Monday, 29 August 2011 by Ian Ebden
Looks like this article is over a year old, so some of the technical solutions or opinions may be a bit outdated now.
As a long-time EE Pro Network developer, I was proud (and a little nervous) to have organised and hosted it. I suppose it’s one way I can give back to a community and organisation (EllisLab) that have given me so much. Either way, here is my account of EEUK11.
Having thoroughly enjoyed trips out to EECI in The Netherlands the last two years, I was disappointed to hear there would be no European ExpressionEngine conference this autumn. Foolishly, I tweeted the idea of a UK EE meet-up this summer, and the response was immediate and very enthusiastic – along with cries of “let us know when you’ve sorted it out.” Ah. Oh dear.
Worse still, what I’d imagined as an informal meet-up in a pub somewhere over sausage rolls and sandwiches, was quickly becoming a full-blown conference, with people asking about guest speakers and posh venues. “Well, how hard can it be?” I thought (naively). I decided to plough on. EEUK was born.
I’ve spent more time than I’d bargained for this summer checking out venues, lining up sponsors, speakers and giveaways, and of course selling tickets. Would it all be worth it?
EEUK week was a blur, with DesignKarma work taking a back seat. The whole thing only really became a reality at 08:30 on Wednesday morning, when I met guest speaker Leslie Flinger from Seattle. At that point it definitely sunk in. It was really actually happening.
The speakers and I were booked in the Arora Hotel for Thursday and Friday, but Leslie arrived a day early, so stayed with us Wednesday. I had strict instructions from my wife Ali to stall Leslie for an hour while she tidied up after a plumber who’d called that morning to fix our shower that had packed in the day before. Luckily, Leslie needed some breakfast so we headed for a cafe. Driving her around on the left-hand side of the road completely freaked her out! Still, I guess it woke her from her jet lag because she was soon installed at home working on her slides. Until of course, our phone line (and internet) went down. Unbelievable timing, and another bad omen for EEUK! We decamped to my office in Altrincham for the rest of the day. Then it was home for dinner and a few glasses of wine.
Leslie was still in bed Thursday morning as I met another guest speaker at the airport – EllisLab tech support guru John Henry Donovan from Cork. My dining room quickly turned into EEUK HQ with John Henry, Leslie and I working on slides, surrounded by boxes and luggage. My daughter popped in a few times to be nosy and wish me luck in my “assembly”.
After lunch we drove into Manchester and checked in at the Arora. EECI organiser Robert Eernart was waiting in reception, along with another of my speakers Stephen Lewis, plusSimon Cox. I transferred a ton of gear from car to room, and set off again for the airport. This time to pick up speaker Carl Crawley and Geoff Cowan. I dropped them both in Manchester, drove home to ditch the car, and then hopped on a tram back into town again.
Time for some pre-conference drinks and pizza at Dukes92. Joel Bradbury and Lodewijk Schutte (Low), two more of my speakers were there. Rather impressively, most of my speakers headed back to the hotel early to work on their slides that evening. Discipline, I thought. Either that or they were way behind! I stuck around till 10:30 before heading back and spending an hour or two in my hotel room assembling goodie bags and going over everything.
The Morning of EEUK
I slept pretty well, got up at 07:00, and headed for breakfast with Carl and Joel. Made the mistake of checking Twitter at around 08:00 and read a stream of tweets from attendees on their way, all excited. This thumped home the reality of it all and gave me a brief panic attack.
At 08:30 it was time to head over on foot to the EEUK venue. Thankfully, Carl and John Henry helped me cart a ton of gear over there, saving me 3 or 4 trips. I chose Manchester Town Hall’s Banqueting Room over other venues I’d looked at because of it’s obvious wow factor, but also its’ sense of history, size, shape and natural acoustics.
