I just spent three days attending the Agile Open Northwest
conference. It was the best conference I have ever been to. In fact, I haven't been to very many conferences because the few I've attended felt flat and didn't give me many takeaways.
The success of the conference was, I think, entirely due to the Open Space format. In a nutshell, you show up on the first day, and there are zero sessions planned. Every attendee can come up with a session idea (or in some cases 4 or 5 session ideas), announce it to the group, and make it happen.
One thing that made this a great experience was the options I had during each 1-hour time slot. I did not want to wind up in any sessions where the discussion was around semantics, or where someone had strong opinions about The One Way To Do Agile. Frankly, the agile community can be pretty pedantic, and I haven't read all the literature. My interest in agility is not academic, it's very practical: how do I identify and solve problems in my workplace? But this was the pervasive attitude among the attendees and only a few sessions suggested that I was not the target audience. There were many developers at the conference (even other female developers—they exist!), so there were even some sessions about coding or related topics.
I also surprised myself by hosting a session. The reason I signed up for the conference to begin with is that there are aspects of managing a software team that don't come naturally to me, and I have no pattern for how to approach these problems. I wanted to talk to my peers about some of these challenges and perhaps feel less alone, so that's how Managers Who Hate Managing came about. It was great to find out that I'm not alone in my struggles and talk to other people who are in similar boats.
All in all, I couldn't be more pleased with the conference. I learned about some crazy ass things like mob programming (which we'll be trying at my office), and heard hundreds of ideas for improvements that people have made to their own work environments. Who knew that a conference I feared would be useless would give me new excitement about my job—even the parts I hate?