Brian Ketelsen
May 2, 2014 6 min read

GopherCon 2014 Retrospective(Denver, Colorado - 2014)

It’s a Wrap

Gophercon 2014 is in the books. In the end, we had 700 attendees, and it looks to us like everyone enjoyed the experience. Putting on a conference is really hard work, but once the date arrived everything seemed to come together well. It was really gratifying for us to see so many Go enthusiasts at the event, and I think the best part of the conference was getting to meet all the great people in the Go community that I’ve been interacting with for the past four years. A conference was certainly overdue.

Credit Where It Is Due

While the bulk of the organizing was done by Erik St. Martin and me, we had some tremendous help from people in the community. I’d like to single some of them out here for extra thanks:

  • Cory LaNou, Levi Cook, Julia Allyce and the rest of the Denver Gophers. They were amazing, providing a place to store hundreds of boxes of Gophers, Mugs, t-shirts, programs, and more, topping it off by helping to prepare the bags, then staffing the registration desk for us during the whole conference. Can’t say enough about the awesome Go community in Denver.
  • Steve St. Martin – Erik’s brother came along to help wherever he could and ended up practically running all the registration and pre-conference operations. Thank you!
  • Kelsey Hightower saw that Erik and I were too busy running around lining up the next speakers to pay good attention to the job of keeping the crowd engaged and giving the speakers the warm welcome that they deserved. He volunteered to jump in as emcee, and did a fantastic job of keeping the conference moving on schedule and engaging the audience. He’ll likely become the Billy Crystal of Gophercon, with a permanent job if he’s willing.
  • Damian Gryski, Nathan Youngman, Andy Walker, Dave Cheney, Chris Schaefer – Our pre-conference frenzy of bag stuffing would have taken us three weeks if it wasn’t for these community members jumping in and lending a hand. Everyone was tired and sore from stuffing 700 conference bags by the end of Wednesday, and most of us missed the pre-party, but we made it happen. Thank you all for spending valuable time getting things ready for the crowds.
  • Erick Zayala from Ardan Studios did all of the artwork for our programs, mugs, pens, shirts and signs. They came out so well!
  • Andrew Gerrand from Google. Andrew believed in our vision early and provided moral support and advice along the way.
  • All of our Sponsors We set out to create an event that would be affordable for anyone, from students to enterprise developers, and we couldn’t have done that without the generous sponsorship that these companies provided.
  • Everyone who bought a ticket for the Gophercon Women’s Scholarship. We were able to distribute every ticket, and we’re proud of the community for fostering an open and inclusive environment. One sponsor bought 5 tickets, and I’m pretty sure he paid with personal funds. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • And of course, our amazing speakers. We spent a lot of time picking speakers and topics that would provide a broad range of information to people with various levels of exposure to Go. Our speakers really delivered, providing great advice, demonstrations, technical overviews, background, and best practices. I learned things from every talk.

There are so many other people to thank. Abby Smith and Christine St. Martin were amazing, helping out wherever needed. So many community members helped in large and small ways. To all of you, our heartfelt thanks. It takes a village to raise a Gopher, and we’ve got a pretty amazing village.

What Went Well

We’ve already touched on some of the things that went well: Our speakers were awesome, the community was engaged, the volunteers carried the day. We also thought the Marriott did a great job of responding to our needs. The first day, it was a little confusing during lunch for those people who had special dietary needs. On day two, the event concierge helped us coordinate all those meals into one spot so it was easier for the attendees to find their meals. The Marriott staff also pulled a rabbit out of their hat, providing us with an unplanned lunch on Saturday for our “Hack Day”. Only 50 people responded that they planned on attending, so when we had almost 500 people show up we were taken off guard. Michael from Marriott catering pulled a last-minute lunch off without a hitch. Thank you to Google and Digital Ocean for volunteering to help pay for that lunch. I think it worked out really well, as everyone spent some time socializing during lunch. It was a nice vibe for the mostly-informal ending day of the conference.

Speaking of the “Hack Day”… that was another hit. We were amazed by the quality and quantity of the lightning talks, and on the other side of the room it was so much fun to watch people working together on projects. The Hack Day was something Erik wanted to do from day one, and now I certainly see the light. It was a great time.

Where We Can Improve

We initially planned on 500 people, but the crushing demand as we sold out prompted us to re-arrange our space planning to find room for more people. It meant that our lunch was served in two separate rooms, and that was a little disjointed. Next year, we’ll find a good target number of attendees and plan for that crowd from the beginning. That’s a balancing act, since too many people will make the conference impersonal. We’re thinking about capping attendance around 1000 or 1200 next year. That may mean that we need to change venues. We haven’t begun the planning process for 2015 yet, but we will be doing that in the coming weeks.

We’d also like to see a wider variety of activities outside the core hours of the conference. This year we had pre-parties, pub crawls, coffee shop walks, gaming, hack sessions and more. Next year, we’d love to see more community organized activities that give people an opportunity to get out and make lasting friendships.

We’d like to find a way to let our sponsors engage better with the attendees. Too many conferences have open exhibit halls where the attendees are trapped during breaks. All of our sponsors this year spent a lot of time directly engaging with the attendees, providing tutorials and live demonstrations. We’d like to find a way to make that more comfortable for everyone and facilitate that engagement without turning it into a big trade show.

For a conference that went out of its way to promote and encourage the attendance of women, we somehow didn’t manage to have women’s sizes in our t-shirts. Mea Culpa. We’ll certainly get that right next year.

Where We Are Going From Here

This conference is just the first of hopefully many more. We’re busy trying to think of other ways we can help educate and build the community around Go. If you have ideas, or you want to become more involved, drop us an email – Our mission is to foster the growth of the Go community.

Thank You All

Thanks to everyone who came! We were humbled by the outpouring of gratitude from everyone who went to Denver, and we can’t wait to see you all again next year. Watch this blog for links to the presentation videos when they’re ready.

Erik St. Martin

Brian Ketelsen