Tahoe Dreamin’ 2016: How Less Can Give You More

Dreamforce is THE software conference.  Period.   I’m a long-time, repeat attendee, and I get a huge amount of value out of it each year.  However, I always walk away feeling like I missed out on most of it because there are so many things going on at the same time.  There are always 3 events I want to attend which are starting half way through an event I’m already sitting in and don’t want to leave because it is sparking innovative new ideas in my mind.  And then what about that list of people I promised I’d meet up with, where do I squeeze them in at?  Sleep is required, yet also optional in the face of so many extravagant parties going on.  If you’ve been there, you know exactly what I mean.  It’s an accepted side-effect of delivering massive amounts of awesomeness in a short period of time.

What would it be like if you took a sprinkling of the same attendees and speakers, and put them into a Salesforce conference where you gave the sessions and events a little more time and space to breathe?  What if there was a venue with a framework which set the tone for like-minded people, but left opportunity for serendipitous experience?  What if you could throw agenda builder, and google calendar out the window for a weekend and still feel like you got everything done and more?  It is possible, and I just experienced this at the inaugural Tahoe Dreamin’ 2016.

This was the first time I’d been to a community-organized, regional Salesforce conference. Knowing the value of diversity of experiences, I had been wanting to check one out.  This one was in my backyard, so it was a convenient way to make it happen.  The cost was very low as compared to Dreamforce.  It was more about justifying taking a couple of days off from work.  I decided to present a session there which made the justification easy.  It was an opportunity to share some knowledge and give back to a community which has afforded me a rewarding career, which I am very grateful for.  As well as create some awareness for the company I work for, which has been a catalyst for my career, which I am also grateful for.  Building a full-blown ERP on top of Salesforce has been a trial by fire, which has made doing almost anything else on the platform seem easy by comparison.  There is no substitute for that experience, and I love sharing the battle stories of doing that with the Salesforce community.

I decided early on I should rent a snow-ready vehicle and share the cost by carpooling.IMG_1166  This way we wouldn’t have to worry about chains or getting stuck in the snow.  This was probably overkill, but I liked the peace of mind of being prepared.  Bill Greenhaw matched up carpool providers with those in need of a carpool, and this worked out great.  Carpooling was smooth and enjoyable and allowed me time to get to know the people riding with me.  I had admins and developers with me who were all doing very different and interesting things with Salesforce.  This was a great learning experience.  When I picked up my first passenger, this is actually when the conference started to begin.

I arrived Thursday night and rushed up to my hotel room in full Dreamforce mode to plan my agenda for the night.
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I quickly realized there was only one thing going on.  Wow, that was refreshing!  No guilt about missing out, and a chance to meet everyone.  The event was sponsored by Shonnah Hughes & Toya Gatewood.  They did a great job of providing a happy hour style meetup which gave me the chance to meet many new people such as Katie McFadden and Stuart Edeal and consider aspects of Salesforce I don’t often think about in my daily routine.  It also gave me a chance to catch up with people I already knew, and felt like I knew from online interactions.

The next morning I woke up early to go downstairs for coffee and ran into Zachary Jeans.  We had a nice, long, slightly philosophical conversation over some Starbucks.  A great example of Tahoe Dreamin’ serendipity.  Once I was primed with coffee, I put on my #AlohaFriday shirt and sat in on some great sessions.  Adam Seligman and Shawna Wolverton upped the “juvenile marketing” ante and rocked the house with deliciously tacky, retro ski outfits.
They gave us lots of great content such as unpublicized features way out on the roadmap.  Team ButtonClick,  Mike Gerholdt and Gillian Madill were at the keynote as well, helping to run the video of Parker Harris and Alex Dayon wishing us all a happy Tahoe Dreamin’.  I ran into more people I wasn’t expecting to see, such as Stephan Paquet, a first-rate developer from the North Bay Developer User Group I used to run.

All the sessions I attended were Dreamforce quality or better.  Yet there was something different.  The speakers, myself included, were more relaxed, confident, and open to questions.  IMG_1187Perhaps it was due to the absence of scheduling overload, or the fact the sessions weren’t recorded.  Whatever it was, I liked it, and I’m pretty sure everyone else noticed it as well.  I attended mostly developer sessions, and got plenty of takeaways to justify the trip.

