How TechSmith Rocks Its Internal Developer Conference

Your employees can learn a lot from each other. This exclusive inside look at an internal developer conference at screen-capture software maker TechSmith shows how the right mix of informational presentations, hands-on sessions, frank discussions and a bit of fun can take employees out of their comfort zones and motivate them to achieve greater success.

By Matthew Heusser
Thu, December 19, 2013

CIO — Early on a Thursday morning, three blocks from the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, I park in an underground lot, punch a secret code to get through the door, and enter a world that's part fantasy convention and part tech conference.

There's no registration; you can't buy a ticket at any price. Of the half-dozen visitors to the event, five must sign an NDA promising not to reveal what they see. (I'm the only one who doesn't have to sign.)

The event isn't Penguincon, the Linux/sci-fi show, but instead DevCon, the annual internal conference for TechSmith with, perhaps, an overly modest name.

Start with a dozen development teams that contain every role needed to ship software. Each team works on a different product or service, but most share technical architecture. The teams continually experiment and refining their process — but how you do get the teams to talk and share ideas, to push the good ideas out to a larger audience and share them?

That's the goal of DevCon, a one day, 99 percent employee conference for the technical staff at Techsmith. (The company also has a one-day, company-wide conference called EvCon.)

What does a conference like this look like? Is it worth the investment? Should your company do something like this? That's what I came to find out.

Once I get in, I pick up a schedule, map and ID badge at the sign-in table. Nothing unusual there — other than the staff wearing cloaks and carrying battle axes, it could be any technology event. Almost.

TechSmith DevCon Sign-in
Bryce Hauptman and Jennifer Dyni (top) help at sign-in, while Larry Hahaie and Eric Pearson (bottom) make sure that "none shall pass" — without a badge, that is.

TechSmith DevCon None Shall Pass

After sign in, I find a seat in the main conference room, say a few hellos, plug in the laptop, watch the "Welcome to DevCon" Lord of the Rings-themed video and take a look at the conference program.

TechSmith DevCon Schedule
The DevCon schedule, which is mostly public, has sessions that include "Tool Time: The CMS Episode," "Bare Metal JavaScript Patterns," "Automating Relay With Ruby and Cucumber" and even "Side Projects Survival Guide."

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