Archive for conference

Atlassian Summit 2017 Livestream

I’ve concluded that, for a lot of tech company user conferences, the livestream is the best choice. You get the announcements and keynotes, some of the better sessions, but none of the expense and hassle. If you are a hardcore software developer or IT professional, then the conference is likely worthwhile since it provides an opportunity to connect to others in your field. For bloggers, marketing pros, analysts, and the rest of the ecosystem, the livestream does just fine. Livestreams were also a way to “attend” events that your company or schedule would not permit. Such is the case with Atlassian Summit 2017. The company I worked for (but no longer work for) would never have approved an expenditure like that.

Atlassian Summit 2017 was both familiar and unique. It followed the basic formula of most tech customer conferences. There were keynotes and breakout sessions and the livestream had both. The keynotes, the centerpiece of any livestream or conference, started with a lot of hoopla – dancers, loud EDM, that sort of thing. After the merriment, a co-founder or CEO (or both) come out to extol the virtues of the company culture and charitable giving. Has everyone noticed that every tech company now has a charitable foundation ala Salesforce? Clearly, it’s in vogue and tech companies love to parade out their good works out at conferences. Then we finish up with a speaker, most likely an author, “thinker”, or celebrity who struggles to connect what they do to the company’s products. Kevin Spacey did that masterfully a few years ago. I saw Scott Adams speak an IBM conference where he was funny but struggled to connect with the theme of the conference.

What was different about the Atlassian keynotes was how sloppy they seemed. The co-founders and co-CEOs, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar dressed like they were homeless people. Seriously, baseball caps and tousled hair as if they just woke up and said “Oh damn! I have to give a talk in 5 minutes! Better throw on some clothes. No time for a shower.” Just sloppy. Some of the presenters also seemed nervous or unrehearsed as if they were unprepared for the big stage. It may be that this was what Atlassian was going for, trying to project an image of informality and genuineness. Perhaps but to an enterprise IT professional I doubt this would inspire confidence in Atlassian’s products.

And that’s very unfortunate because the best part of Atlassian’s announcements would certainly appeal to the biggest enterprise customers. Data Center, for example, has expanded to include more Atlassian products and added more enterprise grade features. Cache replication and Rebalancing tools especially will allow for more stability in large installations. The new Identity Manager makes Atlassian products more palatable in security-minded organizations. The addition of Project level administration will also appeal to large enterprises where it is untenable for even a group of administrators to manage each project individually. Even something as simple as the new dependency report will be a help to project managers and release managers trying to manage big and complex projects of the type found in large enterprises.

In other words, the image that Atlassian has of itself and projects outward doesn’t sync with growing ability to service the largest of companies. That’s what made the Atlassian Summit 2017 so unique. These customer confabs are usually carefully scripted to project a brand that is especially palatable to the biggest customers. Atlassian obviously prefers to go its own way and be genuine. While I would love to see them drop the aging gamer look – really guys, it looks silly – for Atlassian, being themselves is more important than looking “enterprise ready.” While I think this will change over time but at this moment in time it’s who they are.

On a final note. A number of people saw my posts on Twitter as being negative toward Atlassian. This is ironic given that the theme of Keynote speaker Kim Scott was Radical Candor. When you consider the scope of Radical Candor, saying that the CEO should lose the baseball cap or show up on time for the Keynote is not particularly harsh. So, lighten up people. And lose the baseball cap on stage.

Apple’s WWDC Keynote Was Strange To Me

I never bothered with Apple products, let alone the Worldwide Developer Conference. Seriously, in 32 years in the IT industry and 6+ years as an analyst, I regarded Apple as mostly a consumer business and spent very little time tracking them. My overall impression was that they were long on style (which is good) but short on real technological substance (which, to me, is not good). The best Apple products happened when they took someone else’s idea, such as the music player or smartphone, and made it palatable to the masses. Personally, I never saw the appeal of Apple. Sure the products were easy to use but that was because you had to do things the Apple way. With Linux, there is a dozen ways to do anything. With Microsoft Windows, you have a limited number of choices. With Apple, there is one and only one way of doing anything and you will like it, so help me Steve Jobs. So, I ignored them.

As I waited for my next gig to begin, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands and said “What the heck! I’ll watch the WWDC livestream.” I’ve been to hundreds of industry conferences and livestreamed many more. Apple’s WWDC was not very different. Lots of loud music, hyperbole, and unbridled enthusiasm for incremental feature enhancements. Seriously folks, do tech companies think we are “really going to love…” a different color or small increase in performance? Is it true that they “can’t be more excited…” about small changes over and over again? Judging by the insane applause at WWDC at the smallest announcement, that might be the case. I’ve seen more sedate crowds at rock concerts and religious gatherings.

Two things struck me about the WWDC keynote that was different than the many other conferences I’ve been to. First, there was almost no blockbuster announcements. The most interesting announcement, to me anyway, was the ability to cut and paste between Macs and iPads. That’s pretty useful and wish I had an easier way to do that in the Windows/Android world. However, that’s not exactly a life changing event. Other than that, everything seemed incremental or catch up. The fanbois went nuts over the idea of Siri for the Mac. Whoopee do da. Microsoft has had Cortana (basically an edgier Siri) on the PC for at least a year, as well as Windows and Android mobile devices. The Apple cognoscenti seemed to utterly lose their minds over the renaming of what is now watchOS. Come on people, watch devices are a tiny niche. Their big, expensive, and poorly duplicate some of the functionality of a smartphone. They are the equivalent of sports car for geeks. No more useful than a cheaper version but an object of desire just the same.

The second big difference between WWDC and other tech conferences is the level of weird. Suer, I’ve seen sad, aging rockers, trampoline artists, and other strange entertainment at conferences but that was just to warm up the crowd. Then it was all business. Apple, on the other hand, spent considerable time introducing a new app called Breathe. Yes, Breathe! As in inhale and exhale. I get controlled breathing and meditation are a way of reducing stress but this is a technology conference not a health or yoga event. If anything will elicit California/New Age/naval gazing jokes, Breathe will. Another popular announcement was the introduction of a Minnie Mouse watch face for the watchOS. Apple positioned it as some kind of feminist statement when it’s obviously the opposite. It is whimsical and cute but it’s still just Minnie Mouse. The speaker kept talking about how much their daughter was going to love this as if they were going to buy a $400 Apple Watch for a little girl. Personally, I would start with a $10 Minnie Mouse watch until they were in, oh, college! I can’t imagine a Google, Microsoft, or Dell conference keynote featuring Minnie Mouse and meditation as important parts of the opening keynote.

WWDC taught me that Apple developers and fans live in a different world than the rest of the development community. It’s a culture all its own, sort of a mashup of techno, geek, fashion, and religion. Technologically, Apple is a follower but from a design perspective it’s a leader. That seems to violate one of the basic precepts of IT culture which is to push the envelope technically and worry about making it pretty later. Yet, this seems okay for the Apple community. The want the sizzle more than the steak.

Listening in on WWDC was like visiting an alien culture. It wasn’t what I expected. I was sometimes delighted but much of the time simply confused. And like many places I’ve visited, I was glad to have done it once but have no plans to return. It’s simply not my tribe.