I had diamond in the rough “ah-ha!” moments while Samantha Ready talked about Lightning Out while simultaneously pulling off an ambitious, live demo on hotel wifi.
Listening to Pat Patterson talk about Forcecraft (Salesforce integrated with Minecaft), I finally gained an appreciation for the concepts it represents, something I never got the chance to do at Dreamforce due to schedule overload.
Daniel Hoechst showed some tools for Continuous Integration which helped to validate the concepts I use myself at work.
But between these sessions is where the magic had a chance to happen.  There were 15 minutes, sometimes an hour between them. This free time could be used to hang out in the room and talk with the presenters, converse with the people next to you, meet up with groups of people outside the room, stop by the exhibitors in the trade show area, or hop on your selfie bandwagon of choice.  There was amazing food and drinks o’plenty, which kept the day and the conversations flowing.  There was no excuse to leave if you didn’t want to.  The pacing of the sessions, breaks, lunch, happy hours, was varied, and in my opinion, perfect for a conference like this.  Taking a play from Foo Camp’s playbook, they gave us a canvas and paint to create our own masterpieces.  However, the figurative paint by numbers or even magazines were still on hand for those who prefer more structure.  The key takeaway here is that less actually leads to more.  Passionate attendees can fill the space better than event planners when given the opportunity.  And therein lies the beauty of the community conference.

Dinner was a fancy sit-down affair with a buffet of some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.  The dinner alone was worth the $100 ticket price of the entire conference.  It included plenty of time to talk with your neighbor or switch tables and talk to other people.  There was an impromptu toast to Bill Greenhaw for pulling off such a successful event, as well as some valuable prize giveaways.

After the event the attendees were free to put away their lanyards and badges and explore the nightlife of the area.  I wound up in a live music bar with 10 or so other folks from the conference.  IMG_1214Some I had met that day, others I had already known.  This was a refreshing chance to NOT talk about Salesforce and instead enjoy the fact that we are also people who do things other than sit in front of computers.  Such as listening to a cover of the Eagles with a cold bottle of beer.

Saturday was the Tahoe Dreamin’ fun day.  There was quite a list of activities to choose from.  I chose to try snowmobiling, since I’ve never tried it.  IMG_1221I ended up in a group with Zachary Jeans, Pat Patterson and his family, and Jean Michel Mougeolle (he came all the way from Paris, and gave a session that was the talk of the conference).  It turns out snowmobiling is some of the most fun you can have without breaking the law.  It was like being in a Speeder Bike scene out of Star Wars.  We climbed the deeply snow-covered hills from 7000 feet to 9000 feet on what are mountain bike trails in the summertime. Up and down hills, speeding around curves, never knowing what we would see next.  The mix of adrenaline from the ride, and the breathtaking scenery you get to see is difficult to put into words.
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Photos do not do it justice either.  Emerging from the wooded trails into panoramic views of Lake Tahoe thousands of feet below you, in potentially deadly weather, was a religious experience.  You couldn’t help but high-five the people around you.

After coming down from the snowmobile high, Jean Michel Mougeolle and I got a nice lunch at a cafe.  I learned more about the innovative image platform he is building, delivered in his wonderful french accent.  I think it made my lunch taste better.

We met up with Zachary Jeans, Eric Dreshfield, and Stuart Edeal for gondola ride to the top of Heavenly.  We relaxed and enjoyed the scenery around us as the cable pulled us high up the face of the mountain, and everything below got smaller and smaller.
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We stopped at the observation deck for awhile and tried not to freeze to death while we took some photos.  The protip for survival was keeping the icy wind to your back.IMG_1319 CZcx822UsAIDIsu
We then got back on the gondola and continued to the ski lodge. The lodge and surrounding areas were bustling with 100s of skiers and snowboarders.  We took the opportunity to duck into the lodge and thaw out with a round of coffee.
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While inside the lodge, the conditions outside got progressively worse.  We finally were alerted we needed to get off the mountain before everything shut down.  The trip down was a chance for some more reflecting on the day and joking around.

Once at the bottom I gathered up my fellow carpoolers, said goodbye to Tahoe, and we drove back to the bay area in the dark of night.  This was another opportunity to have some in depth discussions on the nuances of developing on the Salesforce platform and learn from each other.

Did the sponsors of Tahoe Dreamin’ go home with hundreds of qualified leads?  Probably not.  Was there a Tesla raffled off?  No.  But was this conference a complete and total success in the areas that matter the most?  Without a doubt.