This past week I attended and spoke at the 4th annual Kentico Connection conference in Boston, MA. The annual conference is the premier learning and networking event for Kentico developers, partners, and customers. The event was broken up into three tracks. The technology track focused on detailed product functionality within Kentico 7 and various product improvements slated in Kentico 8. Next, there was a partner track which showcased case studies and completed projects that are built by Kentico partners. The last track, the marketing track, was a program for marketing professionals interested in digital marketing best practices.
Frequently throughout the conference, I wished I could be in two places at once because of the quality of each session. It truly is one of my favorite events of the year because there is so much to see and so many like-minded people to network with. This year BizStream was also well represented by myself and few of my colleagues because we were a standard sponsor as well as lanyard sponsor for the event.
Day 1 – Keynote and Deep Dive
The first day of the conference followed its normal starting pattern. Attendees were greeted with a continental style breakfast at the registration tables. The registration process itself was a very quick and painless process. Once through, you were given a goody bag full of conference material and sponsor items. The day got started with the opening keynote session. This presentation was led by Petr Palas, CEO, of Kentico Software. Petr educated the crowd on where Kentico is today and the vision of where Kentico will be in the future. After watching the keynote presentation, it is very clear that the future of Kentico involves utilizing digital marketing alongside with content management to take the platform to the next level.
After the keynote, the 3 tracks got started. I chose to stay mostly within the partner track. I heard from Eric Webb on the health of the Kentico partner program which was very interesting for me because of the fact that BizStream is a gold partner with Kentico. Next I caught part of "Stories from the Trenches" by Michael Kinkaid of Ecentricarts. Michael gave a great presentation. It was a mix of best practices and how tos. The content of the session was fantastic. It is very cool to know that other gold partners out there have the same trials and tribulations that we do. Plus Michael is an all-around excellent presenter and Ecentricarts is a very cool company to follow. By the way Michael also has a blog post on his coverage of Kentico Connection.
After lunch on the first day, I attended "Security Best Practices with Kentico CMS", by Dominik Pinter. This was over in the technical track. Dominik named himself an ethical hacker, but really his focus is on the security of the platform. He reviewed some fairly deep technical details of how to protect any Kentico website against XSS, SQL Injection, and Click Jacking attacks. All things that we as Kentico developers should pay great attention to.
Up next was my fellow Kentico MVP, Bryan Soltis' session "Kentico CMS & Windows Azure". I promised Bryan that I would attend his session no matter, so I had to go. Plus someone had to be there to heckle him on his PowerPoint skills, or in his case lack of. Bryan reviewed how Kentico & Azure can be used to create true highly available environments. He had a nice demo on how to use Kentico Web Farm synchronization to keep a Kentico site running across two different Windows Azure datacenters one in North America and one in Europe. It was very cool to see him edit a site in either datacenter and have the other site pick up the changes automatically. Bryan did a great job of keeping the presentation at a high enough level to ensure all of the audience knew what was going on.
The last partner track session I caught was Dave Conder's "Moving from a Legacy CMS to Kentico". Dave's session was all about content migration for a large project that had a lot of un-structured content. Dave's team over at Blue Modus automated the process of migration using custom tools, and they were able to take the mountain of data and migrate it to the new Kentico CMS site as structured content and cleaned up html. I am a big fan of this approach for content migration and that is exactly how we do it at BizStream as well. Again it is great to hear another gold partner's take on how content migration should be handled, and have it line up with our strategies as well.
The final session of the day for me was the "Product Planning for On-line Marketing" session. This is a real highlight of the conference as far as I am concerned. Registered attendees get the chance to speak their minds on what is missing in Kentico EMS and what should be added the next. The group I was in was moderated by Thom Robbins. He gave us all the ability to suggest 5 ideas on improving or adding to EMS. From there we all got to vote on the ideas, and the top voted ideas should gain a spot on the product roadmap for Kentico 8 and/or Kentico 9. I really like this because I can take the opinions that I have, plus the opinions of my EMS customers and have a direct effect on what gets built into EMS. It has always impressed me that Kentico takes great care to listen to its customer base when planning the product roadmap.
The Nightcap - Dining with Penguins
After a long first day of sessions I think everyone was ready for a little relaxation. Each year Kentico provides a great social event to cap of the first day. This year the event was hosted at the New England Aquarium. This location is a pretty unique. Located in downtown Boston, the aquarium has a very cool layout with tons of things to see.
