Salt Lake City’s Snowforce Salesforce event keeps getting bigger every year. This was the 6th year, and it is now drawing around 300 people (with even more registering!) from all over the country. The tech scene is strong in the Silicon Slopes and surrounding areas of Utah. There are many companies in the Salesforce ecosystem located there, as well as remote employees who live in Utah with headquarters in places such as San Francisco. About five Utah user groups pitch in with funds contributed by the sponsors to create this event. And believe it or not all of this is absolutely free for the attendees!
Noah’s Event Venue was a great location for the event. Multiple floors held various rooms for breakout sessions, sponsor expos, photo booths, and lounges for attendees to hang out in. There was even a game room upstairs if you wanted to discuss Salesforce over a game of pool. The large, main hall which was big enough to be able to fit all of attendees together at once for the keynotes. Snowforce had sessions catered to four different tracks this year: Admin, Developer, Executive and UX. Four tracks for a community conference? Wow! I attended the Developer track.
The conference kicked off with registration and breakfast starting around 7:30 in the morning. Breakfast was good, but disappeared fast. Thankfully the staff was on top of it and ordered more! Saleforce sent a great group of expert Account Executives and Sales Engineers to the early bird session on Service Cloud Lightning. Joined with folks from Instructure, we got real examples of how Salesforce’s fastest growing offering, Service Cloud Lightning, is helping companies to better service their customers. I was particularly excited to see Jennifer Shaeffer there. Jen is a seasoned Salesforce Account Executive who I have worked with in the past. She did a great interview with Instructure that was reminiscent of Peter Coffee’s Dreamforce intros.
For the keynote, we had an all-star lineup of Salesforce Admin and Developer evangelists. This worked great since there was a mixed audience. Gillian Madill and Mike Gerholdt showcased the latest features of Salesforce that an admin might want to know about such as customizing the new Lightning Experience navigation. Samantha Ready took over and showed some of the new developer features like building components and using them in Lightning App Builder.
After that we had a Demo Jam. It was a fast-paced forum where vendors got the chance to belt out their best elevator pitches for their product, and attendees got to vote on them via SMS. It was very entertaining as the presenters were cut off when they reached their time limit. So hearing a presenter close with a pitch along the lines of “It’s awesome!!!” happened more than once. The new Simplus App “Culture Climb” was demoed by the always energetic Ryan Westwood, and featured a dramatic mic drop at the end. This is a brand new HR app which was unveiled at the conference and ultimately won the Demo Jam. This will be an app to keep an eye on.
I broke out into breakouts and learned some great Developer content. The first one I saw was by Nate Lipke of Salesforce. He demoed a nice smattering of the new toys developers have to play with such as the Interactive Apex Debugger. It was extremely cool to watch a Visualforce page stop in mid form submission and let you inspect everything from the server side.
This took us into lunch, featuring a lineup of Utah’s finest food truck fare. These were a huge hit with the attendees, and were provided free as part of the conference. What a fun way to enjoy the warm weather outside while hanging out and meeting new people. Kudos to the whoever planned for this conference lunch hack. It delivered an all-around great experience.
Great food, great people, beautiful backdrop. #Snowforce16 @salesforce pic.twitter.com/EZhsC9ORAR
— Charlie Isaacs (@charlieisaacs) February 25, 2016
After lunch, Charlie Isaacs, gave an action packed presentation. Charlie is the CTO for Customer Connection at Salesforce. If you haven’t seen him speak, it is something to behold. I’m sure he had 10 presentations he wanted to give in parallel in his head but unfortunately he only has one mouth to be present with. Passionate and knowledgeable about the Internet of Things don’t begin to describe Charlie. IoT is becoming more and more common across many industries. Charlie passed around estimote beacons which are used in retail, ODBII dongles which are used by insurance companies to monitor drivers, even a connected knee implant that is enabling more successful knee surgeries. This was probably my favorite presentation, as it made the Salesforce IoT Cloud tangible for me. At Dreamforce 2015 “the IoT Cloud, powered by Thunder” was Parker Harris swinging the hammer of Thor at the stage with thundering sound effects. While cool, this was a little abstract. Charlie’s session made it more clear to me what the actual product is, and what it will be able to do for customers. I believe IoT Cloud will be huge, and have a more successful adoption curve than Analytics Cloud has had. IoT cloud takes what can be an extremely complex implementation, and simplifies it down to the realm of Salesforce declarative development. This will enable businesses to leverage machine-generated data to better serve their customers in a fast-to-market fashion. What an amazing capability. It will be exciting to watch Kenandy customers leverage this when it becomes generally available.
