Prepping for Dreamforce 2018: What to do now

Dreamforce is approaching, and the way to get the most out of that week in San Fran is by planning ahead.

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You're investing 5 days plus expenses. The Dreamforce payoff is all about time management.

2 weeks out: The finishing touches

Now that the schedule-builder has been up for a week, almost anything worth going to is already filled out.  Have no fear, though: not everyone shows up for many of the sessions, and you may be able to sneak in at the last minute.  Print out your schedule, looking for gaps of more than an hour...then think about these hot tips:

  • For technologists, the one-on-one sessions with developers on the first floor of Moscone West are really worth doing!  But they're not scheduled along with the rest of the sessions.  First thing when you get to Moscone, go and register at the sign-in desk for a drop in session or two.
  • For everyone else, many of the sessions are theater style -- you can't actually schedule them you just bookmark them and show up. They're almost never full, and some of them are pretty good.
  • If you have less than an hour, a few vendors are offering drop-in areas at local restaurants, where you can go hang.  As there's no such thing as a free lunch, you'll have to register and probably sit through some sort of sales preso.
  • If you want to clear your head during a break, forget about Starbucks and local bars: they will all be completely jammed all day.  However, there are great walks to be had in nearly every direction from Moscone center.  Take a map or your phone...and avoid going toward 6th street.

Party on, Garth!

There will be parties galore, but there isn't a party-directory site (as there has been in years past) so you'll just have to keep your ears to the ground and read the emails from vendors.  Sorry.

The main attraction, musically, is going to be Metallica.  You won't find me going to that one, so I've been looking into these alternatives:

  • If you're a real big-shot, maybe you can get yourself invited to the Salesforce Tower upper floors.  I'm not important enough to know anyone who can get me up there, but it's got to have the best view of anywhere in the city, day or night.
  • An alternative for mere mortals is to get a drink at the Top of the Mark, or watch the sunset from the viewpoint on Twin Peaks (it's a cheap Uber ride,; get there around 5:30 PM).  If you've been partying really late, go to Twin Peaks or Treasure Island to watch the sunrise (get there around 6:30 AM for the best effect).
  • Another alternative that most natives don't know about: the best view of the whole Bay Area is on Radio Road on mount San Bruno.  It's got that name because it's the home of about 5 MW of transmitters, plus line-of-site to nearly everywhere.  Make sure there's no fog rolling in before you start out.  The Uber or Lyft ride might be steep, but so's the road.
  • Beach Blanket Babylon is the always-there, must-see show for tourists and natives alike...8 PM. Silly song-and-dance with amazing & amusing hats.  Order your tickets early.

3 weeks out: Agenda Builder is now online.

Put your pre-work to work! 

4 weeks out: Focus on what you need to know

It's almost time for the session scheduler ("Agenda Builder") to come online for Dreamforce, but it ain't there yet...so all you can do now is look for sessions to bookmark.  As there are so many sessions, you'll definitely want to pick the 15-20 that are the most important for you, and that you could conceivably see during the show.  But I'd recommend bookmarking an equal number of standby sessions, as the really cool sessions will likely sell out before you get to the session scheduler.

For me, I pay almost no attention to keynote sessions: they are mainly ads, and not very informative ones at that.  I also schedule tradeshow floor ("expo") time as my lowest priority.  I talk to vendors when I can't get into the sessions I actually wanted. But in this week's bookmarking exercise, figure out which parts of the system you really need to understand better.  That means, things already in production or GA status...not the future whiz-bang stuff.

In looking through the sessions, there's a ton on Lightning...and even the most conservative customers should start learning about it.  A good "diet" is one or two Lightning sessions a day, even if you have no immediate plans to go to the new UI.  Why? Because SFDC will be pummeling the customer base with demos and new products and veiled threats...and you need to know what your boss is going to be hearing from the SFDC reps (so you can develop sensible strategies and counter-arguments).

There are three topics where there is a serious and surprising dearth of sessions:

  • GDPR and privacy: yes, there's a session or two...but nothing about all the process changes required around SFDC to make a serious attempt at compliance (see this article for more)
  • Shield and security: Shield is an amazing feature set from SFDC, and for the serious security professional you need to know lots about it.  Not this time...
  • How to sell Agile to your boss: I hate to beat this drum, but I have to -- too many customers have absolutely no idea what behavior changes they need to make (and that they need to ask of their bosses) to be successful at Agile.  The bigger the client, the more likely they'll say Agile and immediately start micromanaging and demand Waterfall metrics.

The other item that's missing from the session list right now:  all the developer workshops and "camp" sessions.  These alone are worth the price of admission, and you need to get your sessions scheduled as soon as the Agenda Builder is online.

5 weeks out: Plan sessions and other meetings

DreamForce is equal parts technology conference and sales pitches. Personally, I find it amusing that a company get can YOU to pay THEM for sales pitches...so to get the best ROI for my time and money I try to avoid the salesy sessions.   

If you really want to meet with sales professionals at the conference, there will be no shortage. You should schedule those in real time, in time slots that are otherwise uninteresting.  

Once the Dreamforce session scheduler is actually online, choose your sessions fast!  The really good ones fill up in a matter of minutes.  I prioritize my session-scheduling this way:

  1. Technology how-tos: deep dives on topics that I haven't been able to figure out for myself.
  2. Best practices for the business processes I care about (e.g., quote-to-cash or lead management)
  3. Scalability strategies (e.g., what to do with a 200,000-entry price book)
  4. Technology one-on-ones ("basecamps" or whatever they call them this year) to help figure out stuff that is poorly documented (e.g., most of the APIs)
  5. Everything else

Generally speaking, success story sessions aren't that interesting unless (1) it's actually given by the customer (not the integrator) and (2) you can schedule a meeting (like, dinner, drinks...) with that customer to find out the un-sanitized story.  For that second item you'll need to do a little detective work to get the customer information now so you can get on his/her calendar during DF. 

6 weeks out: Watch for session scheduling

Dreamforce is the king of software conferences, with over 2700 sessions this year and probably 150,000 attendees.  All the full-conference tickets are sold out already, so the only passes you can get are for the show floor and the first day.

For those of you who have full conference passes, the time for homework is now.  You can't actually schedule any sessions, but by logging in to the Dreamforce site you can review and bookmark them so they're easy to spot when the scheduling system is turned on.

For whatever reason, SFDC seems to regard the go-live date for the session scheduler as a state secret...they never tell you in advance, and when they do flip the switch all the really interesting sessions are booked out within an hour or two. 

Most evocative session titles I've found so far:

  • "Connected Chickens!" 
  • "Engaging the Customer in the World of Lubricants" 
  • "Engaging with Providers and their Patients for a Better Surgical Journey" 
  • "Making Disagreement Fun" 
  • "Three lessons Marketers can learn from Speed Dating"
  • "Transforming the member experience"

Supposedly, they'll send all registered attendees a notification email when it's there...but I wouldn't rely on that: every morning when you get into work, log in and see if the site now supports scheduling.