Making of Agile India 2005 Bangalore Conference
Oct 2004 : Manoj and Owen had this idea of organizing a conference similar to XP day in Bangalore. The initial plan was to associate ThoughtWorks with the conference. The planning started on the lines of Martin Fowler‘s conferences organized by ThoughtWorks. A few ThoughtWorkers came up with some estimates for budget and time to build the conference.
Nov 2004 : Manoj, with the help of few of his friends had developed the initial website and the logo for the conference. Manoj and Owen were trying to get the people from the beach work on the website. For various reasons there was not much happening in this space. The event seemed to have taken a back seat.
Dec 2004 : ThoughtWorks participated in Linux Bangalore 2004 conference. This is when Manoj shared his ideas with me about a XP conference in Bangalore. Since I had been involved with the Linux conferences from 2002, Manoj thought I could be of some help. During the retrospective on the Linux Bangalore conference, Manoj mentioned about the XP conference. There seemed to be a lot of interest inside ThoughtWorks. This is when a few of them suggested that we should form an Event Management TWIG. Later we met and decided that the event management TWIG would run the event. At this stage Owen was not in India and Manoj lost interest in organizing the event.
Idea of making it a self sufficient event: On a particular day over lunch, Manoj mentioned to me about their [Manoj and Owen‘s] idea of conducting a very small conference. The idea was to ask some university to host this conference in their campus so that we save a huge amount on the venue. The rest of the organizing amount can be recovered from the delegates by charging them some nominal entry fee. In this manner the conference would be independent from ThoughtWorks and a real community driven event. I really liked the concept and I jumped in. By then, Manoj had finished the initial talks with BMS College of Engg regarding, them hosting the event. There was a positive response from the college.
To Do list when I joined: There were essentially 2 major tasks that were pending for quite sometime.
1.Preparing a proposal for BMS College requesting them to host the event
2.Adding content to the website and hosting it.
Jan 2005: We called for a meeting in ThoughtWorks to ask people what they felt about the conference and if we can find someone who could help us with these two tasks. There were different stakeholders whose expectations from the conference were quite diverse. From where I stood, I knew it would be difficult to fulfill all the stakeholders. With Owen traveling and Manoj slowing losing interest, I wanted more support to run the show. On one hand I wanted to make sure ThoughtWorks gets the credit of the conference, but on the other hand we [Manoj and myself] felt that it would be better to organize the conference outside ThoughtWorks. We wanted to run it as a community event. When we proposed this, there was an interesting comment. “There is no community for it to be a community event”. My answer was that we would build a community if that‘s what is required to run the conference.
There was something good that came out of this, there were few people who supported us in organizing the conference outside ThoughtWorks. Out of the many that supported us then, I can think only of Sriram who really helped us.
Though, my current project was getting more and more demanding, with this meeting, I had built enough fire to run the show. Soon I started taking help from Bhavin to review the proposal I had prepared. I remember Sriram and me sitting late in the night and working on the proposal and the website content.
I searched for groups/mailing list on the web, that were active in the Agile space. I did find ExtremeProgramming, but they seemed to be dead. So I decided to create a group on Yahoo. I called it AgileIndiaUsers. By now, the conference had grown from XP specific to Agile. I remember inviting the whole of ThoughtWorks Bangalore office to join the group and every time some one from Bangalore used to join, a mail was sent to the whole Bangalore office. With the kind of stares I got, I should thank God that I‘m still alive.
Manoj and I created an intro mail about the conference and sent it out to our contacts and mailing list we knew. We also mailed this to a contact list which we had created after Martin Fowler‘s last conference. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to send out the mails from my ThoughtWorks id. Only now I know what a disaster it was. I spent almost 15 mins everyday for the next few days deleting the bounced mails.
A lot of people responded to this mail and joined the group. I got a mail from Henry Jacob. His profile and website looked really impressive. I was at the top of the world when he called me and said he wants to support us.
On one fine Saturday, finally Manoj and I went to BMS College and met up with the concerned people. They seemed to be interested, but somewhere they had this greed for making some money out of this conference. Being an alumina of this college, I could sense it. I was not very happy about this situation. I was telling to myself, old habits die hard.
In BMS College, Manoj introduced me to Jabir, who had everything that it takes to become a student coordinator and he seemed to be confident of getting us some student volunteers who would help us organizing the event. I washed away all his efforts of convincing me to organize the conference in BMS College.
