Dreamforce: Not a conference, a community

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Why Dreamforce is a different kind of developer conference

I’ve been to many developer conferences, and they all seem to follow the same pattern. There are sessions of course, most by speakers from the associated platform vendor and perhaps a few by other professional speakers. There’s the exhibit area, with a selection of third party vendors and stations manned by the platform vendor and sponsors. There are keynotes that are inevitably flashy and introduce some new cool technology that both excites and terrifies the audience (What! Everything I know has just become obsolete again?)

Dreamforce has these all of elements, but there’s a difference.

The first thing to know about Dreamforce is that it is huge – typically more than 100,000 attendees, but those numbers reflect the entire conference. All we developers care about is the developer zone part of the conference. The Dev Zone, as we call it, has its own space at the Moscone Convention Center with its own session rooms and exhibit area. It’s just a small part of Dreamforce, which is important because while 100,000 people is a mob, the Dev Zone is still small enough to keep a sense of community.

Community – that’s the keyword, and the key difference. Some of it perhaps comes from the sense of being outnumbered – both at the convention and in the developer world at large. For a few days you don’t have to justify yourself to other developers, to explain that yes, Force.com is a real developer platform. That no, learning Apex does not mean you’ll never get hired by “real” software companies. And that, surprise, we use many of the same technologies that are used on other platforms—technologies like JavaScript and REST and CSS.

Some of the sense of community comes from the fact that nobody is really trying to sell you anything. Not that there isn’t marketing at Dreamforce, there’s plenty – but it’s mostly for the sales and marketing folk in the other buildings. The developer tools and resources are free.

The speakers are other developers, some from Salesforce, but many from the community – all volunteers. And there are other volunteers including MVPs and user group leaders, many manning help stations and code clinics. There are hands-on training sessions, contests, exhibits and even lounge spaces to help you get off your feet for a few minutes (Trust me, you’ll need them).

When does a sense of community become a real community? Perhaps it is when many of the online discussions leading up to the conference have to do with excitement over volunteer opportunities at the conference, or reaching out to first-time attendees with advice, or helping people to find lodging at the last minute.

Or maybe when the entire community embraces Trailhead, an innovative online training program themed on the National Park Service. I’m not suggesting you should expect to see bears wearing tech T-shirts, wooded campfires and tech staff dressed like park rangers – they’re all there, but it’s much more fun to be taken by surprise.

And maybe that’s the difference. Dreamforce is a technology conference. But the Dev zone is more like a giant family reunion, where the newcomers are distant cousins just recently discovered.

If you’re not registered for Dreamforce already, you’re out of luck for this year – they’re sold out. (Though, you may still be able to register if you have special registration code, like EC16FLCI – just go to “register with code” and try it.) But in any case, you don’t have to wait until next year to find out more about developing—most Dreamforce sessions are recorded and posted on YouTube. Plus, there are courses here on Pluralsight to help you learn about the opportunities and technology in the space.

Dreamforce tips for attendees:

  • Sign up for sessions early, but don’t stress if you don’t get everything you want. 25% of the space in each room is reserved for walk-ins.
  • Don’t overbook sessions. There’s plenty to see and do outside of sessions and some of the best experiences you’ll have at Dreamforce involve meeting other developers and sharing experiences.
  • Don’t miss the developer keynote on Thursday.
  • Don’t miss “Meet the developers.”
  • The big Marc Benioff keynote is simulcast everywhere, so you can watch it without waiting in long lines, and you’d probably be watching it on a giant screen in the main hall anyway.
  • Grab lunch early if you can. They don’t run out, but you may have to walk around to find a station that still has food later in the lunch period.
  • Visit the developer exhibit area for information, but walk over to the much larger main exhibit area to collect swag (if you’re into collecting swag).

Pluralsight author sessions at Dreamforce 2016:

If you see me wandering around or come to one of my sessions, come say hello. We’ll swap stories and maybe grab some s’mores. See you at Dreamforce!

Contributor

Dan Appleman

Dan is a well known author, software developer and speaker. Currently the CTO of Full Circle Insights, he is the founder and CEO of Desaware Inc., one of the co-founders of APress publishing, and is the author of numerous books and ebooks on various topics (technology and other); most recently Advanced Apex Programming.