tecosystems

The 2022 Monktoberfest

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When we set about organizing the “next” Monktoberfest in the early months of 2020, or even when we tried to regroup in 2021 in those too brief, halcyon post-vaccination but pre-Delta days, the world was a different place than it is today. The first time there was no pandemic; the second time, it seemed at least possible that the pandemic might end someday, ideally even before the event.

Ultimately, of course, there was no 2020 Monktoberfest, and no 2021 Monktoberfest either. And it appeared at several points this summer, in fact, that there would be no 2022 Monktoberfest.

But then the timeline of bivalent boosters was expedited. And COVID numbers both here in Maine and across the country ticked steadily down. And we discovered a new venue that would offer vastly improved ventilation. And a vendor in Attend Safe that would both verify attendee vaccinations and run a daily testing program for us. And we were able to source air filtration options.

And. And. And.

What it came down to, ultimately, was the recognition that with COVID now endemic, if we didn’t hold the event now, what we would effectively be saying was that we’d never be able to hold it again. Because the world isn’t going to go back to the way it was back in 2020, when we were naively planning for a blowout 10th anniversary extravaganza before a novel pathogen turned the entire world upside down.

We were forced to abandon many of those blowout plans this year, alas, both because of the fundamental lack of certainty as to whether we’d be able to hold the event at all and because our hard financial costs and our soft costs in terms of time spent exploded due to COVID: changes in venue, in process, in contingency planning and in optionality. We spent tens of thousands of dollars on our mitigation efforts alone, for example, for an event we ultimately artificially capped at just over half our typical attendees.

But we felt strongly that it didn’t matter that we didn’t get to implement our special 10th anniversary celebrations. That if we were able to do nothing more than get everyone back together, so that we could spend time together, in person, for the first time in years, that it would all be worth it.

And it was. It really was.

All that we asked in return from our attendees was a bit of grace, a bit of patience and some understanding, because holding an in person event in the middle of an ongoing endemic health crisis is an order of magnitude more complicated than it was in the Before Times, and it’s not like it was easy then. Plus, as we tell our audience every year – we are amateurs at events even in the best of times. The sheer number of things we had to plan for that we’d never previously even had to consider was a weight. What would happen, for example, if multiple speakers failed their tests? Or a large contingent all tested positive on morning two? These are some of the myriad scenarios we had to consider, and to plan for.

I’m happy to say that with a very few exceptions, people were understanding, people were patient and people were able to extend us that grace. Not that that was a surprise, because we really do have the best audience in the world.

Seriously, how many conferences’ attendees voluntarily help take down chairs at the conclusion of the event? How many self-organize a playlist of walkup songs? Or a calendar full of personal notes for me? Or have literally everyone from the event staff to the catering crew – who fights to work this event every year – to the venue rep comment on what a great group of people it is?

We could not, of course, guarantee that group of people’s complete safety from the virus at the event. No public event anywhere will be able to promise that, unfortunately, for the foreseeable future. All that we could promise our attendees was that we would take precautions seriously and that we would be extremely transparent about our policies and let people self-select for themselves whether they felt comfortable, which in particular meant a guarantee not to relax any of our requirements once announced.

We count ourselves as very fortunate, investments in venue, filtration and so on notwithstanding, that while we had a small handful of people who tested positive before departing for the event and were thus unable to attend, we received only one reported positive test during the Monktoberfest. Several weeks out from the event now, I believe it was as safe as we could reasonably be expected to make it.

The Monktoberfest is always a labor of love for us, and this year was the most difficult event logistically to organize and it wasn’t close. But honestly, when you get to read reactions like these, it’s all worth it. I don’t know what the future holds and whether there will be a 2023 event, but if there is, it’ll be because of reactions like the following.

The Credit

I say this at the show every year, but it’s worth repeating: the majority of the credit for the Monktoberfest belongs elsewhere. My sincere thanks and appreciation to the following parties. It is enormously important to us that everyone who shares a hand in making this event possible and who makes it happen receives the credit they deserve, so please take a minute to thank the people that follow. Without their support and assistance, the Monktoberfest would not exist.

  • Our Sponsors:
    Because we do not like conferences where talks are simply paid advertisements, we do not sell speaking slots at the show. This means that we have to find sponsors that understand that the benefit to their sponsorship won’t be standing up and pitching but letting attendees know that they helped to make possible an event that they enjoyed. We’re fortunate that we find such sponsors every year, and we can’t thank them enough. Without their support, there is either no Monktoberfest or tickets are thousands upon thousands of dollars.

