This year, the conference of SUGNL (Sitecore User Group Nederland), was aimed at a larger audience than last year, going from a national event to an international event. And despite the fact that it was named SUGCON Europe, people attended from all over the world! I was looking forward to this event for some time already and I have to say it surpassed my expectations.
Last Thursday, the day before the event, I planned to do the last dry run of my session and finish up the slides. All went well (although it is kind of disappointing how little time 45 minutes is, I would easily be able to fill two of those time slots), I packed my bag and went off to Eindhoven. I checked in quite early, so I even had time for a last dry run and check up on my hotel room, which works quite well because it’s a very quiet place with very little distraction. Having confidence in my preparation, I went to the hotel bar to meet the other speakers and SUGNL members that organized this event. From there we went to the Holland Casino for a dinner and some wary gambling. I had a blast meeting all those Sitecore colleagues and MVP’s. Some of them I already know for quite some time and it was great to meet them again, others I only knew by their tweets or blog posts and it was great to have the opportunity to meet them in person. Oh, and I suck at gambling.
The day started early, we did some final preparations and I set up everything for my talk before the event started. The keynote speech of the day was held by no one less than Lars Fløe Nielsen (co-founder of Sitecore) and immediately set the tone for a series of great talks. Lars showed us the great possibilities of the Sitecore Marketing tools like personalisation, multivariate testing, the Customer Experience Profile and the Experience Database! As a Sitecore fanatic it wasn’t a new topic for me, of course, and we’ve seen much of this at the Symposium in Barcelona last year, but I think this Heineken case inspired a lot of Sitecore developers to get even more out of their Sitecore implementations. And, Lars had some very interesting slides waiting for us at the end of his talk: we’re basically in the end of an era when it comes to .NET WebForms. He showed that newer Sitecore versions will probably aim for MVC-only, having a WebForms version or backwards compatibility for some time, but eventually this technique will be phased out. This shouldn’t be surprising since it follows Microsoft’s roadmap, but it was a good wake up call for everyone still using WebForms.
Developers, you’re not gonna like it, but you are the new marketers. Because you *know* your data! – Lars Nielsen
My session: Sitecore Azure
Then it was time for me to host one of the sessions. My topic ‘Sitecore hosting and deployments in Sitecore Azure’ attracted a lot of people, although I had to compete with other great topics such as the ‘xDB crazy-go-nuts university’ by Todd Mitchell (with I would’ve liked to see too by the way). The talk went perfectly well and it was absolutely great to do, it is always great to be able to share your knowledge and experiences. I gave a short introduction on what PaaS is, presented the benefits, challenges and requirements, and finally I showed the complete process of getting your default out-of-the-box Sitecore 8 installation in Azure as a Cloud Service! I got some great questions too, some that underlined the power of Azure Cloud Services (like how do you backup? Well, it isn’t necessary because you’re building up your VM from scratch each time, being a stateless and volatile service by design – and Azure automatically backups the databases for you!); and some that pointed out it is quite a new product too (like if the Session End bug in Redis Cache is already resolved, which isn’t so unfortunately). I will definitely share the entire contents of my session shortly on this blog!
Discoveries and inspiration!
Time to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day. I first stepped into the session of Adam Najmanowicz about Zen Garden. I heard of it before but must admit I’ve never looked into it very deeply. Now, it’s on the top of my list of tools to assess! I was really impressed by its flexibility and quick setup. After that I went to ‘Managing your user data with Sitecore xDB’ by Ruud van Falier. A good hands-on session that really gave a clear view on context and details, with the code being available as always when Ruud is presenting. With the wrappers he made, it actually looks very easy to store your data in xDB and it really helps in making a wise decision next time when finding a place to store your user data in. The afternoon continued to be filled with nice talks such as Design Patterns by Mike Reynolds (of which I’m using almost all, reassuringly) and Sitecore MVC Advanced by Kevin Brechbuehl on the main stage. Lastly I decided to join the session about personalisation with the Mobile SDK by Mark van Aalst. Interesting to see the possibilities there and with more and more app connectivity showing up on our backlogs, I think this might come in handy rather sooner than later!
A very funny and entertaining, but also very informative finale was provided by Martina Welander with ‘Dude, where does my data go’. She showed various types of data and various ways of storing them, including some interesting cases on how to find the optimal solution for data structures in Sitecore.
The only disappointment of the day was that there were three simultaneous dev tracks. So I had to choose. And consequently, I missed some great talks too..
One windscreen wiper less
After the well deserved drinks, I left with a satisfied feeling. I heard more than once that the quality was up to that of last year’s Symposium, a great compliment for everyone speaking, organizing and attending the event!
When driving home, the warm and very sunny day made place for some heavy rain and I turned on my wipers. Not for long though. A rattling noise followed and I saw my left windscreen wiper flying off! I was happy to see in my mirrors it didn’t hit another car and it landed in between the lanes. Now I was in for quite a challenge: heavy rain and no wiper while travelling on the motorway.. it wasn’t for too long before I found a gas station, where I waited for the rain to pass. Of all the things that could’ve gone wrong today, including my first talk at such an event, I was glad it turned out to be this! Lucky to be part of such a great community Sitecore is!