Everything Is Bigger in Texas
Jun 11, 2018
(My 2018 Empower Experience)
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and Empower 2018 was no exception. Between the giant "Q" stage, a rather surprising cake, and lots of live local music, this Empower was the "biggest" yet!
If you missed Empower 2018 or are you thinking about attending Empower 2019, you've come to the right place. I've detailed my first Empower experience here just for you. This post is long, so if you're looking for the short version, I'll start off with a summary.
What I liked:
- The venue at JW Marriott and the attention to detail by the event staff.
- The sessions that had applicable takeaways (details in the full post below).
- Live music.
What I loved:
- The Design Lab.
- Keynote presentations from Quickbase
- The people from Quickbase! Everyone I met was awesome
- Networking with fellow Quick Base Junkies!!!
What I wished were different:
- Several of the sessions I attended lacked tangible takeaways.
- The event lacked finality as the last "speaker" was on Wednesday morning, and the event didn't end until Thursday afternoon.
- The off-site party was largely outdoors, and the heat was nearly unbearable.
I was able to learn a few new things, spark some new ideas, and begin building a network of fellow Quick Base Junkies. Overall I give Empower 2018 a big thumbs up!
When I arrived in Austin, it was hot... like swelteringly hot. Now, I'm originally from Arizona, so I know heat, but this was unexpected. It was oddly refreshing knowing I would be indoors for the next few days.
My Lyft from the airport to the hotel gave me a great view of downtown Austin!
The conference was held at the Austin JW Marriot. The view from my room was sweet! Lots of greenery and a peek at the Colorado River.
Now on to the event!
I did not attend the pre-conference activities (App-a-thon and Fundamentals training), so my day started on Monday evening.
After checking in and freshening up in my hotel room, I headed to registration. Lauren from Quickbase checked me in and gave me my bag of conference swag. Who doesn't love swag!
It turns out Lauren and I had been in touch before the event. That's what happens when you register with the company name Quick Base Junkie. Lauren manages the Quickbase Service Provider (or QSP) program. We agreed to meet up later to chat.
The first item on the agenda was the Empower 2018 Kick-off Party. The kick-off party was held in the Exhibit Hall where we would end up having most of our meals and evening networking events.
Upon entering the hall, we were greeted by a sculpture of a Texas longhorn cow branded with the Quickbase logo.
Upon further inspection, it turns out the "sculpture" was actually a cake! Ok, now I'm impressed.
The mood in the room was very easy going, and I soon discover why.
Quickbase was hosting an open bar. "Why yes, I'll have a glass of wine, thank you very much!"
With my wine in hand, I start to visit the booths.
In one of the corners of the hall Quickbase has set up a Design Lab with various stations. At each station, you can get a stamp, and a full card of stamps will enter you in a contest to win a prize.
Here's what I found at each of the stations:
- Make a Wish: This was a large board to add your own sticky note with what you love about Quickbase, what you dislike about Quickbase, and what you wish Quickbase would do. My sticky note: "It's Awesome! Saves me time & money."
- Kanban: A feedback session on a new kanban feature they'll be rolling out soon. The ask was to prioritize possible features they could add to the kanban functionality such as color-coding. If you use Jira or Trello it's a lot like that but within Quickbase. Very cool! They are already allowing people to use this in pre-release, so it should be out soon.
- Mobile: A feedback session on concepts for a new mobile "skin." Think of it as building forms specifically for mobile use on top of your existing application.
- Release Notes: A feedback session on the format they issue their release notes. I had a lot to say here, recommending they include more video and examples to highlight new features.
- User Feeds: A feedback session for a new feature that would be similar to Jira where you can "watch" a record and have a "feed" on your homepage with updates on records you're watching. This seemed like a great feature. This would enable users to choose what to watch vs. the admin having to set various notifications. There were only mockups in this session, so I don't anticipate this feature coming out very soon.
After visiting each of the stations, I took the opportunity to do some networking. After all one of the top reasons I attended was to meet awesome people (see my pre-event strategy post).
I ended the night off with another drink at the hotel bar while chatting with my new friends and fellow Quickbase developers. There was also a "pool party" that we later learned about, but given it was only pool-adjacent, we didn't miss much.
I also learned we had an Empower app (as in phone app). The app had the event agenda, list of attendees, the ability to follow & message fellow attendees, and even a news feed where you could post comments and photos (like Facebook) among other features. It came in quite handy throughout the event.
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After a quick trip to Starbucks, I made my way back to the Exhibit Hall for breakfast and networking. As the time for the opening keynote arrived, the staff gently ushered us toward the Lone Star Ballroom.
Davin Wilfrid, Quickbase Senior Manager of Content & Customer Advocacy took the stage as our host and master of ceremony.
Davin introduced the conference's theme "Do What Matters" and turned the stage over to All Hands and Hearts. They are a non-profit organization which helps in the aftermath of natural disasters around the globe... and Quickbase user.
Then it was time for the keynote, presented by Greg Verdino from the Digital Now. Greg shared a number of insights about technology and the future.