After talking to Jabir, I felt the best way to handle all the money which comes from the delegates, is to collect the cash from them on the day of the conference and immediately pay up all the people whom we owe money. This would avoid handling money upfront and other issues like opening up an account in the bank. This is the policy we follow at Bangalore Linux conference.
With this experience, I decided to try out our luck with PES College of Engg. I wrote a mail to the director of PESIT. Immediately, he responded positively. Manoj, Gknee and I went to visit PESIT and we were very impressed with the college. The director of the college assured us support in every possible way. Finally we saw some light at the end of the tunnel.
By now Owen Rogers was back in India and Manoj was all geared up. This was the time when all of us were running with full steam, bubbling with innovative ways of marketing the event. Around this time KK also joined the band and helped us with all the financial, legal and conceptualization of the conference.
During 2nd week of Jan, we updated ThoughtWorks with the progress. A few of them were already on the mailing list and were seeing the progress. The response from ThoughtWorks was great. We had bought ThoughtWorks; they really wanted to support the event by sponsoring the event. Since we were planning to keep it a low key event, we were not planning for any kind of sponsorship. A few of us felt that if ThoughtWorks would be the only sponsor then it would again look like a marketing/branding event. So we made a condition that ThoughtWorks can sponsor only if we are able to find another sponsor. All of us agreed to this.
Jan 26th 2005, 4:00 PM was the first Agile India Users meet. We all met at TGIF on airport road. There were around 12 attendees, 3 non ThoughtWorkers. During this meeting we broadly categorized the tasks that would be needed to organize the conference.
Following are the category and their owners
1.Marketing / branding : Gyanesh, Henry and Owen
2.Logistics : Naresh
3.Technical support and content for the website : Bhavin, Suresh and Sriram
4.Finance : Prashant, Sridhar and KK
We decided that Manoj would coordinate with these 4 groups and make sure everything works fine.
Since we wanted to accept funds from the participants and from the sponsors, KK suggested that we register a not-for-profit society which can then open a bank account and handle all the money related transactions. KK and Sridhar [KK‘s friend who is a CA] handled all the society related paper work. To form the society we needed a name for the society. We conducted a poll on the yahoo groups. Bhavin suggested ASCI : Agile Software Community of India which was elected as the name. We also required 12 board members to form the society. We asked people to volunteer for these posts.
Owen had been to one of the python user group meeting where he met Ramdas. Ramdas is the director of Developer IQ. He seemed to be very interested in helping us and participating in the conference.
Launch of the agile India website:
Owen has already registered the domain name for the website. AgileIndia.org. One evening, Owen and I uploaded the website, which we had created, to his Fitness project‘s web space on SourceForge. Owen also setup a URL redirector to map agileIndia.org to his sourceForge account. It took about 24 hours before the whole website was up and running.
I had forwarded a mail to one of my friends in Subex and he in-turn forwarded the mail to KD [CTO of Subex]. KD seemed to be very interested in being a part of the conference. He also managed to convince the Subex management to sponsor the event. So we had the second sponsor.
Soon we realized that it‘s not a good idea to have the website on SourceForge for long. So we started looking out for options. We posted this on the mailing list. One Mr. Sarath from Hyderabad offered to host the website. Bhavin started coordinating with Sarath to get the website up and running. We wanted to allow people to register online. We decided to copy the format of Linux Bangalore registration. Once the user registers online we generate a key, which the delegate can print and produce for the finally register on the day of the conference. I must say Bhavin did a great job single handedly to get the whole website to the state where it is today.
Soon Owen started driving weekly meetings. One good thing that Owen did was, he insisted that we meet in different companies every meeting. This was a great way of marketing the conference.
Everything seemed to be going fine at this stage. Our only concern was getting quality speakers. Owen and I created a database on Yahoo groups for speakers to propose their sessions. We had decided that we would keep 15th Feb as the deadline for the speakers to send in their proposals. Owen and Manoj stared selling the agile conference to a lot of big guys in ThoughtWorks outside India.
Manoj was coordinating to get appropriate people nominated for each of the ASCI board member‘s posts. The good thing about these board members was that there was an equal representation from different companies.
