5 tips to get the most out of Dreamforce


Two thousand sessions. 150,000 attendees. Noise everywhere. So much to see, so little time. Here’s what to do about it.

Dreamforce is not just a tradeshow. It’s practically a cultural phenomenon (bring on the ukuleles!), and it certainly has a significant impact on the economy of San Francisco. 

Whether you go in person or visit via the web, you’ll be subjected to a mind-numbing array of stimuli. Probably 250 press releases, hundreds of video streams, podcasts, interviews, CNBC segments, all screaming “BUY BUY! BUY!!!” – either for the products or the vendors’ stocks. But all of that is in the vendors’ interests, not really yours. 

The meat of Dreamforce is in the breakout sessions, not the keynotes. If you’re lucky you can take in 20 of those breakouts. That’s 10 percent of the total on offer, so you have to choose carefully.  Of course, everything important was filled up a month ago…but that’s OK.  Because of Tip No. 1:  if you’re a fully-registered attendee, go to the Dreamforce site and hit the Chatter feed. Some of the session decks are already up there. Load ‘em up. 

And then there’s Tip No. 2:  go back to the DF Chatter feed every weekend from now until Thanksgiving to download the decks, code samples and other docs as they dribble in. 

Of course, all this is begging the question: “What’s important to you?”  Depends on who you are and your role. If you’re lucky, Salesforce has a pre-defined track that helps you filter and prioritize, such as “sales leadership” or “financial services.”  For most of those tracks, the news is not jarring:  Things just get better, you have more choices, and maybe paying your vendors and consultants to get the latest and greatest is in your future. (OK, “maybe” should be read as “count on”.) 

That brings us to Tip No. 3:  If you’re a manager, your task at the show is to figure out for the goodies you like, how much is essentially “a freebie with some behavioral change” versus “a new product with a new way of looking at things…which means training that borders on indoctrination.”  Choose wisely. 

[Related: At Dreamforce 2014, Salesforce joins the analytics revolution with wave]

Not everything you’re going to see at the show is “it just gets better.”  If you’re a developer or IT strategist, there are going to be some choices that send you down paths that will be painful to reverse. SFDC has been really good about keeping technologies in place and not forcing ugly transitions over the years. And they are superb at encrypting painful messages into pleasant ones. Every transition is going to be push-button simple. Everything is going to be backwards compatible with just a couple of verb changes. Uh-huh. 

Your job as a technologist at the show is to identify the euphemisms and decrypt the signal from the noise. With each announcement that you are interested in, figure out what “difficult choice” is being masked. And that brings us to Tip No. 4:  when you’re trying to really understand, ignore the slideware and get straight to the reference docs. No reference docs?  Go to a developer’s camp or other expert session and ask the techie about the object model, the services, and the APIs that are relevant to your needs. 

For example, Lightning really is flashy, it’s well-thought-out, it’s got a new component model, and users will probably be begging for it. It’s in place on Salesforce 1, but even though it’s not here quite yet for the Web UI there is documentation that will help you see things. The technologist’s dilemma is “when do I get serious about Lightning?” because in the not-so-long run you’re going to have to. So at Dreamforce, you need to get your head around issues like: 

  • If I have a ton of VisualForce, what do I need to do to make it Lightning-compatible?  When do I need to start moving my legacy VisualForce code off of that language, and which pages go first?
  • If I’m developing for both Salesforce1 and the Web UI, what do I need to do in my Lightning code so that it is (1) really, no kidding, 100 percent functionally equivalent on the two platforms and (2) tolerant of “compatibility drift” that happens when the SF1 code base does the inevitable update that isn’t exactly matched by the browser code base?
  • Lightning and Aura get their magical powers from JavaScript (and associated libraries like jQuery). What do I need to do to become a wizard with JavaScript?
  • What JavaScript tools and debuggers should I be using? 
  • Should I change my development browser from Firefox to Chrome (or the other way around)?
  • What UI design tricks and habits do I need to learn to create really cool user experiences on both mobile and web devices?
  • To what degree should my designs adhere to the strong MVC model in VisualForce when I’m re-thinking my app for Lightning components? 

[Related: Salesforce's big opportunity is in keeping it simple] 

The challenge with a show the size and scope of Dreamforce is prioritization and filtering, managing your energy level so you stay focused and enthusiastic. The parties don’t really help, but they’re a welcome distraction. The Foo Fighters will be a great concert (although it’ll be hard to top Bruno Mars from last year). So here comes Tip No. 5:  there’s almost sure to be a cappuccino cart somewhere on the show floor…so scan your badge for sustenance.

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