Before closing out the opening presentation, Davin shared that this is the largest Empower event yet with 900 attendees. This is the fourth Empower that Quickbase has held.
Finally, it was time to find the breakout rooms for the first session.
My first session was Wire Framing: The Surefire Way To Great Application Design presented by Robin Hall from VARC Solutions (a QSP).
She walked us through wireframing a fictitious company's Job Costing Quickbase. There were a few useful nuggets, but overall the session for me was just okay.
Robin explained that typically the wireframing is done with a whiteboard, so perhaps the PowerPoint format wasn't as well suited to the topic.
The wireframing session covered the following:
- What are you really trying to accomplish?
- Brainstorming fields
- Deciding on the tables
- Laying out the fields on the tables
- Deciding on field types
- Adding lookup fields
- Summary fields
- Relating your tables
I was hoping for more of a template, worksheet, or tried and true method for planning out a new application.
The takeaways I had were:
- A reminder of the importance of planning before developing.
- The order in which to think about the building blocks of your app (Tables > Fields > Relationships > Lookup Fields > Summary Fields).
- The concept of creating developer standards when a company has multiple developers. This is to ensure consistency across applications in how to handle different types of data. The standards would include items like the following.
- Best practices for handling different types of data:
- Numeric non-aggregating fields (like PO number or zip code). These should be treated as text fields even if they are numeric.
- Yes/No fields. Rather than use a regular checkbox, use the form settings to format the field as radio buttons. This way the user has to choose yes or no, making sure that an omission is not interpreted as a non-check.
- Multiple Choice should be sorted as either alpha order or in the order shown depending on the nature of the choices. If there is a progression in choices, like project status, they should be listed in that order. However, if it is a long list of non ordered items, it should likely be in alpha order.
Lunch was served back in the Exhibit Hall with a little extra time to visit the Design Lab and event sponsor booths.
After lunch, I was on to my second session, Advanced Quickbase API Tips, Tricks & Techniques with Harrison Hersch. Apparently, this was only Harrison's first week on the job. Despite that, he did a great job.
The API Tips & Tricks session covered:
- Recap: Quickbase API
- Recap: Authentication + Advanced
- DoQuery vs GenResultsTable
- Performance Considerations
- Misc Tips/Tricks
- Relying on Quickbase vs. Code
- Show expanded URL for this Report
- Advanced Query Parameters
Overall this session was quite advanced and not really what I expected. I thought there would be more use cases for APIs, but the bulk of the focus was authentication best practices and performance differences between DoQuery and GenResultsTable.
One cool takeaway I did have was where to find the URL for a report that includes the parameters for the various report filters. All you have to do is open the report, go to the More menu, and select "Show the expanded URL for this table."
My final session for the day was the SMB Town Hall - Celebrating SMB Success!, hosted by Allin Bond and Jill Yanofsky. I was interested to hear some real-life use cases of small & medium-sized businesses using Quickbase.
The panel members were:
- Jonathan Heuer from HomeSquare
- Kent Lewis House from Right Productions
- Amanda Allen from Unum Therapeutics
- Maria Acuna from Ariam-Consulting
What was most interesting is hearing how different each of their use cases were. HomeSquare was using QuickBase as part of validating sales leads, HouseRight was tracking people and packages all over the country, Unum was storing laboratory information, and Ariam-Consulting was managing custom door installations.
I took the opportunity to ask how each of them learned their Quickbase development skills. Most had to figure it out on their own with help from QSPs, their Account Manager, or by leveraging other apps in the App Exchange.
One of them even mentioned hiring a college student to learn and build a Quickbase for them as part of a student project. Now that's getting creative!
After the final session of the day was the Keynote Featuring Quickbase CEO Rick Willett & Quickbase Customer Awards. I was delighted to see some of the people I had been chatting with nominated and even win several of the awards presented.
Rick Willett also shared the company outlook and success since being sold off from Intuit.
Some of the metrics that stuck with me:
- Currently, there are over 17,000 developers and 300,000 users.
- 40% of the Quickbase developers are women
- Most of the Quickbase developers are split between Millennials & Gen X
Finally, there was a Networking Party with drinks and light refreshments back in the Exhibit Hall.
In the evening several of the sponsors were having off-site parties, some by invite only. I opted to hang back at the hotel with several others to learn more about how they're using Quickbase and understand how Quick Base Junkie can help fill a much-needed training gap.
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Day three began with a Women's Leadership Breakfast hosted by Quickbase SVP of Marketing & Analytics Cynthia Gumbert and Quickbase SVP of Human Resources Amy Cohn.
The panel consisted of the three "J's":
- Jessica Curtis, Senior Vice President at Formation Healthcare Group
- Jacqueline Di Filippo, Application Manager, Marketing at TD Bank
- Joanna Schreck, Senior Mgr. Operational Excellence/ Data Analytics at UBM
The conversation primarily focused on women in leadership and necessarily Quickbase. The panel shared their advice: find a mentor, speak up, don't be afraid, etc. They also shared some of their tips.
