Make 2017 Great by Attending a Festival!

New Year’s Eve. Characteristic of parties, enormous amounts of expended energy, possible hangovers, staying up too late and lost days after recouping (either from the hangover, the expended energy, or potentially both). And while I’m not a fan of the night itself because of those reasons, I am a big fan of the new year itself.

Why you ask?

For me, it’s turned into a time of reflection, goal setting, and festival planning. Yes, festival planning. There are three coming up in a couple months, and it's time to make the decision that this is the year you are going to attend and start booking plane tickets, accommodations, and come up with speaking topics. No excuses.

A few years ago, my nephew could go a whole evening and not talk to anyone save possibly in whispers to his parents. His auntie, favorite uncle Nate, grandparents — people he knew and was familiar with — all a no go. But then later, my sister-in-law would tell me he wouldn’t stop talking about how great whatever event or family gathering we just had. You know, the one where he didn’t interact with anyone. It baffled me.

Then on reflection, I thought back to my first CodeGarden experience. It was 2012 and I think I talked to maybe five people. It was overwhelming, everyone seemed to know each other already, I was one of probably eight women out of 450 men, and I was definitely the quintessential wallflower observer. But when I got home, I couldn’t stop talking about it. I couldn’t wait to go back next year. But first I had to sell it to the rest of the studio who only saw the financial deficit of sending my co-worker and me. Even after all these years, I am not very good at articulating why I find going to Umbraco festivals so vitally important, but I am going to try because for me, getting involved and attending festivals was one of the best moves I’ve ever made — not only for my career but personally as well.

Getting involved and attending festivals was one of the best moves I’ve ever made — not only for my career but personally as well.

Six Reasons You Should Attend a Festival

If you’ve heard anything about an Umbraco festival (or maybe any conference), it might sound like a glorified vacation. There are events and activities going on, social hours, and after parties, not to mention traveling to a new location, staying in hotels, and possibly a free day or two to explore. And while all those things might be true, there are also intense days of sessions, hackathons, workshops, endless amounts of networking. It really can be a mentally exhausting, but ever-so-rewarding experience. So let’s break it down.

  1. You’ll be learning from the best Umbraco experts sharing their skills, tools, and techniques. Depending on the festival, there can be anywhere from one day to five days, one track to three tracks of sessions, hackathons, workshops, and training led by speakers who dive deep into topics necessary to create quality Umbraco sites and apps.
  2. You’ll spend time among the brightest minds in Umbraco and be able to talk or ask about anything. The speakers and the community at large are available and willing to engage in conversation directly related to your Umbraco projects. As one uWestFest attendee once told me, "What I liked best was the accessibility of the different speakers. I can literally walk up, get a handshake, say hi, and talk."
  3. You’ll be meeting like-minded peers and have the chance to discuss your challenges or failures. Even if you don’t talk about your Umbraco related projects with the peers you meet, they’ll be a part of your network going forward and you never know when you might need a helping hand! Creating that initial face-to-face relationship is invaluable.
  4. You’ll leave the festival with practical, actionable "stuff." I’ve yet to attend a conference where I took absolutely nothing away. Whether it’s a new productivity tool, process, snippet of code, a new way of thinking about those doctypes, or the potential to partner up on a job — there are nuggets of awesomeness to be had at every Umbraco festival.
  5. You’ll have tons of fun and have built community connections. Umbraco is all about community. There's a reason it's been termed "the friendliest." The connections you make will not only inspire you but become a resource as you grow in Umbraco and your career.
  6. You’ll be inspired and re-motivated at work. Burnout is a huge issue in the tech world that not many talk about. I’ve been there, a few times. Putting yourself around like-minded people, learning new ways to do things, or just shooting the breeze does wonders for keeping you fresh and inspired. It gives you a sense of renewed purpose and adds a new dimension to your life.

How Do I Convince My Boss?

That’s all well and good, and maybe you’ve been wanting to attend for a while, but you can’t convince your boss it’s a good idea to send you. Or maybe you’re the boss or a freelancer and you just don’t think you can swing it. I’ve been there as well, on both sides. It comes down to the cost/benefit analysis. So let’s break it down:

1. Understand what you or your boss wants

Before you present anything, find out what information your boss needs to say, "yes, you must go to this conference." Often at the top of the list is cost and benefits to the company. Ask yourself what benefiting the company actually means. Is your boss asking to see:

  • How you'll solve a specific pain point within the organization?
  • How the material you learn will help finish up a current project?
  • How the people you'll meet from the Umbraco community can help as a resource to finish a current project?
  • How will this new information be shared with the rest of the team?
  • How your new-found Umbraco knowledge and community connection save the company from hiring someone to do a specific task or skill?
  • How are you adding to the basic Umbraco knowledge of the team?

2. Address your Umbraco needs

If the session list has been posted for the festival you wish to attend, it’ll give you an overview of what you will learn during the session. Only you know which sessions will address your most pressing needs. Explore the sessions that fit your training and Umbraco needs and come up with a bullet list of practical takeaways you can present to your boss. For example (from a previous festival):

In attending Theo Paraskevopoulos’ session on High-End Personalization you will:

Learn when and where you can use personalization, the benefits and pitfalls of personalization illustrated with examples, and get access to code samples as well as integrations that help to deliver highly personalized user experiences with Umbraco.

If you, your agency, or your organization wants to learn about personalization, this session will set you up and save you hours of self-directed learning. That’s a win.

If the session list has not been posted yet, look at previous years. Session quality will be on par, if not better this year.

