The Value of Attending J and Beyond

jab12-logoLast summer I didn’t feel ready to attend my first Joomla! Day, which was only a seven-hour drive. Nine months later I not only attended J and Beyond (seven time zones away and in Europe), but also gave one of the presentations. I have no regrets, and I’d like to share the value of attending an event like J and Beyond (JAB) 2012.

Any Joomla! event provides three opportunities to those attending: education, networking, and a chance to share from a platform. JAB 2012 marked the third such annual event and drew a solid mix of extension developers and site integrators from 37 countries. Each of its three days included a full schedule of presentations and open times for networking.

The entire event was held at the Dolce Hotel in the small German town of Bad Nauheim. Being at an international conference, one would hear various languages spoken, but everyone knew English - all presentations are to be delivered in English.

Education

The agenda for each day was built around keynote presentations and breakout presentations. To help attendees decide on which presentation to attend, each included a description and was categorized accordingly: business/marketing, case study, community, development, design. If you pay attention to the movers-and-shakers behind Joomla! and its extensions, you will recognize the names of many of the presenters.

Site integrators would find classes such as mobilization, responsive design, leveraging inbound marketing, creating user-friendly websites, and building one’s Joomla! business. Sessions intended for developers typically included a code-based perspective in topics like plugins, templates, the ACL, various components, and development environments. Every session was video recorded, and by visiting jandbeyond.org, you will be able to view the sessions you wish you could have attended.

Some of the sessions included "roadmap" meetings - a gathering of key players to plan the next 3.x features to develop in areas like search, multi-site, and user experience. Significant planning and decisions were made.

Keynote sessions featured select Joomla! leaders to share about the philosophy and future direction of this platform and CMS. For instance, Kyle Ledbetter shared about changes coming to the interface, and Brian Teeman demonstrated how unpredictable the web is as it continues to evolve.

Networking

Less scripted, but perhaps more prominent than even the education, are the networking opportunities. JAB draws the movers-and-shakers behind Joomla! for an annual in-person gathering. I suspect that the more prominent one is within the Joomla! community, the more importance one gives to this event for face-to-face conversations. Such conversations are invaluable for sharing ideas and building mutual respect.

Joomla! events like this are a chance to get to know others, and to be known by others. This is a chance to meet and dialog with the people behind the avatars and forum handles. And it is a chance to meet entirely new people. On my first day I shared conversations with people from twelve different countries - from fellow site builders to developers of components I use. The schedule frequently accommodated open networking through numerous coffee breaks, long lunch hours, and evening events.

During one break I walked up to a small circle in conversation that included Ryan Ozimek of Open Source Matters and (I learned later) Kyle Ledbetter of the JUX. Once the group disbanded, I started talking to the fellow beside me. I quickly learned that he was Sander Potjer of ACL Manager. He was one of the people I wanted to meet, and I told him so. We shared the following lunch hour talking about business, the ACL, and similar details.

I do have advice for getting more out of networking. First, do your homework. The attendee list is published in advance. Review who will be there and make a list of people you want to meet and get to know better. Second, as part of your homework, know what topics to discuss with each person you plan to meet. Aim for a deeper conversation than just a handshake and exchange of names. Third, be active in the Joomla! community so that others have a better chance of knowing who you are and what you have to offer. For example, Sander recalled my most recent article in the Joomla! Community Magazine, and I suspect that contributed to our mutual respect. But you need to start now if you want to build a presence within the community. Finally, be pro-active in seeking out and joining conversations. I know that can be challenging for many of us introverted techies, but just do it. I found almost everyone to be receptive.

Sharing/Presenting

Needless to say, with so many serious Joomla! people attending, JAB provides an important platform for sharing one’s ideas or products. Any attendee can submit a proposal for a presentation, and those accepted are added to the schedule. Further, vendors who sponsored the event were given booth space. These included well-known Joomla! vendors like RedComponent, Community Builder, and Anything Digital as well as partnering companies eBay, Microsoft, and SiteGround. This is beneficial in both directions - I was able to talk to forum support staff whom I previously knew only by their avatars.

After I committed to attending, Brian Teeman (a Joomla! cofounder and coordinator for JAB) requested that I submit a proposal. I did. I have been working in the area of improving Joomla! usability for our clients, and through my 45 minute presentation at JAB I was able to share my ideas and techniques. Sharing through such a platform is very rewarding - one share’s ideas with the community, attendees become familiar with your work, and the quality of your networking increases significantly.

Tipping Points

A year ago I never would have imagined going to an event like J and Beyond. But my perspective quickly changed through a series of tipping points. First, I chose to attend my first Joomla! Day. Then I raised the courage to suggest and give a presentation at that event - even though no one in the Joomla! world knew me. Jonathan Shroyer (owner of corePHP) attended my presentation and through his encouragement led me past my next tipping point - to share my thoughts and extensions and to be more engaged within the Joomla! community. He and others told me about attending JAB 2011, and the seed was planted.

Perhaps my experience will encourage you to get past your next tipping point. Attend a local Joomla! user group. Attend Joomla! Day. Contribute to the forums, or develop extensions, or volunteer through some Joomla! team. Perhaps I’ll see you next year at J and Beyond.

About Randy

Based in Minnesota, Randy Carey has been building websites with Joomla! for three years. He is the web architect for Careytech Studios. Recently he has launched the iCue Project which explores techniques and develops extensions for improving the Joomla! experience that we deliver to those who maintain website content.