In the run-up to Monki Gras 2019 late last year my colleague Rachel Stephens said something in Slack along the lines of:
“It looks like James is turning the diversity and inclusion track into the whole conference”.
That seems a reasonable aspiration. One of the joys of Monki Gras is being able to shine a light on things I feel are important and deserve more attention. After a couple of days of the conference, it really felt Rachel was on to something. We’ve never run an event so diverse and inclusive before, and focusing on Accessibility felt just right. For someone as bombastic as I am, I hope I am generally reasonably humble. As Stephen says: “You don’t get credit for doing your job”.
But running the conference certainly left me feeling humbled.
We had talks from an amazing group of people that all had something in common – a story to tell about accessibility. From living with chronic illnesses to using Web applications without a mouse to accessing venture capital for underestimated groups to the massive benefits of Inclusive Design – by designing for special needs you make experiences, services, products and communities better for everyone.
As ever at RedMonk events we strive to make the experience as much about the contributions of attendees as speakers. But about those speakers though. Oh my goodie goodie gosh. Huge thanks to
Ben Fletcher, Alex Chan, Rachel Stephens, Louise Miller, Thomas Otter, Joe Drumgoole, Amy Dickens, Grace Owolade-Coombes, Joyce Park, Steph Johnson, Eriol Fox, Dave Letorey, Bruce Lawson, Lorna Jane Mitchell, Paula Kennedy, Suki Fuller, Swarna Podila, Norma Miller, Ross Tierney, Niven Curtis, Marian Foley, Kevin McLaughlin, Jeff Mills, Jane Barnes and Andy Rowland.
Derek du Preez of Diginomica wrote a really nice piece summing up the show. This quote from Diginomica sums up how I think many of us felt after two days thinking about diversity, inclusion, equity, and in particular Accessibility.
“RedMonk chose to dedicate its entire conference this year to these topics and all I can say is that I’d be surprised if I go to a more informative, educational, warm, inspiring event this year. I don’t dish out praise for corporate events lightly, but this one won me over from the first talk, which left me welling up and determined to spend more time learning about how to improve accessibility and inclusion in organisations and for online services.”
You can’t run a conference like Monki Gras, with high production values, and low cost tickets, without amazing sponsors. A special shout out to Pivotal for being our lead sponsor. It’s easy to only focus marketing budgets on quarterly strategic goals – and say stuff like “we’re only sponsoring Kubernetes events this quarter”. Pivotal on the other hand, with its mantra of Be Kind, jumped straight in – it has a culture of inclusion and diversity, and immediately understood the value of our focus on Accessibility.
One of the communities I am most proud we were able to include were from a group called Code Your Future, which is a coding bootcamp for refugees and immigrants. When you have refugees attending your conference and being warmly welcomed by your community you know you’re winning. As a society we need to reboot to become more welcoming.
In order to create a welcoming environment you need a great team. First I need to thank Saffron Governor, my production manager, for doing a stellar job. While I am high functioning, she is the real deal, a proper empath, and is amazing at responding to people’s needs and making sure everyone is welcome and supported, from the first pastry to the last drink. Every detail that was good about the conference is down to her hard work, dedication, and willingness to take on a huge amount of emotional labour on my behalf. Love you Saffron.
I also need to thank Samantha Burke, who managed our Diversity and Inclusion Program, which was a huge success. We will shortly be publishing a guest post about the program – look out for it. We provide support in various forms – free tickets are a baseline, but we also offer mentoring during the conference, and where appropriate, budget for travel and childcare. When it comes to budget we couldn’t have done it without the amazing D&I sponsorship from Digital Ocean. It’s also important to give special thanks to our amazing delegates, many of whom paid for “D&I tickets”, which included an extra fee to be applied to the D&I program.
With Accessibility being the key theme we had to budget for that. Salesforce stepped up as our Accessibility sponsor, which enabled us to have White Coat Captioning at the event. The captioning was for attendees that are hard of hearing, but as per a key theme of the Monki Gras 2019 – providing accessible services makes experiences better for everyone. I hope to see more conferences provide captioning, and I strongly suggest creating a specific budget item to support it, but also an Accessibility Sponsorship for anyone running an event. The Accessibility budget also allowed us to bring Naomi Bottril from Love Language as an interpreter for our first talk of the day by Ben Fletcher, which was in British Sign Language.
Saff’s team – including Rob, Alice, Emmy, Chloe, Alec, Charlotte, Maya, Fanni and Pete- did a stellar job of keeping everything running smoothly. Rob has really grown into his role as my partner in crime for drinks acquisition and management – we had fantastic soft drinks, great wines, and of course, some of the finest craft beers in the world. I asked him to focus on making a broader range of beers available this year, and we delivered on that – with excellent brews from the UK, but also Spain, Norway and Sweden.
Every year we create a new design for the event to reflect the theme. Jack James’ design work for 2019 was excellent. His beer mats are particularly awesome.
Our venue Plexal in the Olympic Park was excellent, flexible, and most importantly, modern and built with Accessibility in mind, rather than as an afterthought. Before the conference we looked at some other venues, but the affordances were just not ideal. You can’t run a conference with Accessibility as the key theme if the pavement on the walk from the station is really bumpy and cracked. Another venue had the event space on the first floor. It had a lift, but the lift was out of the way and very much felt like an afterthought.
The food was really good. We had a lovely sit down dinner on Thursday night, and the kicker for me was that the roast chicken was moist. Having been to as many conferences as I have I know how hard it is to get details like that right at scale. Also can we talk about the seasoning. Thanks to Shanes for that. MongoDB was our catering sponsor for lunch and dinner, and I can’t thank them enough. Great food is a super important part of running an excellent event. Without MongoDB we couldn’t have done it. Red Hat meanwhile sponsored the excellent breakfasts.
While on the subject of sponsors I really need to thank some more excellent folks from the RedMonk community – New Relic made a huge difference as Dean of Monki Gras. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation gave us delicious coffee from the superb baristas and cocktail makers, Midas Coffee. Cisco DevNet for lunch on Day 2 and delicious beers, Citus Data (newly acquired by Microsoft!) and Nexmo both kept us oiled with Buy a Round sponsorships. Adobe was our Dairy Sponsor, which brought us an absolutely incredible raclette on Day 1. We were also super happy to have Snyk come onboard again – with their now traditional theatrical Day 2 snacks for the Monki Gras Social – we’ve had inject your own jam doughnuts, fruit hijackers, and now a delicious afternoon tea with some of the most amazing scones ever seen – they paired beautifully with the Zazel, a raspberry Kettle Sour from the wizards over at Gipsy Hill Brewery. I’ll be posting a complete list of beers shortly.
Thanks to my colleague Juliane Leary for selling the sponsorships that allowed us to put on the conference that made so many people feel welcome.
Because in the end, that’s why we do what we do. Create welcomes, bring lovely people together of all different kinds of backgrounds to share experiences, to learn from each other, to see old friends and make new ones.