Why I Liked ALE2011

I did not only enjoy the ALE2011 unconference because of the wonderful people, great talks, inspiring keynotes, cool open space program, and pleasant venue. I find that to be the standard of most conferences I attend in Europe. It is what I expect nowadays when I go to such events.

No, I particularly enjoyed ALE2011 because…

All participants received a badge with the flag of their country and Twitter name on it. And when keynote speaker Dave Snowden needed a badge the organizers made sure he got one showing the Welsh flag. And I feel proud to be the one who had to draw it for him. 🙂

IMG_20110906_194436 There was also a big map of Europe in the hallway, where people could pinpoint the location where they came from. It turns out there were people from 33 different countries, with locations ranging from Vilnius to Lisbon to Trondheim. (And we extended the map with a tiny version of the United States so that Brian Marick felt welcome too!)

Appreciationcards All participants had appreciation cards, with words such as “Thank you”, “Good job”, and “Impressive”. This enabled everyone to easily express their appreciation for what others were doing. (I made sure I gave away more than the number I received, hopefully boosting the flow of appreciation at the conference.)

IMG_20110908_130157 Every room had a Feedback Door where people could put a sticky note with feedback after each session. The attendees could use this to indicate, on a scale of 1 to 5, how much they enjoyed the session. The great thing about this idea is that this feedback is open and transparent. Everyone could check what had been the mood in the room.

IMG_20110908_112156 There was also a Spouses & Kids program, which enabled participants to bring their families from all over Europe. The kids and spouses enjoyed their own collaborative program in Berlin, while frequently reporting the results of their adventures to those of us in the conference. (We all particularly liked the birthday chant for Oana Juncu during Chris Matt’s session about feature injection.)

IMG_20110907_155622 And there was a Dinner with Strangers event, where participants could enter their names and reserve a seat in a restaurant, to enjoy dinner with “strangers” from all over Europe. I enjoyed Thai food with people from Spain to Portugal, and six other countries in between.

IMG_20110909_121035 But most important, people were having fun. Really. It was the first conference ever where I watched a group of people spontaneously create a sticky art version of a conference logo. And where else do people feel so much part of their community that they proudly walk around with stickers on their shirts and computers?

That’s why I liked ALE2011. It was special.

And I’m sure ALE2012 will be special too. It will be even more special when you join us!

(photos: Rob van Lanen and me)

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