  • Abbot:
    Of all of our sponsors, only one has been with us every year that we’ve run this event. Red Hat‘s not only the world’s largest pure play open source brand, they’re an organization that gets developers and community, and is willing to invest to support them. Without Red Hat, it’s hard to imagine what the Monktoberfest would have been, or be today. Thank you for always being there, Red Hat.

    When we originally built the Monktoberfest, we intended it to be a modern conference – one that optimized for how people wanted to attend events today. Thus it was fitting that vFunction, a company dedicated to helping architects, devs and CTOs to take classic, monolithic architectures and propel them into the future chose to help us put this whole event on.

    You may remember them for having given laptops away at the Monktoberfest a few times, or you may remember them from the machine you yourself brought to this year’s event, but Dell is committed in a major way to developers the world over. You can tell that from the people they’re hiring, their long history making hardware and software available to devs, and for sponsoring this year’s Monktoberfest.

  • Dinner:
    From the the sushi to the lobsters to the stir fry to the raw bar to the corn tostadas, we try and take care of our attendees whatever they may prefer to eat. Doing so – particularly when the sushi alone would offset a good chunk of our ticket sales – isn’t cheap and we need help to do that. Enter Lacework, the data-driven cloud security company.

  • Diversity Scholarship:
    For the fourth year in a row at the Monktoberfest we hosted a Diversity & Inclusion program. Taking a page from the amazing efforts of our sister conference in London, the Monki Gras, the D&I initiative is an opportunity to give people who would not otherwise have the means or opportunity to attend the conference a free ticket, connections with mentors and travel stipends. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of our joint sponsors MongoDB and Salesforce.

  • Closed Captioning:
    Following in our sister conference the Monki Gras’ admirable footsteps, the Monktoberfest was proud to host closed captioning to the event for the second time. Helping us bring a real time transcription of the event to those who needed it significantly elevated the accessibility of the event and our talks for all. We were grateful to CircleCI and the Cloud Foundry Foundation for helping us bring this important feature to all of you.

  • Dinner Cruise:
    As a company trying to fundamentally rethink what the database experience should be, it’s no surprise that PlanetScale was there to help us put on an event that rethinks the conference experience. If you enjoyed the food and drink while threading our way between the islands of Casco Bay, thank PlanetScale.

  • Video:
    Given the importance we place on the talks at the Monktoberfest, we believe it’s equally important that they are captured and shared for posterity. The good folks from Oxide – whose own Bryan Cantrill was one of the speakers – made all of that possible with their generous underwriting of our video efforts. Thanks to their support, all Monktoberfest 2022 talks were recorded and will be posted in the coming weeks so that you can catch up if you missed it or share your favorite if you were lucky enough to be with us.

  • Lunch:
    Based on the catering bill which will arrive shortly, it’s safe to say that we invest a lot in our food at the Monktoberfest, and we’re only able to do that with the help of sponsors like Salesforce, the world’s leading CRM company, and Tailscale, the simple VPN that happens to be patched in to every device on my personal network, run my local DNS, VPN and virtually everything else network-related.

  • Breakfast:
    Whether you enjoyed Holy Donuts, the pastries from Big Sky Baking or the absurd breakfast sandwiches from the Oh No Cafe, the CNCF deserves your thanks.

  • Glasses:
    Every year, the glassware at the Monktoberfest is one of our most popular takeaways, and 2022 was no exception. Helping us bring you custom Rastal glassware – pictured above – was none other than the good folks from Akamai. And not only did they buy you glasses, they helped fill them by…

  • Buy A Round:
    At lunch, we had a selection of four different beers and a cider. At dinner, we had fully 28 different available selections of beers and ciders. Joining us help buy absurd rounds like these were the good folks from StackPath, an edge-based cloud computing platform for developers and Indeed.com, one of the largest job sites in the world, and Akamai, one of the industry’s leading CDNs and edge computing platforms. We are able to go above and beyond with our beer selection because of support like this.

  • Coffee:
    As a non-coffee drinker, I am not able to evaluate and select coffee, so instead I just defer to what our coffee drinking crowd rates as “excellent” coffee. For that, our thirsty and tired attendees should thank Mux, the company helping developers to build online video, and Liquibase, the company bringing DevOps and automated changed processes to the database.

