This year’s most appreciated European user group get-together lead us to the city of Antwerp in Belgium. The country is famous for it’s ancient cities mixed with modern architecture, stunning buildings and open-minded people - and the beer, of course. The event itself is also famous for great hospitality, awesome speakers and sessions, generous sponsors (which keep the event free for all attendees) and good food and drinks for all who are involved. This year’s Engage was like that (as all the others were) - by 100%.
It’s always a pleasure to meet the people from all over the globe coming together and then experiencing some kind of „switch“ turned on the special Engage-ish mood. It always starts with the preparation of the venue the day before. Imagine a bunch of IT specialist tuning in to a concert of working together in an area they are not professionals in - and that is doing body work, unpacking and moving furniture, banner, lounges and displays around the floor, cleaning up the booths, filling the conference bags and also having a good time doing this - just to get this event started. It’s amazing! If you ever plan to move your home than you want this crowd at your side!
The venue was the Elisabeth Center next to the Zoo of Antwerp, a renovated ancient building with a huge hall at the basement, several floors and a stunning opera-ish concert hall with estimated 600 seats. It’s all covered in wood which gives that warm feeling and an awesome acoustic even without any PA. This was the place where the keynote was done.
The keynote itself got nothing less than 6 people speaking (IBMers, Business Partner and of course Theo) giving a „short“ overview of what to expect from IBM, ICS and the event itself. The downside of the keynote was that the IBM content was approx. 20 minutes over time so the content was altered. The plan was to have also some short introductions from the officially proclaimed partners for application modernisation who were also on site, named Darwino and Aveedo (We4IT). As time ran out they decided to cut that off the agenda - which was a bit disrespectful to the partners who did - of course - some preparations for this keynote.
As a member of one of the companies (We4IT) I was a bit pissed off by this decision (and it was not only me). During the day sessions went well, a lot of people visited the booths and gathered informations we all were happy to give them. In the evening we met again for the VIP dinner (also now known as the „captain’s dinner“) for the sponsors and speakers. This lead us to the hall near the zoo. Long story short: food, drinks, a zoo visit by night and a good time overall.
Branded by the night before at the bar in the Radisson hotel we returned to the venue, gave our sessions and also did the booth work again. One may say that joining a conference is like holidays but in fact it is hard work - I can tell you! For example my step counter says that I made 27km within 2.5 days - WTF? The event ended with the closing „session“ which is basically a huge shoutout to all involved and the prize raffle. It went great for me! On Monday I won a big bottle of Belgian beer and on the final raffle I won an Apple TV! Awesome! Besides other goodies, the speaker gift and lots of non-replaceable impressions I also won new friends and met others in person for the first time (like Jon, Jesse and Richard). To be honest: this is the best part of it! After all attendees left and started their journey home we de-constructed the venue, put everything back in place and loaded the containers with the furnitures. Again and even after 48 hours of heavy conferencing the crowd was there to help Theo who again did an amazing job - with his team around his lovely wife Hilde and so many helping hands around. Once again, we the speakers and sponsors were invited to join a dinner and „surprise“ event in the bar of the Lindner hotel in the 12th floor. Beside a stunning view over Antwerp we had an entertaining programme and a music quiz to do. It was crazy and funny - nothing more to say about that The night was closed (like the two nights before) at the hotel bar in the Radisson which actually changed their closing time to accommodate with our preferences - poor employees, they also deserve big kudos!
This was our travelling day. First leg was by car, Stefan was our driver (for Peer and me). They dropped me at Dusseldorf airport and they then drove to Bremen. I was suffering from a delayed flight back to Dresden and I finally arrived at home about 5 pm. I am still exhausted but overwhelmed and again I want to thank everyone for a great time! See you next year - for sure!
See my Flickr photo album here
Some others blogged about content actually:
Paul Withers here and here.
Christian Guedemann here
Peter Presnell here
And there is special offer for IBM Champions (former and current) from Prominic here