Ali arrived at about 09:15, with her friend Nic shortly after that. They helped out registering delegates who started arriving much earlier than expected, and we had to bring forward the catering a bit. My remaining speakers arrived, and by 10:15 the coffee room was buzzing, and so were my nerves. John Henry was having trouble with his slides on his MacBook, so we transferred to my MacBook Pro. Some more twiddling was needed, so we agreed to switch him in the running order with Leslie.
At 10:30 everyone started to take their seats in the Banqueting Room. Yikes. What a lot of people! This was all on me. If it bombed, there was no-one else to blame. I took to the stage and welcomed everyone before introducing our first guest speaker, Joel.
Watching Joel, I relaxed and just became part of the audience. I realised I had seven great speakers whom I knew would absolutely smash it. All I had to do was introduce them all and try not to trip up on the stage. Hey, I might even enjoy myself!
During Leslie’s talk I sat over on the side with John Henry, making sure his slides were coming together. I also got to look at the audience, who appeared to be enjoying it. Early tweets suggested that too.
Next up was John Henry’s talk on faceted navigation (using Solspace Super Search and AJAX). It left everyone with the same though: “Wow, I’ve got to use that on something.”
Then it was time for lunch. The morning session seemed to fly by. Whilst the buffet was being prepared, Malcolm Elsworth of EEUK sponsors Electric Putty demoed their latest EE add-on Better Workflow, and I deployed the BingoTron 2000 (a crummy little bingo machine I borrowed from my daughter!) to draw 5 random license winners. I dished out some more the same way after lunch.
The Final Push
It was great to see everyone back in their seats at 2pm on the dot, ready and raring. Stephen Lewis was first up after lunch, with some great add-on development tips. Next was a complex but revealing delve into EE’s parse order from Low, before it was time for some very welcome coffee and cakes. By this stage, I’d relaxed into it, worked out some technical kinks, and was getting some really great feedback from delegates.
After the break, Carl Crawley blew us all away with his talk on optimisation, as well as some bonus material on updating EE with an insane bash script he’d written. EEUK drew to a close with a hot-topic talk from Garret Winder on going mobile with EE. It was short but covered a lot of ground and drew some interesting questions from the audience on duplicate content.
Once Garrett wrapped up, I closed EEUK11 by thanking everyone once again, and directing them to the after-party at the wonderful Sam’s Chop House. Delegates practically ran there and I had to call Ali to tell her to get over there fast and let them know we were early. As it was, the area supposed to be roped off, wasn’t; and it apparently took a little while to clear the area. No harm done though, and everyone was soon in and tucking into the free bar – thanks to our gold sponsor (Pixel & Tonic).
I collected up any remaining gear at the Town Hall and took it back to the hotel with some of the speakers, before we all headed over to the Chop House ourselves. That first beer tasted great. The second wasn’t bad either.
I tried to talk with as many delegates as I could, but there wasn’t a great deal of time, and many had to catch trains etc… Those of us who were out for the night headed to Croma after the Chop House for some pizza, before then taking over The City Arms until last orders. From there, things went downhill. Or rather, downstairs… to The Tiger Lounge, where us hardcore EEUK’ers partied till about 4am. Highlight for me was watching Leslie and John Wells doing a hoe-down to “Dueling Banjos” (eclectic doesn’t even come close to describing that DJ’s playlist).
So that was EEUK, and judging from the response I’ve had and read on Twitter, it went down pretty well. My seven guest speakers dropped some knowledge bombs, venue was great, food was great, after-party was great…
I was asked many times on Friday and over the weekend whether I’ll do an EEUK12. I must say, I’m in no great hurry to do it all again. It also depends on what happens with EECI Europe next year. I’m glad it went well and everyone enjoyed themselves and found it worthwhile, and that’s good enough for me I think. I’m a web designer, not an event organiser.
Having said that I did actually enjoy it, and the stress is already fading from my memory. Nah, definitely not doing it again. Well, almost definitely not. Well, possibly…
Thanks again to all who supported and attended! More information, photos and speakers slides can be found at the EEUK website.