This past summer the CodeMash organizers and a few special guests met at the Kalahari. (Did you know they have an outdoor waterpark?!)  The purpose of the CodeMash meeting is two fold: reflect on how CodeMash went, and figure out how to make it better. It’s basically the CodeMash Retrospective.

How do we do it?

All CodeMash attendees (speakers, regular attendees, sponsors, and staff) are sent a survey invitation a few weeks after CodeMash. We cover the main categories of our event, which includes questions on sessions, hotels, meals, sponsors, KidzMash, logistics, communications, etc. All of the data is carefully extracted and then hand entered into the CodeMash Quantum AI Computer (“Big Orange”).  In reality, we really just use Excel and pivot tables. This data is summarized, charted, and transmogrified so that committee members that lead the key areas of CodeMash can begin digesting it.

Next up is the planning meeting. The CodeMash Organizers attend, as do a few of the key Kalahari staff. Additionally, we send invites out to a selection of people that answered yes to “I’d be interested in helping attend the CodeMash planning meeting”.  This year, we tried to make sure we had a good sample of different types of attendees: 4 day ticket holders staying at the Kalahari, offsite, a few speakers, and a sponsor. All said and done, we have enough people involved with our planning meeting that we fill up a small conference room in the Kalahari!

Brian Prince facilitates the full day meeting. Each committee member is asked to provide some of the highlights/low lights during their section. While we go through each topic area, there is often a lot of discussion.

A quick Summary of 2018

  • We received 548 total responses from the post event survey. Of those, 60% were 4 day ticket holders, 40% 2 day. 80% were regular attendees, 13% speakers, 2% sponsors and 5% staff.
  • The feedback from the survey was overwhelmingly upbeat- particularly about sessions, content, and the overall venue.
  • Survey data supports that we are aligning well with our core values of being accessible, affordable, and promoting diverse thinking about technology.
  • CodeMash received a net promoter score of 60. “World Class” is considered above 70, 60 is considered “Excellent”.  A good majority of our attendees love CodeMash and even help us promote it.
  • Despite the positive feedback, there was also a lot of gold in the comments for areas of improvement- more on that in a bit.

What did people like?

  • The topics and speakers were good. Attendees appreciated the variety of topics and overall quality.
  • The value of CodeMash… Dollar for Dollar, CodeMash continues to be one of the most affordable conferences.
  • Everyone loves the Kalahari. The venue and the staff are such a large contributor to the success of CodeMash, and we’re thrilled to continue meeting there.
  • Diversity of speakers, content, and inclusivity was positively mentioned many times by attendees in the survey.
  • The hotel registration process was significantly better than in years past. We are working with the Kalahari to further improve/integrate the process.

What didn’t people like?

  • Attendees noticed that some of the swag and handouts were missing (particularly the Calendar and flash drives). On the plus side, the registration line moved faster. 🙂
  • A few veteran attendees noticed that the conference events were dialed back a bit this year.  The reason for this is twofold: 1) sponsorship sales for ancillary items came in a bit less than expected; and 2) we intentionally wanted to dial back the party atmosphere that we’ve had in past events.
  • No one seemed to like the egg tortilla concoction served for breakfast that one day, including the dumpster skunks. It’s tough to find a good balance of adventurous dishes vs. eggs and bacon every day (the feedback last year about breakfast was “it’s too plain!”). We will continue to work on the menu.
  • The weather had some impact, and a few sessions/activities had to be cancelled. This is the down side to having a conference in the middle of winter in Sandusky, OH. On the other hand, the “off season” timing translates to more affordable venue and hotel room pricing.
  • Scarce hotel rooms at the Kalahari continue to be a sore point. Unfortunately, the Kalahari has enough rooms for a bit less than half of our attendees. Because of that, and our contract/room guarantee requirement with the Kalahari, we prioritize rooms for 4 day ticket holders. For 2 day holders, we will continue to develop our partnerships with other hotels to help, and also plan to improve the offsite hotel to Kalahari transportation logistics. We are also continuing to develop a partnership with the GWL (Great Wolf Lodge), which worked out really well for families with younger children.

Looking forward to 2019

The list below is a snapshot of discussion items for 2019 from our planning meeting (the usual disclaimers apply, please do not trade any stock based on the following pro-forma statements).

  • Have you seen the new “Ascii Theme” yet? You can get a feel for it by cruising through our Sponsor Prospectus. We are hoping our attendees, sponsors, and staff all embrace the theme. Sponsors may utilize our logo kit for branding (please visit the CodeMash Sponsor Portal for more info).
  • Speaker Mentoring will be back again for 2019. This program seemed to work well, with many “new to CodeMash” speakers getting some good pointers from veterans.
  • Session Levels. We’re planning to provide a better idea of what level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) the sessions are.
  • Signage for Sessions. The goal is to help provide attendees with a better idea of what session is in what room. We are exploring different signage options, like having screens with session info in front of each room entrance.
  • Diversity. There was a significant amount of discussion at our planning meeting on the topic of diversity. We know that diversity doesn’t happen by accident and it’s something we have to be deliberate about. In that spirit, we are continuing to emphasize diversity at our conference, and plan to make concerted efforts reaching out to communities/groups that may not yet know about CodeMash.
  • Web site improvements / redesign is planned, though we’re a little behind right now.
  • Coffee. Everyone really loves coffee! We are working to find some options on expanding the locations and availability of it. To help scale more effectively, we are also considering adding coffee punches to the attendee badge.
  • Swag… Chotchkies… the shiny spinny things that you get from registration, or at a sponsor booth. Regardless of what you call it, attendees can’t get enuff. If you are a sponsor and have an idea, we’d love to hear from you.
  • Budget. We are always on the lookout to reduce costs, where possible. For example, we recently negotiated lower ticketing fees. As CodeMash is a non-profit organization, we use all the cost savings to make the conference better.
  • Factory. The mega trend of software and hardware convergence continues. We are hoping to identify some new sessions/topics for the factory this year and can’t wait to see what people have submitted during the CFP.  Talks that merge electronics, hacking/tinkering, and coding are what we’re hoping to have more of.
  • KidzMash. KidzMash attendance continues to set new records. In 2018, we raised the bar a bit on content. KidzMash speakers were “fully credentialed” and received the same benefits as a full conference speaker.  The biggest challenge we have with KidzMash are scaling up to meet the demand.
  • Communications. Communication to 2500 attendees can be challenging, because everyone has different preferences. We plan to communicate frequently and through many channels leading up to CodeMash to try to get the word our as much as possible. During the event, we are also working on ideas on focusing communication and making information more discoverable.
  • Transportation. The shuttles are working, and people are using them. However, we continue to have scalability challenges, particularly on Thursday morning. We are looking into the option of adding a short bus to help during peak demand.

We are looking forward to another awesome conference, and hope this gives you a sampling of the things we are working on. Learn more about CodeMash and the upcoming milestones by visiting Join the conversation and tweet us at @codemash or hop on Slack. Stay tuned…