Web Directions South, Day One: Conversation Is King

Matthew Magain

The SitePoint/99designs team were out and about at Web Directions South today, mingling with the punters and sharing coffee and carrot cake with the speakers.

Miles mentioned in a recent issue of the SitePoint Tribune that there are a number of reasons why you should attend conferences, and gave some tips for getting more out of your conference-going experience. We’ve made it clear from the outset, however, that our objectives for attending Web Directions South are a little different.

So rather than summarise the different sessions that were on (you can read all about them on the Web Directions South site), I thought I’d reflect on our objectives for being here in the first place, and see how we’re tracking at the end of Day One.

1. Brand awareness

One very big reason for why we attend this event every year is brand awareness. Our t-shirts are bright orange for a reason—they stand out. We often meet customers in the hallway who own our books or who visit our site, and having a presence (both in the audience and on panels) means that the SitePoint brand remains fresh in the minds of people who are most likely to become customers.

We brought with us two suitcases worth of t-shirts, and spent the first half of the day chatting to people and handing them out, guerilla-style. They were snapped up in no time, and we’re hoping we’ll see a stack of people wearing them at the conference tomorrow. We also gave away a number of books to folks who promised they would be placing them in the office library to be shared by their whole team, so on that front I think we’ve done pretty well.

2. Recruiting

This is probably the biggest reason we bother spending money to fly people to Sydney—attending a conference is a great way to meet people who not only work in the area that we are interested in hiring, but who probably also have a genuine interest in the topics that form part of our values—web standards, open source, best practice… I was hired to work at SitePoint when I met the team at this conference three years ago, and we’ve hired at least two other staff as a result of meeting them at Web Directions. Historically speaking, that’s cheaper than paying a recruiting agency.

So far we’ve met some awesome people, and there are a handful who have expressed interest in the current stack of jobs we have going, which is promising. We’re always keen to talk to talented people, of course, so will still be doing our best to reach out to like-minded souls!

3. Supporting Local Industry

Every now and then we might send someone from SitePoint to @media or SXSWi, but we’ve never missed a Web Directions conference. Of course, it’s less expensive to send staff to another city than to another country, but we also believe it’s important to support events that occur in our local industry. We believe that this conference is as good, or better, than any of the comparable events in Europe or North America, so we want to see that continue to grow.

4. Content For The Site

Naturally the SitePoint team (myself included) have been interviewing speakers and picking their brains on ideas, tips and predictions for the future of the Web. The line-up this year is as good as it’s ever been, so discussing philosophy with August de los Reyes or inspiration with Jina Bolton and Daniel Burka will result in some interesting reading for SitePoint readers, to be published over the next few days.

Of course, the informal conversations are just as interesting—debating the merits of setting fonts in pixels with Jeff Croft, chatting about cycling with Jeff Veen and asking for usability tips from Donna Spencer has been as useful as it has inspiring.

5. Networking

Miles mentioned the importance of “shmoozing” with speakers and attendees alike, and for me this has been the experience that has made today really worthwhile. Chatting to real people who face challenges in their jobs is always interesting and invigorating, and is one of the reasons that I continue to be involved in the Web Standards Group events in Melbourne. We’re always on the lookout for fresh authors too, and this is a great opportunity to meet them! With the Port80 drinks last night and the WebJam event tonight, I reckon we’ve probably met a good percentage of the entire attendees already, and we still have another day to go!

The irony of web folks getting so much out of meeting in person is lost on nobody, but it’s true all the same.

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