John Schultz, a developer at Salesforce, gave a cool presentation on how to integrate Salesforce and fitbit. All the code for how to do this is in his github repo here: https://github.com/jcschultz/sfdc-fitbit-demo. This was a good refresher on OAuth flows, REST integrations, and also showed the benefits of using a treadmill desk. It was really cool to be able to talk with John the next day about his experience of being a software developer who uses a treadmill desk. There are a lot of issues you don’t think about such as how the eyes adjust to the motion, and how you might need to pause the treadmill while taking phone calls.
The final Developer presentation taught us how to create Process Builder Blocks. This is a useful technique if you have admins and developers working in together in an organization. The admins can build as much of the process as they can in Lightning Process Builder, then the developers can create Apex methods which can be executed from the Lightning Process. To me, the most amazing thing about this presentation was that is was created by Shane McLaughlin, a Platform Architect at Salesforce. Shane was supposed to present this, but something came up, and Daniel Hoechst stepped in at the last minute to present it on his behalf! As if organizing and executing the event wasn’t enough, Daniel was even able to do Shane’s presentation for him. In fact, if he hadn’t told us it wasn’t his presentation, we wouldn’t have been the wiser. Quite an impressive feat in my book.
The final presentation brought everyone back together from the breakouts into the main keynote hall. This was a motivational speech by Dr. Craig Manning. Dr. Manning is a great presenter with an Australian flair. He teaches at Brigham Young University, and has worked with some of the world’s top athletes. Though his experience is in Athletic performance coaching, the concepts apply to anything you want to accomplish in life. He explained how to achieve “The Fearless Mind” using this formula: Potential + Training – Interference = High Performance. He gave us a short list of actionable things we can do to achieve this, which sounded quite good to me. He also challenged various beliefs that are common in our society. It was an hour well spent. It is important to take time out of our busy lives to explore techniques for self-improvement. Working this into the conference was a nice value-add. It wasn’t unlike the the mindfulness theme which was added to Dreamforce 2015.
Wrapping up the official events for the day was a cocktail hour out on the balcony. This included an open bar, food, snow machine, heaters, and music. It was a great networking opportunity, with scenic views of the towering, snow-covered Utah mountains on both sides of us. I caught up with a few people I had been meaning to talk to, and learned a lot by listening to the conversations of others. As the crowd dwindled down, the remaining group planned to go out and grab dinner. We all pitched in to pack up some items from the event, a reminder that we were indeed at a community conference!
We met up for dinner in downtown Salt Lake City, at a dueling piano club called Keys on Main. The piano players were amazing, and really knew how to work the crowd. It was a unique and entertaining experience, and a great chance for the local Salt Lake City Saleforce crowd to show the out of towners what their city has to offer.
The next day everyone met up at the Solitude Mountain Resort for a day of snow activities and networking. The organizers reserved us a good sized room there for our base of operations. The room had food, drinks, networking, and gave everyone a place to change in and out of their snow gear. It was a lot of fun to see people coming back from the slopes with huge smiles on their faces, exchanging top speeds from their smartphone GPS apps. I was a little under the weather, so I didn’t participate in any of the vigorous activities. I enjoyed the scenery, and skied vicariously through the stories of others. The weather felt like a summer day, with the snow reflecting the sun at you like a tanning mirror. There were restaurants, pubs, and gift shops around the lodge. I had fun exploring and finding new places to hang out in small groups. This is where serendipitous conversations around Salesforce and other topics tend to happen. I also took a nice snow hike along a ski run / snowmobile trail with Zachary Jeans, a Salesforce strategy consultant, getting some decent exercise for the day. Being 8,000 feet up in the pristine mountains makes you feel isolated from the stresses of life, and you can’t help but soak it all in and feel at peace.
It is impressive just how well a group of volunteers in the Salesforce ecosystem can organize an event like this. I know Snowforce 2016 didn’t plan and run itself, but the organizers made it seem that way from an attendee’s perspective. It was remarkable how collected the organizers were, considering the late nights and countless details they had to keep track of up to and during the conference. Congratulations and thanks are in order to Daniel Hoechst, Ben Schauerhamer, Evan Johnson, Drew Dayton, Becky Webster, Carolyn Beth Adams, Kim McClure, and Brian Warren. If I left anyone out, please let me know (@danieljpeter on twitter) and I can revise the list. I can only imagine this event will continue to grow!
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