The 2013 Monktoberfest

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Monktoberfest 2013
(All photos courtesy Maney Digital)

In a 2001 piece for the New York Times, the now sadly departed Elmore Leonard summed up his tenth and final rule on how to write simply: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Without claiming any particular success, this is essentially the philosophy behind the Monktoberfest. In effect, it’s an attempt to answer the question: what would happen if we threw a conference without the parts that people skip?

Consider sponsored talks, for example. While it is not technically impossible to deliver a sponsored talk that engages an audience, the overlap between great talks and paid talks is tiny. Most end up as little more than infomercials. So we lose them. Then there’s timing. For a conference aimed at and built for developers, who tend to not be the early rising type, why would we start the conference at the more typical 8 AM? 10 AM is much more civilized. And what do people most frequently want to skip at a conference? Meals delivered by a staff whose focus is scaling the food, not crafting the food. Many fewer people, on the other hand, skip a sushi lunch or a dinner that includes lobsters caught by the caterer’s husband the afternoon before.

While this is a bit of a different approach for conferences, the logic behind it seems straightforward. In my experience, the quality of any given conference will ultimately be determined not by the food, drink or even the speakers – as important as they are. The value of a conference is determined instead by its people. Why, then, would we optimize for anything but the people?

Monktoberfest 2013

Whether we succeeded will be determined in the weeks and months ahead, as the impact of the individual talks ripples outwards, we see the manifestations on social media and elsewhere of new connections made at the show and so on. But the early returns are gratifying.

The last quote from Mike is perhaps the most important to me personally. People who have never attended the Monktoberfest will ask me what it’s all about, and my answer is that it’s about the intersection of social and technology. It’s about how technology changes the way that we socialize, and how the way that we socialize changes the way that we build technology. But within that broad framework, speakers have a great deal of latitude to interpret the constraints in interesting ways. In doing so, as Mike says, they make me think about why I think what I think. They make me think about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I can help. They inspire me, and I seriously doubt that I’m the only one. They are, in short, the kinds of talks that don’t necessarily have a home at other shows.


As with most large productions, the Monktoberfest is a group effort, and as such, there are many people to thank.

  • Our Sponsors: Without them, there is no Monktoberfest
    • IBM MobileFirst: In an industry littered with the carcasses of businesses that couldn’t adapt to change, IBM is one of the few major technology companies in existence that has survived not one but multiple waves of disruption. The driving force behind most disruption today is the developer – nowhere is this more apparent than in mobile – and we appreciate IBM’s strong support as our lead sponsor in helping to bring them the conference they deserve.
    • Red Hat: As the world’s largest pure play open source company, there are few who appreciate the power of the developer better than Red Hat. Their support as an Abbot Sponsor – the third year in a row they’ve sponsored the conference, if I’m not mistaken – helps us make the show possible.
    • ServiceRocket: When we post the session videos online in a few weeks, it is Service rocket that you will have to thank.
    • EMC: Enjoyed your surf & turf dinner? Take a minute to thank the good folks from EMC.
    • Rackspace/Splunk: It’s much easier to splurge on fresh sushi when you have partners like Rackspace and Splunk helping to make it possible.
    • Basho: When you came in a little under the weather on Thursday and treated yourself to a breakfast sandwich, that was Basho’s doing.
    • Atlassian/AWS/Brick Alloy/Citrix/CloudSpokes/Docker/Moovweb/Opscode/Rackspace: Remember the rare beers served at the event – one of which included the only barrel available in the US? These are the people that brought it to you. And be sure to thank Atlassian especially, as they brought you four separate rounds.
    • Brick Alloy/Crowd Favorite: While we continue to search for a reasonable solution to the difficult challenges posed by a hundred plus bandwidth-hungry geeks carrying three or more devices per person, Brick Alloy and Crowd Favorite at least deferred the load onto local repeaters.
    • Rackspace: The glasses this year came courtesy of Rackspace, as our attendees will be reminded every time they drink a craft beverage from one.
    • Moovweb: Moovweb, meanwhile, addressed the afternoon munchies.
    • O’Reilly: Lastly, we’d like to thank the good folks from O’Reilly for being our media partner yet again.
  • Our Speakers: Every year I have run the Monktoberfest I have been blown away by the quality of our speakers, a reflection of their abilities and the effort they put into crafting their talks. At some point you’d think I’d learn to expect it, but in the meantime I cannot thank them enough. Next to the people, the talks are the single most defining characteristic of the conference, and the quality of the people who are willing to travel to this show and speak for us is humbling.
  • Ryan and Leigh: Those of you who have been to the Monktoberfest previously have likely come to know Ryan and Leigh, but for everyone else they are one of the best craft beer teams not just in this country, but the world. And they’re even better people, having spent the better part of the last few months sourcing exceptionally hard to find beers for us. It is an honor to have them at the event, and we appreciate that they take time off from running the fantastic Of Love & Regret on behalf of Stillwater Ales down in Baltimore, MD to be with us.
  • Lurie Palino: Lurie and her catering crew have done an amazing job for us every year, but this year was the most challenging yet due to some unfortunate and unnecessary licensing demands presented days before the event. As she does every year, however, she was able to roll with the punches and deliver on an amazing event yet again. With no small assist from her husband, who caught the lobsters, and her incredibly hard working crew at Seacoast Catering.
  • Kate (AKA My Wife): Besides spending virtually all of her non-existent free time over the past few months coordinating caterers, venues and overseeing all of the conference logistics, Kate was responsible for all of the good ideas you’ve enjoyed, whether it was the masseuses last year or the cruise this year. She also puts up with the toll the conference takes on me and my free time. I cannot thank her enough.
  • The Staff: From Juliane and James securing and managing all of our sponsors to Marcia handling all of the back end logistics to Kim, Ryan and the rest of the team handling the chaos that is the event itself, we’ve got an incredible team that worked exceptionally hard.
  • Our Brewers: I’d like to thank Jim Conroy of The Alchemist, Josh Wolf of Allagash, Greg Norton of Bier Cellar, Mike Fava and Tim Adams of Oxbow, and Brian Strumke of Stillwater for taking time out of their busy schedules to be with us. The Alchemist and Allagash, in addition, were kind enough to provide giveaways to our attendees and speakers, respectively.
  • Mike Maney: If he’s not the most enthusiastic Monktoberfest attendee, I’m not sure who would be. Last year he embarked on an epic 7 state road trip to the conference, and this year he sourced three bottles of Dogfish hand signed by none other than the founder of the brewery, Sam Calagione. These we were able to give away to attendees thanks to Mike’s efforts.
  • Caroline McCarthy & Mike McClean of Abbey Cat Brewing: At the conclusion of our brewer’s panel featuring the Alchemist, Allagash, Bier Cellar, Oxbow and Stillwater, our panelists were each issued a customized Monktoberfest mash paddle. This came courtesy of a connection from Monktoberfest speaker Caroline McCarthy, who introduced me to Mike McClean, who graciously furnished us with the paddles gratis. Abbey Cat Brewing, in Mike’s words, makes “mash paddles, with the help of a sweatshop staffed entirely by foster kittens.” What he failed to add is that they are gorgeous creations. And before you ask, yes, we have pictures of the paddles with kittens.

With that, we close this year’s Monktoberfest. For everyone who was a part of it, I owe you my sincere thanks. You make all the blood, sweat, tears worth it. Stay tuned for details about next year, and in the meantime, you might be interested in Thingmonk or the Monki Gras, RedMonk’s other two conferences.

One comment

  1. […] O’Grady says, Monktoberfest is a conference “optimized for the people,” with a focus on the elements that make a conference […]

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