  • 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 Travers:
    There’s a reason our lineup is so incredible every year, and as I tell people every year when they thank me for the the selection, it sure as hell isn’t me. And while he couldn’t be there for the dinner due to his duties at the newly opened Absolem Cidery up north – which, as an aside, you should absolutely visit, you got a taste of what Ryan Travers can do when he rattled off our 28 beer list Thursday afternoon, giving not just a description but a history of the style, the brewery and the people. Ryan is the force behind The Monktoberfest’s frankly absurd set of offerings, and he drove incredible distances just to source the beers and ciders for this show – and then walks through their histories like some kind of human craft beer encyclopedia.

  • Andrew Todd:
    Those of you who attended the event were likely a bit perplexed when my best friend Andrew started introducing himself as an ecotoxicologist with the EPA there to talk about acid mine drainage, but the real reason he was there of course was to remind our attendees that they have a particular set of skills, a set of skills that can have an influence on the world around them. As he would know, having raised a half a million dollars on behalf of local conservation efforts via the eclectic and incredible Flyathlon. I’m grateful that he was able to take time away from a busy professional schedule, a busy non-profit schedule and from his lovely family to be with us for the event. Thanks bud.

  • Lurie Palino:
    Lurie and her catering crew did an amazing job for us, and as she does every year, delivered on a ridiculous event yet again. With no small assist from her husband, who caught the lobsters, and her incredibly hard working crew at Seacoast Catering. How many conferences have a raw bar, a sushi bar and a lobster bar – all at the same time?

  • Kate:
    Though as many of you noticed Kate wasn’t around the conference itself because she and our daughter were in Florida, nearly all of the best aspects of the Monktoberfest date back to her wise decisions. I can never thank her enough, particularly because she has to solo parent while I’m occupied with the show.

  • Rachel:
    When it comes to the planning for the event, no one is more important than Rachel. Everything runs smoothly – even when it doesn’t and the deliveries end up in the wrong place – because Rachel is detail oriented, organized and on the ball and the human equivalent of a spreadsheet. We couldn’t have done this without her.

    And this year, she not only did all of that, she gave one of the best talks in the history of the event.

  • Lily:
    A mere 37 days after she started with RedMonk, Lily was essentially thrown into the deep end of the pool, charged with running all of the on the ground logistics right down to driving our rental van around and dealing with caterers. I’m pleased to say that, her short time with us notwithstanding, Lily did an absolutely incredible job of helming the event, and never even looked flustered in the process. We’re so very lucky to have her on board.

  • The Staff:
    Morgan did an excellent job of working with sponsors ahead of the conference, and with James secured and managed our the individual sponsorships. She also had to handle all of the incoming traffic while we were all occupied with the conference as well as handle the Monktoberfest social media accounts. Marcia handled all of the back end logistics as she does so well. Alan, Allison, Kim, Jen, Marty and RC handled the chaos that is the event itself with ease. We’ve got an incredible team that worked exceptionally hard.

  • The Attendees:
    Last, but certainly not least, let me thank all of the attendees. Conferences are a ton of work, but you make it worth it every year. Thank you all.

Postscript

Back in 2020, as mentioned, we were well into planning the Monktoberfest when COVID hit and it became very apparent very quickly that there was going to be no event that year. I held out much longer than I realistically should have, however, because I had a real sense of urgency.

My plan even before the 9th Monktoberfest was to celebrate the 10th by having my parents attend, you see. They backstopped me financially when we were getting RedMonk off the ground and were the reason I was able to take a chance on our little startup, and they were therefore one of the reasons the Monktoberfest existed at all. I thought it would be nice to acknowledge that debt by having them attend the event for the first time as honored guests to see first hand what they had helped create.

The problem was that in December of 2019, my Dad was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The doctors never said as much, but even cursory research suggested that he’d be lucky to make it to an October 2020 event. If we had to cancel, he wasn’t likely to make it to 2021. But of course we were left with no choice, and with great reluctance, I cancelled the event that year. My Dad died in January of 2021, never having been to the Monktoberfest – though he did always get a few glasses and loved the shirts.

While I wasn’t able to have my Dad at the event this year, however, I was able to bring my Mom down to attend our dinner. She had a wonderful time, loved the attendees as much as everyone else who meets you all does, and really enjoyed hearing how much everyone appreciated the event and the work that went into it. It probably didn’t hurt that some of you had a nice word or two to say about her son, I’m sure.

So my sincere thanks to all of you for making her feel welcome, for being patient with me when I got choked up trying to explain all of this at dinner, and a special thanks to Mike Maney for capturing this shot of the two of us waiting for an Uber to take her back to her hotel.

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way for me to mark year 10.

One comment

  1. It was exceptionally executed. Well done, y’all!

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