I have a new favorite conference, EUE-Connect in Utrecht, Holland. EUE-Connect is an invitation only annual event held for two days each year. It brings together software developers, 3D modelers, FX specialists and experience agency people to share knowledge about the state of the art where all these professions meet. I got invited to add mixed reality to the mix this year and hopefully grow that aspect of the conference out in the future.
EUE-Connect is the brain child of Joep van der Steen, who is also the beating heart and conscience of the conference. He has managed to create an ongoing and organic event that remains friendly without ever being bureaucratic or fake – really the ultimate goal of any conference, though one that is difficult to maintain.
Part of the secret to this is the FrienDA policy that Joep maintains. What this means, first of all, is that I can’t show you pictures or slides taken inside the Florin pub, where the event is held – so I’ll be showing you pictures of some tasty meals I had in London the following week. The other thing it means is I can’t talk specifically about the content of the talks I heard. This is all so that the speakers, some of whom are fairly well placed in some major corporations in the software, gaming and 3D modeling industries, feel free to talk about what they are most passionate about.
The reason this is a FrienDA rather than an NDA is to make clear why we follow these loose guidelines. It is to be friendly and respectful of others who are going out their way to share what they know, to be a bit vulnerable by giving their opinions, and to allow people the freedom to be wrong. This is a civilized way to maintain confidences.
Coming from a Microsoft conference world, this seems like a much better way to treat one another and a much more successful way to keep faith with one another. In the Microsoft world, NDAs tend to be used not to maintain technical or product secrets anymore, but to broadly maintain corporate and personal reputations. It is at a state where no actually useful information is actually disseminated by Microsoft to their partners anymore, yet every trivial email is surrounded in secrecy for perpetuity. Which is a bit silly.
The other remarkable thing I ran into at the conference, as a typical Microsoft developer, was that this is a community built around non-Microsoft tools like Unreal, 3DS Max and to some extent Unity. It had never occurred to me before that there are other tools out there that people build their careers and reputations around in much the same way developers become knowledgeable and at the same time dependent upon certain Microsoft technologies.
In fostering this wonderful conference, Joep used some important tools that I think others might learn from. First, when some large vendors who sponsored the event in the past began to dominate the sessions, he simply cut back their participation. It is natural to become beholden to someone who gives your event lots of money, but at the same time the quality and sincerity of the event can suffer from it. Joep saw this happen in the past and simply arranged to operate on a different budget. Second, when he felt the conference was getting too large, he cut back attendance. This is rather the opposite of the ethos of most conference who see their goal as one of scaling up in size rather than scaling up in quality. Bucking that trend is quite something.
So over the next year, if you should be fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the EUE-Conference out of recognition for your excellent work in the FX, gaming, or software industries – or simply through good luck as I did – do not hesitate to accept. It will be a conference going experience like none other.