Improving Level Up, Redgate’s internal development conference

small-redgate-level-up-logo (1)Last year, Redgate organised their first ever internal product development conference — Level Up 2018. On 6th March 2018 we bussed ~80 Redgaters to IWM Duxford near Cambridge where Software Engineers, Product Designers, Product Managers, Development Leads, Quality Coaches and assorted leadership types came together to learn, share and collaborate on a vast range of subjects. The event was a great success for the organisation and attendees alike (see what we learnt from our post conference survey here).

So obviously, this year, we had to do it all over again. And because we’re an agile organization we had to respond to what we learnt from our first attempt to improve the next iteration of Level Up.

Right now we’re in the middle of the process of putting together the programme for the conference. We’ve just closed our Call for Sessions and have had an amazing 108 sessions proposed by Redgaters across our themes of Culture, Build and Customers. The Attendees’ vote has begun, so we’re going to get an idea of which of the plethora of proposed content is going to be the most popular.

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The sessions proposed for Level Up 2019 and our voting box!

What we’re going to improve

In this post, I wanted to share what we are hoping to improve for Level Up 2019 and how we’re going to do it:

  1. We want to get more people speaking and sharing. Speakers at Level Up 2018 really got a kick by presenting at last year’s conference. It was an accomplishment and (rightfully) allowed them to garner recognition from their peers. Some of those folks were taking their first steps into the world of public speaking. So this year we’ve created more session spots, to allow us to accommodate more speakers. To make it less daunting for people to get up and share many of these are for shorter sessions (30 mins). We’re also providing some training and coaching for first time speakers in the run-up to the event. We hope, like last year, that a nice side-effect of Level Up will be giving people inspiration and confidence to take their sessions out to an external conference afterwards.
  2. We want to share with more people and get other areas of the company involved. Last year went so well, people from outside our product development community have been asking if they can come along this year! This kind of request never usually happens (“can we please come to your L&D event?”), so we’re listening and have included more people from across the company (but not too many — as we don’t want to overstretch ourselves). Last year we had ~80 attendees and this year it’s going to be nearer 120. We hope the wider cohort will help us improve cross-divisional links and allow us to understand different perspectives on product development.
  3. We want to give more people the opportunity to organise a conference! Last year me and my comrades in the Product Leadership Team did much of the organisation of the event ourselves. That was great, but it took up a lot of time and didn’t give others the chance to flex their organisational and leadership skills. This year we are involving more people in shaping and running the conference as a personal growth opportunity but also to make the event less dependant on us! We have assembled a five person Programme Team of engineers, coaches & designers to run the Call for Sessions, Voting and Speaker Support phases. And they are doing an awesome job, as you can see from the above picture of our proposal boards!
  4. We want to shape the content so it’s even more relevant to the journey Redgate is on. We’re a growing company and, as such, we’ve got opportunities and challenges on the horizon that, at least partly, we can better tackle by sharing our skills, great ideas and innovative practices more widely. So this year, the Level Up conference has a theme (drumroll…) — The Future of Product Development. We’ll have three tracks of content on the day named Culture, Build and Customers. These will be flexible groupings that still allow for a range of perspectives and topics. We don’t want to just hear about what life will be like programming in X# from our Moon Base in ten years’ time — the future starts now! We want to hear about the improvements we should be making this year, what great ideas we should converge on as soon as possible and what lessons we have learnt from past failures that we need to put into practice.
  5. We want to shape the programme timetable so that the style of sessions suits people better. We made some rookie mistakes last time, like putting long workshops at the end of the day, selecting rooms that were too small and putting too many session back to back. So we hoping to fix that this year by being mindful of these issues when we assemble the schedule.
  6. Finally, we want to celebrate what we have achieved together! So we are working hard to organise a post conference party for attendees at the end of the day. The details of this are a bit of a secret (shhhhhh) but our plan is to spend the evening together reflecting on what we’ve learnt and relaxing with some food and a drink. Of course, there’ll also be a hanger full of aircraft to explore 🙂

What isn’t going to change

We want to protect and repeat some of the best aspects of Level Up 2018 though. Again the sessions will be 100% delivered by Redgaters. No external speakers, no superstars to deliver keynotes, no facilitators from 3rd party organisations. Level Up 2019 is a platform for Redgaters to share their skills & knowledge with each other, and an opportunity for people to get their first experiences of conference speaking in a safe environment.

The event is going to be at the same venue as last year, Imperial War Museum Duxford. Duxford was a great location — local, great facilities, professional hosts and a massive museum for us to explore!

What’s next

When our Attendees’ vote ends next week, its over to the leadership and programme teams to select 25–30 sessions from the 108 proposals that have been submitted. That’s going to be very, very hard.

Our next challenge will be to support the speakers who have had their session selected prepare for the event so they feel confident and well prepared. We’re not looking for professional standard, highly polished talks. We want honest, open sharing from authentic practitioners — and I know our folks are going to give us just that!

We also want to be mindful of the people who have not had their sessions selected, asking ourselves how we can harness their willingness and ambition to share their great stuff with others. Fortunately, we have other avenues for spreading knowledge at Redgate — such as Open Space events, Lightning Talks and our development blog, — so we should be able to do that.

Stay tuned to hear about how the big day goes and maybe even a peek into some of the sessions we are treated to.


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