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Monday, 18 February 2013

Looking Back Before the 5th Edition: How GeeCON Came to Be

Have you ever wondered what it is like to organize a community conference? How is it possible that a few people with an idea can actually make an international, 500+ participants event happen? In this post, let's investigate.

Here is what members of the original GeeCON team remember from the 1st edition. And we are approaching the 5th this year!

The Very Beginning
The original idea came from Radek and was pursued by the Polish JUG, with a lot of help from the Czech Republic. The original group consisted of  Radek, Adrian, Mirek, and Grzegorz who sent a very well-received email to the shared Polish JUG's mailing list. Among the first who reacted were Adam D. of Poznań JUG (with the hidden agenda of bringing GeeCON to Poznań), Andrzej, Jakub D., Marcin, Kasia, Jakub N. and Tomas (see the mugshots at our 2009's About Page). The first premises were to host a conference: in English, in Poland (or Poland and the Czech Republic) but a travelling one, about Java and Java-related stuff (Flex, Groovy, best practices) but without the "Java" word in its name. By the way, people, this is a GEEKS CONFERENCE, take a hint while pronouncing the name ;)

Ah... the Money
2009 was not a particularly good year for world economy, so securing funds for a big conference was quite a challenge. At that time Mirek was involved in the Sun Campus Ambassador Program. He helped convince Sun to become the main (Platinum) sponsor for the newly-born event. Among other significant sponsors that the team worked very hard to obtain were SpringSource, Adobe, and Google. And we cannot forget Compendium – they paid for the beer! Accounting help was provided by the GIK (Grupa Informatyczno-Kulturalna) association.

Other Name Proposals
For an awkward trip down the memory lane, here are some of the original name proposals: JET, JavaCE, J^2, JUGO, JUG-Con, JUGConf, CzePoCon/PoCzeCon (Czech/Polish Conference), Java Joint Operation, Gecko. The eruption logo you know is in fact a gecko paw.

How Did We End Up in Kraków and Poznań?
Both Kraków and Poznań have active Java communities and are quite attractive to visitors from abroad. Most of the current GeeCON team live in either one of them, so we can personally supervise everything.

3.. 2. 1.. And We're on! The 1st Edition
The first edition turned out to be a success, one bigger than any one of us had imagined. Some opinions and reviews are gathered here. Check for yourselves. Apparently, Misko Hevery and Bruno Bossola "completely rocked the house".

There were bumps in the road, of course. At 1 am the night before the conference somebody realized that a keynote speaker had not been contacted in a few weeks and there was absolutely no guarantee he was coming (he came). Also, the goodie bags had not been packed in advance, and in the morning it turned out that a million other things needed doing.

Another fond memory?  "There was a bit of a stirrup when one of the speakers' license plate went missing."

Here is a list of speakers who were brave enough to come and speak at this very new event.

We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of you, from sponsors to speakers, and of course all participants, for making GeeCON’s first edition possible!

Advice for Wannabe Conference Organizers
I talked to the team about the advice they can give to people thinking about organizing a conference, and about any mistakes made that seem avoidable from today's perspective. The responses ranged from "Just do it" / "Make it your way and trust yourself", to "Visit other conferences often to see what works, and to verify the speakers' capabilities", to "Don't do it".

Sometimes preparing a JUG presentation or getting involved in an Open Source project may be a more fruitful an experience. It is not an unusual situation when a member of the conference team is physically unable (out of being needed somewhere else, or just being extremely tired) to participate in the most promising session.

We go to other conferences a lot!

The Future?
We want GeeCON to become a world-recognized brand. We would like it to become the place with premiere lectures on the hottest topics.

We will probably cut down on the number of parallel tracks, because quite a few participants complained that the choice gets too tricky.

But mind you, we are far from being wiped out of ideas. Among new developments this year you will find GeeCON 4 Kids and full-fledged discussion panels, facilitating networking and the exchange of knowledge and ideas. Unconference/Open Spaces is coming back too.