I especially appreciated Jacqueline's comments about taking care of yourself. For example, her fitness tracker reminds her to get up and move, and if she happens to be in a meeting with others, she encourages them all to get up and move.
After the Women's Leadership Breakfast was the morning general session Product Keynote from Jay Jamison, Quickbase SVP of Strategy & Product Management.
This was probably my favorite of all the sessions. While it was clear that Quickbase was not committing to any of the concepts that would be shared, several Quickbase product managers demoed new features and capabilities that are in the works.
Most of these were included in the Design Lab in the Exhibit Hall, but it was still awesome to hear about all the innovation.
After the general session it was time for Solution Value Assessment: Quantify And Magnify The Impact. This session was presented by Shashi Mysore and Andrew Varley, both Product Management Directors.
I have to say I was disappointed by this session. I was hoping to take away some tips on calculating ROI for Quickbase related projects.
Having worked for years as a process-improvement professional, I had to do this quite often for a wide variety of projects. The projects ranged from the manufacturing shop floor to entirely digital workflows. I figured if the focus is strictly on the value Quickbase brings, the people at Quickbase probably have an awesome method for calculating ROI.
Well, it turns out they do, it just wasn't what I thought it would be. Quickbase has what is called a Solution Value Assessment. This is a case by case assessment between Quickbase and the client.
They work with you to identify quantity cost savings/increased productivity, reduced total cost of ownership, or revenue lift.
I did not have any tangible takeaways.
After lunch, my next session was Extending Quickbase: Our Native No-Code Mobile App Strategy. This was presented by Gideon Ansell and Mark Field.
This session was extremely popular. I didn't realize it until I left, but the room was packed!
I was hoping to get a little more than I had from the Design Lab and the keynote along with the timeline for actual release. While I wasn't disappointed in the presentation, I didn't learn a whole lot more either.
It's still not clear when the feature will be released or if it will be accessible to smaller teams who do not have an IT department to help them deploy a mobile app through a third party service.
Some of the cool mobile stuff they shared:
- A new developer interface for creating mobile Quickbase apps that leverage existing applications for the back end
- The mobile forms will feature large buttons and uncluttered screens geared toward simple tasks performed on the go
- Ability to access the phone's camera
- Ability to access the phone's geolocation
- Ability to scan a barcode
After yesterday's presentation from Rick Willett, I decided to attend the Town Hall with Quickbase CEO Rick Willett as my final session of the day.
Having seen a number of videos of Rick, I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to conduct the room and handle several challenging questions.
One such question had been on my mind throughout the conference and happened to be asked by someone in the room.
Essentially the question was "I see more and more innovation from Quickbase where you are creating native capabilities that were previously only available from a Quickbase Service Provider. What does that mean for your long-term relationships with the providers?"
Rick asked for the question to be repeated in another way to make sure that he was interpreting it correctly. Once verifying it was, in fact, the question he thought was being asked he proceeded to answer.
His answer was basically that yes they are innovating and making more native capabilities. But that they also value their relationship with the QSPs and depend on them to often lead the charge coming up with even more innovative ways of using and leveraging Quickbase for their clients.
After the final session of the day, there was little time to spare before the buses arrived to take us to the Off-Site Party at Stubb's Bar-B-Q.
We had the whole site to ourselves. This included the main restaurant building, the outdoor stage, bars, and dining area. There was even another building where they had craft beer on draft.
It was a lot of fun, but it was HOT and humid. During the event, it was announced that Empower 2019 would be June 10-13 in Miami, FL.
After the official off-site I was able to explore a bit of downtown with my new friends, visiting the Jackalope and Voodoo Doughnuts.
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For the final day, the agenda had not previously been set. They reserved the time to "replay" other sessions based on input from the attendees.
It was a rather late night, so I slept in and spent the morning packing for the trip home.
I did attend the second and last session of the week Magic Quickbase Examples. It was supposed to be presented by Quickbase legend Kirk Trachy. However, he was unable to attend the conference. In his place, Adam Hoover did an outstanding job.
The presentation covered:
- Schema Design: Reverse Relationships
- API Formulas: API_GenAddRecord
I've used reverse relationships in the past before but didn't know they had a name. Reverse relationships can be quite useful when you want to display specific information from the child record on the parent record. Watch for a video from me on this one in the future.
Adam's breakdown of the components of an API formula was very helpful. He explained how each of the sections (see image below) work together to produce the desired result.
He then went into a little bit about coding, explaining how HTML, CSS, and Java can be used together.
- HTML: is a structure
- CSS: gives the look and feel
- Java: takes action
It was a good end to the conference.
I relaxed for a while before my flight and had lunch with a few of the women I met at the event.
Overall it was a wonderful experience, and I'll be going to going again in 2019!
I would also like to give compliments to the event planning and the JW Marriot. The event appeared to go off without a hitch, and all of the staff were just outstanding. Great work!
Whether you attended or not, you can access the majority of the sessions at the Quickbase University. I'll be reviewing them myself and sharing my takeaways here on the Quick Base Junkie Blog.
What were your Empower 2018 takeaways? Post them in the comments below.
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