The Úll Conference

After a week travelling around Ireland, I’m finally on the last leg of my journey home, reflecting on just how amazing an experience this year’s Úll Conference was. Trying to put it into words is awfully difficult, especially seen as I have no reference point or comparison, given that this was my first tech conference.

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Just typing that out — “tech conference” — feels wrong. Úll felt like so much more than that. The organisers Paul, Dermot, and Sasha are either very astute, hardworking individuals, with a keen eye for detail, or horrendously lucky. My bet is most certainly the former. Everything about the conference wasn’t just exquisitely put together, but it was exquisitely timed as well. The late start of 2pm on the first day was a stroke of genius for two reasons. Firstly, a good number of us had come a day early to settle into the hotel and have a beautiful dinner at the nearby Aghadoe Heights. Naturally this carried on to the bar at the hotel late into the night and so we were certainly appreciative of the later start the following day. Secondly, a number of attendees and speakers were travelling large distances to be here and jet lag was undoubtedly going to be a factor. Not only that but as it tuned out, a number of flights out of Philadelphia had been delayed which caused folks to arrive later than planned – including at least one of the speakers. Plenty of time was also given to attendees to socialise between talks and the time allocated for sessions was just enough to get around everything and take in a taste from all that was on offer.

Then we come to the venue, and what a venue it was. Following on from the success of 2014 where the conference was moved from Dublin to Kilkenny, this year saw the event taken to The Europe Hotel, situated in the picturesque Killarney national park, overlooking a beautiful lake and mountains. The backdrop was utterly breathtaking, and the mist and fog that we had to endure only added to the sense of wonder about the place as it swirled around the hilltops across the lake. Not only did it feel like we had the whole of the hotel to ourselves (which we actually did), but it felt like there was nothing around us for miles.

It would be criminal to describe the talks and sessions as a sideshow to the conversations being had and the connections being formed amongst the attendees, but in a way it kind of was. Technology lovers and developers aren’t exactly the most naturally sociable types, what the conference did was provide us all with an excuse to leave our homes and all come together to socialise. The talks and sessions were amazing but even more amazing was seeing how much fun people were having and how many new relationships were forming around you, it’s almost as if the whole event was a mere slight of hand, used to trick us into being in the same room. Perhaps that’s a slight over-exaggeration but it doesn’t feel too far from the truth. I think this is something the organisers are acutely aware of, the speakers page on the Úll website carries the tagline: “Hand-picked to get the conversation started.” I really felt that was true, they were there not only to provide informative, thought-provoking, and humorous talks themselves; but to foster exactly the same kind of discussion between everyone in attendance… and it worked, big-time.

I'm now waiting for the inevitable conference crash, but I've done my best to stave it off, travelling to Cork and Dublin for sightseeing and catching up with friends. It's been a worthwhile and effective solution so far but now it's time for home and of course work, I think this may be a tough week to get through. Already I can't wait for next year.