended up winning and we were able to raise 416 euros for the non-profit organization Girls In Tech.
Of course, the day might have ended, but the night just started. There was lots of drinks, food, and laughs to be had all around. As a speaker, who had an early morning panel the next night, I ended up taking to the room earlier than the rest (if 11:30PM is early) in order to put finishing touches on my presentation.
The second day of SUGCON kicked off with Tamas Varga welcoming us and going right into the first panel of the day, but Todd Mitchell and Lars Petersen showing us the power of connected data. They showcased how we can bring the data that xConnect and xDB are storing and how to really use it in meaningful ways whether that’s in PowerBI or using custom web pages.
Then it was finally showtime for me! I’ll follow up with a more specific blog post about my EXM Live!: The Magic of Email Automation in case people are looking for details, but I couldn’t have asked for a better panel, except for maybe a different time slot. But, everything worked. The wifi-worked, the demo worked, everything just worked, and I was so relieved! In total, I had over 107 people use the system during the 45 minutes presentation (which was really more like 35 minutes). I captured and processed over a thousand interactions, page views, goals, and sent 588 emails to audience participants.
From there I participated in and moderated a Catching Exceptions Roundtable hosting Jason Wilkerson, Richard Seal, and Rob Habraken on The World of IoT and exploring how companies can start to use the Internet of Things in their marketing programs. This was a fun-filled half-hour of conversation between some really great experts in the Sitecore IoT space. I look forward to that getting edited and published!
Next on the agenda was Sitecore Cognitive Services: A Web of Intelligence by Mark Stiles. He took us on a journey of understanding how companies are starting to use AI intelligence and what he’s doing with Cognitive Services to provide access to these ideas within Sitecore. It was a thought-provoking talk.
I then shifted over to support my colleague Ben Lipson and his talk Leprechauns, Rainbows, and Synthesis. This was his first presentation in a large group setting and he knocked it out of the park. We learned a lot about how these tools can help improve developer efficiencies.
I rounded Day 2 out in the main exhibition hall for Jason Bert’s panel Sitecore & The Blockchain. What I learned from his panel is that I have NO clue what to do about blockchain. It was a pretty deep level discussion but interesting to see this whole other side. I don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have on Sitecore directly, though blockchain payment gateways in Commerce are a thing.
We ended the day with two fantastic panels, starting off with From Forms to Riches with Kamruz Jaman and Mike Reynolds. They showcased how forms work, and what we can really do with forms, taking us through the life cycle of creating custom form actions and fields. Mixed with quite a number of memes!
We also heard from Alex Shyba and Adam Weber on the Latest Goodness Sitecore JSS and learned that JSS is the future and companies who don’t embrace it early are going to be left in the dust. My take away is that JSS is the vehicle that Sitecore needs in order to get to a point where Sitecore can become a true SaaS product.
Last, Pieter Brinkman ended the conference announcing the next location and date for SUGCON EU! London, England on April 4th (Thursday and Friday)!
SUGCON EU ended and I’m already back in Boston typing this out. My immediate regret is not taking more time for myself to experience Germany like many of our community members did. I had an amazing time though and loved seeing all of you that I talk with daily in the community channels. I already miss my friends, but I look forward to the future and what we can do for the Sitecore platform and at the end of the day, improve how we solve our clients’ problems.
Thank you SUGCON Organizers and Sitecore Product Marketing for making SUGCON such a success. As we move forward with the evolution of SUGCON and what that begins to look like as multiple events on different continents, I remind myself that our Sitecore User Group Community is multi-cultural, multi-national, and geo-located. While having multiple conferences will help make those conferences accessible to more people, it means that active participants such as myself may have to add another conference to our agenda in order to see more of our colleagues from other areas of the world. For me, that conference is SUGCON EU, and I intend on continuing to come to this conference regardless of anything that might be added in the US.