Being a Dreamforce Veteran

Posted in: Blog
By: Sean Speer

As a San Franciscan working in the nonprofit Salesforce ecosystem, there are two big events each year that vie for my attention: Dreamforce and Burning Man. Some years they overlap, whereas other years they take place one right after the other. (If you’ve ever attended either, you can just imagine going to both, back-to-back!)

After attending both events many times, the years start to blur together: was that the year that Metallica played Moscone South? Or was that the year Daft Punk played at the trash fence? There were definitely people handing out tequila shots that year and asking me to sign up for an obscure “service” that I probably didn’t need. Then there was the memorable art at both events. Where was it that I saw those giant inflatable forest creatures? I’m pretty sure I did see them! There’s oontz-oontz music everywhere, and a pretty good chance you’ll be screeching Bruce Springsteen songs at 1am with your best buddies, some of whom were strangers only a few hours earlier.

No matter which event you attend, you will learn more than you thought possible and expand your horizons in the process. Skills you thought were useless will suddenly be in demand. Your ability to manipulate digital systems will enthrall everyone around you.

I don’t know if I can call myself a veteran(1) of either event, but I do feel like I have sufficient experience to offer advice to those who are lucky enough to be repeat offenders attendees. So, for those of you coming to the City by the Bay for the biggest annual technology brain-melting love-fest extravaganza–I’m talking about Dreamforce–here’s a list of advice from someone who has your *best* interests at heart.

  1. Do the Expo the right way.
    • You have to do the Expo. I mostly just float around the Expo and look for old friends and acquaintances. Like everything in life, your network is your power. Rekindle old relationships with anyone and everyone you recognize. Catch up on what they’re doing. With a year or more between seeing these people, you never know where they might be now; a lot can change in a year. Think of the Expo not as a vendor demonstration hall, but as a giant networking event.
    • Tchotchkes: Don’t just grab anything in sight. Be thoughtful about which tchotchkes you take, so that they don’t end up in the landfill the week after Dreamforce. C’mon folks, be green and only take items that are actually of use to you.
  2. Make a list for the Expo ahead of time.
    • If you really must get software demos, make a list ahead of time of the kinds of things you want to see. Interested in document merge capability? Then write that down, do some research on which companies you’d like to talk with, and then talk to those people. You can ignore all the other stuff that isn’t on your list until you have open blocks of time that aren’t scheduled. Unless of course they’re doing a Segway raffle, in which case: YES, SIGN UP FOR THE RAFFLE, YOU FOOL. (Note: Entering a raffle is different from grabbing another bobblehead.)
  3. Pace yourself.
    • Think of Dreamforce as an Ironman Triathlon that takes place over four days. The first day is literally just diving in and swimming several miles while everyone else is kicking and punching you, trying to make space in a sea of people all wearing the same thing and going to exactly the same place. Do you like getting punched? No? Then remember you can do the Expo any time. Wait until Thursday when the crowds have died down, the booth people are desperate for someone to talk to, and you just don’t have it in you to attend another email marketing automation session.
    • On day 3, remember that you still have to get on the bike and ride 112 miles. Now, I’m not saying you have to be at peak performance, but if you can’t make it out of bed and your first thoughts at 10:45 am on Thursday are: “Water! I need water. Am I on booth duty? Where am I? Why is someone holding my head in a vise?”, then you may want to dial it back on the evening festivities because you still have a triathlon to finish.
    • Those carts that Salesforce rolls out into the Expo at, like, 4 pm with free booze? Caution, my friend. I’m not saying you shouldn’t partake, but just remember to pace yourself as you still have some meetings ahead, probably a big dinner with coworkers and clients, and possibly some Springsteen karaoke to take care of at the end of the evening. MAKE SURE YOU CAN MAKE IT TO KARAOKE. That’s all I’m sayin’.
  4. Take the bus to the concert.
    • Seriously. Uber and Lyft will be buried in requests. Be smart and take the provided free transit. Bonus: you will meet people on the bus, and they just might be as cool as you! It’ll be just like riding an art car from 8:45 and D across to Frozen Oasis at 3:15 and Esplanade with some dude in the back passed out from too much Purple Drank. Not sure what that means? Ask a Burner.
  5. Leave space.
    • Your first instinct is to sign up for everything. They give you that book that lists all the cool stuff going on and you just want to do EVERYTHING in it!
    • Resist the temptation to do all the things. Seriously. Leave some space. Do a LOT of things, but save some time to roam the halls and meet people. Or grab a couch and relax for a few minutes. You never know who might sit down next to you. You can always get back up and attend that email marketing automation session that you’ve been dreaming about.
  6. Learn. But enjoy. But also: LEARN.
    • Developer Zone.
      • Your organization made an investment when they paid for your Dreamforce registration.  Make the most of this investment by checking out the Developer Zone. Even if you’re not a developer, talk to the folks there. You might learn something, or even discover a passion you didn’t know you had. APEX code might be intimidating, but, like learning any language, it just takes practice and patience.
    • Peer Learning
      • Remember when I mentioned that you should just float around the hallways and talk to people? Yeah, well, when you do talk to new people who do the kinds of things you do try to trade ideas, tips, and tricks.
      • Have you ever shown your Salesforce instance to someone outside of your organization? I know, it’s feels like walking around naked (side note: not recommended at Dreamforce), but showing each other your instances can be really mind-opening.
  7. Divide and conquer, but also regroup and share.
    • Send people from your organization to all sorts of different sessions, and then make time to come together to share what you learned. (Lunch is a good time, as is that vortex between 4pm and happy hour.)

Are you an actual veteran attending Dreamforce?

Make sure you check out VetForce and get set up with some of the veteran nonprofits who use Salesforce, like IAVA. Need an intro? Drop me a line and I’ll get you set up with some other veterans at Dreamforce. I’m the stranger who might become your new friend.