Meeting at Subex:
During one of the meetings at Subex, we decided we will form a Program committee consisting of Sriram, Suresh and Avik Sengupta [CTO, Itellix]. This committee would handle the speaker registration and slotting of the talks. There was a lot of debate regarding having multiple tracks. Some people wanted just one track. Some wanted to divide the tracks as beginner‘s track and expert‘s track. Finally it was decided to let the program committee handle it. My opinion was to give every person, who wants to present something a fair chance. Hence we had all the proposals in. Initially, I helped Sriram and Suresh to prepare the program. Finally they did a great job and came up with a plan.
During the same meeting, we also discussed of giving something to the delegates. Everyone felt a CD containing all the agile tools would be the best bet. Avik took the responsibility of creating the master and Ramdas promised to charge us a nominal fee to copy the CDs. This is how the conference CD with all those fancy logos was invented.
New look to the website:
One evening, Gyanesh got his friend Vikrant to ThoughtWorks office. Vikrant was the person who had designed Gyanesh‘s website. The website is quite impressive. Vikrant offered to help us design the website and the logos. Immediately within a couple of days, he gave a new look to the website and also designed the new logos for ASCI and Agile India.
I went to a few T-Shirt manufacturers‘ office over a weekend. Out of the many interesting T-Shirts, I selected a black collared T-Shirt. After running around a bit to get a hard copy of the logo, I was able to get the logos embroidered on the T-Shirts. We had initially given the old logo. Once Vikrant designed the new logos, we had to change the artwork for the embroidery.
Initially we had worked out a budget. But with all these developments, I created a new budget for the conference. Based on the expenses, we calculated how much we would need to charge each participant. Slowly we added the concept of corporate booking, where a company can block entry for a bunch of people from their company. After long debate we decide to give them 10% discount for corporate booking. The reason we did this was, to ensure we had at least some people pay upfront. Ramdas also offered his gateway for making online payments. Bhavin got this integrated with our website.
As soon as we opened the online registration we had some 10 registrations the first day. But it kept increasing exponentially. As time passed by, we were getting more and more confident. At one stage we felt we might cross the total number of delegates we want. So we decided to close the online registration on 25th Feb. I remember 25th was a Friday and so when we came in on Monday and checked, some 50 people had registered on the weekend. As soon as we closed the registrations we started getting calls and mails from people who had missed out. It was a big task convincing people that we could not help.
Mementos for the speakers and organizers:
One evening KK and myself were discussing about making some mementos for the speakers and organizers. I suggested we could get some nice pens made. KK liked the idea. I got the samples. Manoj, KK, Bhavin and myself decided the pen and we ordered 100 of them.
Jabir was working on getting us 20 student volunteers. Two weeks before the conference, we had a volunteer‘s briefing. We invited all the volunteers to ThoughtWorks office and spoke to them about their role in the conference. All the students were very enthusiastic about the conference. It was refreshing to see the energy.
Bret Pettichord confirmed his participation and hence we had a big name for the key note. Owen and myself were wondering how things were just falling in place. We were amazed where we had started from and where we were going to.
There were a few other companies that were interested in sponsoring the conference. But somehow none of them materialized. Microsoft was one of those companies. It got a bit annoying when the marketing person from Microsoft started pushing MSDN licenses as sponsorship.
Owen also helped us get international recognition by getting our conference feature on the Agile Alliance website. It was nice to see Bangalore SPIN supporting the conference by sending out mails about the conference to its mailing list. Again thanks to Owen for getting them to do so.
All of us decided to meet in PESIT one week before the conference to workout the logistics. During this time, we booked the local canteen vendor to serve coffee/tea and lunch during the convention.
28th Feb was the last day of my current project. From 1st March we started off with all the actual stuff. On the 1stof march Manoj and myself with the help of Vikrant prepared the banners for the event. On 2nd I went and got all the ingredients for the delegate kits. The T-shirts were also ready. In the mean time Manoj got the display badges ready. Manoj along with another person from Subex started setting up the labs at PESIT for the hands-on session.
Vikrant introduced me to one of his friends, Sanjay, who is a cartoonist. They suggested they could do something to make the conference livelier. Sanjay suggested that he could draw the sketch of the audience and speakers. I thought that was a great idea to draw the sketch of the speakers, which could be presented to them later. The idea was a big hit. Thanks to Vikrant and Sanjay.
Previous day of the conference we landed up at PESIT with a bunch of volunteers to setup the place, assemble the delegate kits, etc. The 2 day conference just flew by without any hiccups. At the end of the conference there was a great sense of achievement and fulfillment.
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If I have missed out anyone I‘m extremely sorry. Hope you understand that is not intentional.