Mark Stephens Mark has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and is a big NetBeans fan. He enjoys speaking at conferences. He has an MA in Medieval History and a passion for reading.

What you missed if you were not attending BoS Europe in Cambridge

2 min read

Kings College

The Business of Software conference took place on Thursday and Friday this week. It was over so quickly, and also felt like it went on for a much longer period of time (by Friday night I was totally exhausted).

190 super-smart and super interesting people (and me) gathered together at the beautiful Churchill College in Cambridge to connect and share ideas. We also managed to squeeze in 15 formal sessions. Attendees ranged from CEOs of Unicorns to local students, with a shared connection in the Business of Software. The real value in BoS is the hallway track where you meet a lot of very interesting people.

Picking your favourite talk is like being asked to choose between your children (I love you both Isabella and Patrick!). I enjoyed all the sessions and came away with lots of ideas. Some talks were inspirational and some gave me some practical ideas. My personal favourite was Derek Sivers, who talked about Dark Patterns (essentially tricking people into doing things or misleading them) and his counter-proposal of  Mensch Patterns. I loved his Q & A which he turned on its head and asked the audience Questions. Gareth Marlow on trust (and also covering Depression and the money inside us all) ran it a very close second.

It is very hard to distil this intense experience into a blog post. There are collaborative notes and all the talks were recorded. Here are some of my personal observations:-

  • Still very much worth attending a small, intimate conference like BoS. This is my seventh BoS and I still learnt an awful lot. About half the audience seemed regulars (red badges) and half new-comers (white badges).
  • Conversation is still the best form of human interaction. I spent two days meeting so many interesting people and getting new contacts. People were there to talk. And we did not regard BoS as a sales event but actually came away with some really promising leads (isn’t that always the case).
  • And being there in person was very valuable. I always describe BoS as the conference where people close their laptops so they can focus on the talks properly and really participate and interact. Reading the notes of the conference is useful but it is still like trying to understand what makes a Monty Python joke so funny from examining the script. Say no more, say no more…
  • Innovation is key. There were lots of people there (speakers and non-speakers) doing things is really smart, new ways). John Snyder told us how his teams at Grapeshot kept solving problems because no-one told them they could not be done. Poppy Gustafssson reduced her sales cycle from three months to three weeks just because of someone (ignorant of the ‘rules’ asked why they did not try it). Elpie Bannister and Alex Young are finding new ways to recruit the brightest to their non-profit.
  • Go there with your colleagues (but ignore them). We sent 3 people to the conference. This allowed us to interact with almost everyone there, and I met several people who had met one of my colleagues. And we can talk the same language when we discuss our ideas next week.
  • Trust your team. A theme often emerges at BoS conferences. The speakers talked about how they had gained their real success by delegating power and trusting in their team. There were some really good ideas on how to run better one-to-ones and do a better job of helping your team do theirs.
  • Punting is hard. We arrived a few hours early so that we could enjoy Cambridge. Beautiful sunny afternoon, so we had to try punting. Like many other things in life, it is much harder than the experts make it look…

What did you like most at BoS Europe?

I put together a personal post-mortem of things I learnt, books I want to read, suggestions I have and actions I will do. It’s a private (and quite personal/brutal) document so not part of the website – but if you connect with me via email on markStephens@idr, I will send you a copy.

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Mark Stephens Mark has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and is a big NetBeans fan. He enjoys speaking at conferences. He has an MA in Medieval History and a passion for reading.

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