BlendConf 2013: Immediate Take Aways

I had a blast at BlendConf this past weekend, and am still marinating on all the cool information that I gleaned from it. I want to share some things that I am already putting into action.

But first, what is BlendConf?! I’m glad you asked. The 3-day conference is primarily aimed at web designers and developers, and has 3 main tracks: User Experience, Design, and Development. The first day (Thursday) is workshops. The second day (Friday) is the traditional track talks. The third day (Saturday) is the blend day, where experts in each track speak in a session that is not their specialty. For instance, a developer talking about open source development in the design track. It was a really great opportunity to get exposure to the various aspects of software (web) development, especially considering this was the inaugural year.

Practical Application from a Talk

The first comes from Amanda Costello’s talk on working with specialists, specifically people with PhDs and other highly specialized individuals. This struck me as particularly interesting as I currently work with many healthcare professionals who are highly educated and specialized (PhDs and MDs). Amanda had a lot of great tips and stories about some of her experiences working with people in higher education.

At one point, she talked about giving her stakeholders (the PhDs) homework which was a list of 4 really simple questions to help her get the information she needs to do her job. Keep in mind that she’s a content strategist, so her main goal is to extract the specialized content from her stakeholders, and get that content onto a website.

Here are the 4 questions:

  1. Who is it for?
  2. Who is it not for?
  3. Are there other sites like this? What makes it different?
  4. What is its name?

When I came into work on Monday after the conference, one of the first e-mails I received was a request for what questions we have around some app requirements where the stakeholders are PhDs and MDs. The app is a mobile app for a healthcare provider, and we recently discovered the requirements and scope had changed since we last talked about the app (about 2 months ago). When I started to get frustrated about what to ask (I don’t know what I don’t know), I thought, “What would Amanda do?” I immediately pulled out my conference notes, and pulled up the 4 questions, all of which had some direct relevance. I was able to put together a list of “comprehensive questions” (see above) so my stakeholders would be more prepared for the face-to-face conversation we need to have.

Thank you, Amanda!

Practical Abstraction From One Point of a Talk

The second major lesson that I am already benefitting from is being more intentional about what activities take up my time. Cameron Moll, founder of Authentic Jobs, spoke about Authenticity in Creativity. He had several powerful stories enforcing his point about authenticity, but something stuck out beyond the obvious topic.

One of his points was to be skeptical of what technology is and what it is not. He applauded the fact that devices were banned/discouraged in the conference sessions, and talked at length about changing his technology usage habits to ensure his own personal authenticity (e.g. keeping his phone in his pocket at dinner). This made me really consider what I hold important and what takes my time. What activities steal my time from other more useful activities?

Afterwards, I did 2 things as a follow-up for myself. The first was to make a list of all the commitments I’ve made and activities I participate in (or want to). I prioritized & refined the list as I’m a chronic over-committer who needs to clear her plate regularly. The second thing has been far more overreaching. Everytime I go to a website or open an app, I try to think consciously about what I’m doing. Is this really how I want to spend this time? Are there other things that are more important to me? Then I think of my list.

Since that session, I have played very little Candy Crush Saga and surfed Facebook a lot less.

Practical Sense of Greater Purpose

The final thing I have been pondering since the keynote by Carl Smith. There really is a greater purpose in programming than simply meeting requirements or getting a paycheck. Carl talked in the keynote about a lot of things, in particular leaving a high paying job to go do something he wanted to do. At the end of his talk, he quoted Invictus, the poem Nelson Mandella cited for prisoners on Robben Island, and I came to a full realization. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

This theme resonated for the rest of the conference. In every session, I heard a consistent theme that we are building amazing things and changing the world one little bit at a time. Literally! One 0 and 1 at a time. I came away from the conference with a renewed purpose not to get mired down in politics or the muck of frustration. I have renewed determination to find my purpose and change the world one bit at a time.

And I was reminded of Bill Nye’s WWDC talk where he kept saying the phrase, “…we could, dare I say it, change the world!” That talk isn’t posted publicly, but this video will give you a sense of what I’m talking about.

I encourage you to remember your purpose, whatever it is, is greater than the politics you play. You could, in fact, change the world!

BlendConf 2013: Immediate Take Aways

Leave a Reply