Once inside we were immediately greeted by a large family of penguins at the lowest level of the building. Yes I said penguins. They had a whole horde of them all in an open layout. It was interesting to see them in action. In the center of the layout was a gigantic cylindrical aquarium that had countless different species of fish and a large sea turtle or two. This tank itself was about 3 - 4 stories tall, and you could walk all the way around it to get to each floor. At each level was mini buffet of fantastic food, and rumor has it there were just a few different bar stations as well.
I talked to a ton of people that night, over good food and good drink. It was very cool to sit down and have dinner with the Kentico guys, including Martin Hejtmanek, Kentico CTO, and talk shop a bit. This networking event was also a chance to ask the Kentico experts questions. Any attendee was able to sit down and speak with various Kentico resources and ask any questions they wanted about best practices or high level strategies of using Kentico. This social event is definitely high up on my list of favorite activities at the Kentico Connection conference. I made sure to catch the first bus back to the hotel from the aquarium because my presentation was the first one of day 2.
Day 2 - Partner Track Takes Off
The second day of the Kentico Connection conference partner track started out with my own presentation on "Team Development Best Practices for Kentico CMS". I actually had a small concern that my 9am time slot would aversely affect attendance to my presentation. I was happily surprised that I was wrong on this assumption. The room was full when I started out. During my hour long presentation I covered what I feel is a good approach to team development when using Kentico.
After my presentation Adam Reece, Senior Designer, BizStream, gave a great case study on "Kentico EMS and E-Commerce the Perfect Pair". He did a great job showing how we use Kentico EMS at BizStream to accomplish the same advanced e-commerce features that some of the big box retailers use. Now if only he had not focused so much on University of Michigan branded products and more on Michigan State University products, his presentation would have been perfect.
The third session on the partner track almost stole the entire show and really had the audience buzzing afterward. Brant Cline of Data USA, showed how Data USA utilizes a technology called SignalR to have real time integration between Kentico on the server side, and the customers experience on the client browser side of a web site. The team at Data created a SignalR message board that responded in real time to show a social message wall. This wall would immediately update whenever a user posted a new message and whenever an editor made a content update inside of CMSDesk. This description does not do justice to just how cool this functionality is. The crowd was literally saying Ohhh and Ahhh. Nice work Brant and Data.
After the next break, I attended "Think: Mobile First" by Adam Hostetter of Network Stats. This session was fully dedicated to Responsive Web Design and different approaches to accomplishing the goal of having a mobile friendly web site. The audience was definitely engaged in this session and was giving a lot of feedback to Adam.
I finished up the content of the day by sitting in on the technology track's "Deep Dive - Mobile Development" by Juraj Hrinik of Kentico, and "Deep Dive - Development and Integration" by Radek Pribyl also of Kentico. These were two good technical sessions on how to use Kentico, but really they were a bit of a recap for me. I did talk to some first time attendees and they enjoyed these sessions very much.
My Presentation at Kentico Connection 2013
My talk really had 3 goals. I wanted to education people on how to work efficiently as a group, how to make your life easier as a Kentico developer by not stepping on your co-workers toes, and how to hone your craft of software development in general. I reviewed how to setup a shared development and qa environment, what settings to utilize inside of the platform to support team development, and some tips, tricks, and tools that we use at BizStream to make the process less of a headache.
Overall I think that my presentation was well received. I had a few good questions during the talk, and asked a few questions to the audience on how they use Kentico as part of the team. Based on the raise of hands I think most people agreed with the strategy. I received positive feedback after my talk and even had a few people walk up to me and compliment me on the content of my presentation. Mission accomplished.
Looking Forward to Kentico CMS 8
The closing session of the conference was attended by all attendees. In this final talk, Oldrich Januska introduced himself as the new Director of Product Management at Kentico. Oldrich walked through where Kentico CMS 8 will be taking us. There is a new initiative to make the user interface of Kentico even easier to use in Kentico 8. We were shown some previews of this interface, and man does it look slick. I also saw a bit of the new Module development methodolgy that Martin reviewed. It looked pretty awesome. I can't wait to develop my next module with this new capability. Oldrich also closed his presentation with a download link to Kentco 8.0 CTP. Which I have installed and running, but that is best saved for another blog post.
The only thing that I wish I could have done differently is attend at least one of the marketing track sessions. I heard from other attendees that these were very good sessions. There just was not enough time in the day.
I am extremely pleased with how well the conference went. All and all Kentico Connection 2013 lived up to its billing. It is the best way to get in touch with Kentico, network with the Kentico community, and learn what's is coming next for Kentico CMS and Kentico EMS. In fact I would say the 2013 version of the conference is the best version that I have attended so far. I am glad I attended and will be returning next year.