On Feb 16th 2018, over 400 attendees from around the world made their way to CodeNode in the City of London for the third iteration of London's Calling - the largest Salesforce community event in Europe.
The keynote speaker this year was Dr Sue Black, OBE, on her journey from a single parent of three young children on a council estate to one of the top 50 women in tech in Europe. The words "inspirational" and "awesome" are overused in the technology space, but in this case they are absolutely appropriate. I spoke to a lot of people after the event and heard nothing but good feedback.
In a change from the last couple of years, there was no keynote to start the day, instead another slot for sessions was created and filled. This feels like a change for the better to me - it's a one day event, so bookending with keynotes reduces the time available for learning, which most attendees are looking to maximise. It does mean that there isn't a big name speaker to attract people to register (most likely a Salesforce exec), but as an event becomes established there is less of a need for this.
There was a huge variety of sessions this year - Alexa integrations, Einstein put to various uses (which led to the first question in a session being "Are those all your freckles", which isn't something I expected to hear at a tech conference!), Lightning Components/Layouts/Experience, Pardot vs Marketing Cloud, training users, and change management to name but a few. As usual, attending one session meant you were missing out on another one and I saw a few people move at the halfway point to try to maximise their time. To give an idea of this, there were six sessions on at 10:55 and even though I really wanted to go to three of them, I had to decide on one. I chose Todd Halfpenny's talk on Einstein, and was glad I did otherwise I'd have missed the freckles question!
Another first was workshops - one hour hands on sessions to get stuck into various admin and developer tasks. I didn't take part in any of these, but having run quite a few in the past from Elevate in London through to Dreamforce, I'm pretty familiar with the challenges - it doesn't matter how many times you mention that a laptop and working org is required, someone is going to turn up with a phone and ask if there's anything you can do for them! I'd imagine the workshops replaced the Trailhead areas from previous events and again, this seems like a smart move to me - if you take time off or persuade your company to send you to a community event and then spend the day doing badges that you can do anytime, it doesn't feel like that's delivering huge return on investment.
More sessions obviously need more people to deliver them, but once again the organisers were able to deliver a good mix of experienced presenters and first timers. I was lucky enough to be chosen again this year, with a talk on offline mobile application development and also picked up a guest slot on Angela Mahoney's talk on Male Allies in Tech, an interesting and important topic.
The speakers are also a mix of Salesforce employees and the community, but skewed very much towards the latter. It's easy to tell the difference, as the Salesforce staff always overrun their sessions! What this does mean is that there's a lot less focus on the concepts and simple examples, and more on how problems actually get solved in the real world.
12 companies took part in the demo jam with Aircall coming out on top. While they deserved the win, fitting a huge amount of functionality into three minutes, for pure theatre it would be hard to top Jean Michel Mougeolle as he raced to get images classified to put on a website.
While it's sometimes tempting to skip these type of sessions, always remember that without the sponsors these events can't take place, so always turn up and show support.
While this was bound to increase given the additional attendees, there was a noticeable increase in the amount of networking in the open areas, even while sessions were taking place. When you know everyone and only see them infrequently, managing your time at these events becomes a difficult juggling act
Who ate all the pies?
Finally, the catering took a distinctly British turn this year, with the introduction of pie, mash and mushy peas. This clearly appealed to the attendees as the queue for the pies snaked up and down entire corridors and a number of people had to fall back on the second choice of casserole. A clear signal to the organisers that next year we need pies all round.
Keir Bowden is CTO of BrightGen, a Certified Technical Architect and multi-time Salesforce MVP - you can find him on twitter @bob_buzzard.