3. The cost breakdown

Historically, I’ve had luck providing a breakdown of costs to my boss. When thinking about conferences and festivals in abstract, it can seem overwhelmingly expensive. Having a detailed outline of expenses can help manage that, especially when paired with the benefits of going. Costs to consider:

  • Registration. This varies from festival to festival. Many also have early bird pricing. So the earlier you get your ticket, the more you’ll save.
  • Transportation. Depending on mode and distance, this can also vary wildly. I live in the very northwest corner of the United States. I have to fly everywhere, so this is definitely one of my biggest expenses. Setup price notifications and monitor ticket prices to find yourself a bargain. If you do fly, don’t forget to include transit costs to and from the airport. Those can add up as well.
  • Accommodations. Check to see if the festival you’d like to attend reserved a block of rooms at a specific hotel at a special group rate. If not, find a hotel, AirBnB or other accommodations close to the venue to cut down on transportation costs. Put a call out on Twitter and find people to share rooms with. Not only will this help you cut down on costs, but it’s another way to connect with other Umbracians
Amping up your Umbraco knowledge makes you a better Umbraco developer or designer and a more valuable and productive employee.
  • Food. Some meals, snacks, and beverages are typically provided by the festival. Calculate out the rest at $15 - $25 (similar equivalent in Euros) per meal.
  • Time out of the office. This is the most difficult to calculate. Though there’s a cost for you being out of the office, you need to think about the costs to the company of not going to the festival. Do you or does the current team have the skill set to complete the project? Will the festival provide you the skills needed to move a project forward with less labor? Can you finish the project sooner with these skills or connections you will make at the festival?

4. Increased value to yourself or your organization

Most organizations care about and invest in their employees. They look for ways to increase skills and provide the tools necessary to succeed. Amping up your Umbraco knowledge makes you a better Umbraco developer or designer and a more valuable and productive employee. Conferences and festivals are an opportunity for you to glean best practices and network with others facing the same challenges. You'll gain more than you can get from simply reading articles, books, or forum posts.

In summary, provide a Benefits Worksheet

Conference Expenses  
Conference fee $199
Hotel costs $458
Flight $500
Transportation to and from airport $36
Food $80
Total $1,243
Organization's Benefits Specific need, and how the festival addresses that need
Get the latest Umbraco techniques Through the 8 sessions I attend, I'll hear about the latest trends, research, methods, and techniques around Umbraco development and project workflow.
Learn what others are doing in the Umbraco field This conference has several opportunities to network with peers and the speakers. It's a great environment to find out others have addressed similar challenges we've come across. Umbraco HQ will be there as well and are approachable and open to discussion.
Improve individual and team Umbraco skills When I return, I'll do a "lunch and learn" on the various sessions I attend so the team gets the key takeaways I acquire at the conference.
Solve a current implementation problem We've talked about the need to upgrade our site (or client sites) to V.7. There is a session specifically geared to this, as well as sessions on getting more familiar with AngularJS and property editors. With this information, we can move forward at a quicker pace to complete projects.
Eliminate the need to hire outside Umbraco personnel Many session and workshops address the missing skills needed to solve some of the issues we're having. By boosting our skill set it may eliminate the need to hire outside to fulfill these needs.

Meh. I'm Already an Expert. I Still Don't See the Point.

The benefits of knowledge sharing and community building.

If you are already an Umbraco whiz and don’t think you’ll get anything out of the festivals, why not volunteer to speak and share your wealth of knowledge? Knowledge sharing is a huge business driver. It’s competitive out there and while it might be counter-intuitive to share knowledge, it actually leads to more and greater innovation and more success in solving complex problems. Plus, speaking at an event is always good for the resumé.

Let’s illustrate these points with anecdotes from my life. I worked at a small agency when I first got involved with Umbraco. Attending first CodeGarden, then spinning up uWestFest in North America put us in the paths of other Umbracians that allowed us to form partnerships of sorts giving us more man power to bid, take on and execute bigger projects. We were tapped, and we tapped others to help with overflow work. It gave our tiny studio visibility on an international level that we probably would not have achieved otherwise. It gave us connections and friendships that we still maintain even though we as individuals have gone separate ways.

On a personal level, about a year ago I decided to go freelance. Not only was it was a nerve-wracking decision, but I was pushed out of the nest a few months before I was ready. I’ve survived the first year though, and it’s turned out to be one of the better decisions I’ve made for myself in a while. And a lot of my success this last year, I’ve attributed to the connections I’ve made through the Umbraco community. I came away from CodeGarden last year with two jobs, one with the potential to be an ongoing relationship. I would not have landed those jobs if I had not attended, making the expense totally worth it. Not that I’m advocating everyone quit their jobs and go freelance, but it’s an example of how being involved has helped me grow my career.


As an introvert and general non-joiner of things, I never thought I’d be so excited to attend festivals. But I am. I look forward to them. I get excited about them. I get antsy waiting for festival coordinators to announce locations, dates, and ticket prices so I can buy a plane ticket. And in that, I surprise myself.

Maybe this is your year to do the same. See you around the world.


Erica Quessenberry

Fellow Skrift co-founder Erica Quessenberry is a  world wanderer, domestic road-tripping camper, and vegan foodie who is happiest when out experiencing all nature has to offer. A 7x Umbraco MVP, she is an independent UX/UI consultant who works with Umbraco devs around the world improving experiences and interfaces and strives at amplifying diverse voices and sharing knowledge through Skrift Magazine. She understands the value of being a part of a community and is keen on helping others get involved and feel welcome and seen.

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