The Best AEM Tech Conference of the Year: adaptTo() 2020

The Best AEM Tech Conference of the Year: adaptTo() 2020

September 30, 2020 0 By Tad Reeves

After all of our tech conferences went virtual this year due to Covid-19, and since I’ve not traveled at all for business nor met any humans in-person in a professional capacity since the end of February, I’ve been craving a return to the good old days of conferences and meeting other people.

Sadly, we’re still a ways out from getting to have in-person conferences again (though I’ve got some GREAT IDEAS for a mountain biking / skiing AEM tech conference if anyone would take me up on it).

But despite how badly I still yearned for an in-person conference, (the premier nitty-gritty, geek-focused conference focused on Adobe Experience Manager and its underlying technologies) was far and away the best virtual conference I’ve been to, and I wanted to make mention of it so that the organizers could know that the fruits of their labors were fabulous and came off great.

Here’s my own take of the event, from my perspective as a career AEM guy:

Venue: Berlin, but online is generally hosted in Berlin, and this year I absolutely had been planning to attend in person, so you can imagine how put-out I was, finding out it’d gone virtual. Well, at this stage Americans aren’t even allowed to travel to Germany so there’s that.

So to set myself up properly for the mood, I set my desktop wallpaper up with images from Berlin from my last business trip there taking an ICE train up from Munich in 2018 to meet with the fabulous AEM guys at Netcentric.

Now, the downside to a conference that’s held in Berlin, is that I’m in Portland, Oregon – so the conference started at 1AM each day for me, running until ~10am. So yep, my sleep is a little messed up right now.

Watching my second presentation of the day at 1:40am local time

Making an Amazing Virtual Conference Experience

I have to admit, as a serial Adobe Summit attendee, I was really let down by the sterile nature of this past Adobe summit, consisting as it did of pre-recorded demos. So, I was guarded in my optimism when organizers said they’d selected Lets Get Digital as their conference platform. As a summary of the result, though, it was FAR BETTER than I’d anticipated.

The “Lobby” environment for the conference, with a persistent chat pod, schedule, and a live video feed where organizers conducted interviews in between sessions.

The experience provided a few things that I felt were really critical to replicating the casual conversations, the networking, and the unscripted, serendipitous interactions that are the hallmark of a good conference. These were:

  • Multiple Break-Out Sessions and Lounge Rooms: In between the presentations, there were multiple windows of time set aside for you to join Zoom-style video chat rooms with groups of people who spoke your language (separate rooms for German, English, etc) to either just interact randomly, or to talk with a moderator on guided topics of interest. This allowed me to be able to talk face-to-face with nearly all of the conference presenters, as well as a healthy fraction of the conference attendees as well.
  • A “speed-dating” 1:1 meetup carousel: A massively fun feature was a networking carousel that paired you with a random conference attendee or speaker for 5 minutes at a time to just chat about whatever. I got to meet a score of different people in much the same way as the casual run-ins that I’d always end up having on the conference room floor, and without the OOMPA OOOMPA OOOMPA background techno music that Adobe Summit always has, which makes everyone have to yell at each other. I would have paid my conference fee alone just for the two features above, even without the content.
  • Chat pods & Q&A pods in every presentation: All presentations had a live chat as well as a Q&A pod, so that everyone got a chance to get their questions out there. Oddly enough for a conference, I didn’t leave a single presentation without getting a question I asked answered. It was uncanny, actually.
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AEM Dev/Ops & Cloud “Meet the Experts” Session at 2020

I even got a chance to get serendipitously pulled into a “Meet the Experts” Cloud & DevOps panel, and talk with some amazing Adobe folks whom I really respect & to share my experiences with this bizarre transformational period we’re going through in the AEM world as some workloads transition to AEM as a Cloud Service, whereas others prepare for the long-haul on self-hosted infrastructure. (See the panel discussion video I got to moderate earlier AEM Dev/Ops here)

Unfortunately that Meet the Experts panel wasn’t recorded (the rest of the sessions were) so we’ll have to re-create some of those questions & answers posed at a later date. But still, as a conference attendee not expecting to get to interact in that way, it was a welcome surprise.

My Favorite AEM/Sling Presentations from 2020

There really were no snoozer presentations in this, all the presenters had some really interesting things to share which I’m still working to personally-unpack, as we all struggle to work out the direction this crazy industry is headed.

Some of my personal favorite panels, though were the following (and note – some of the bare-bones links I provided will have slides & video once it’s all been prepared by the boffins):

Digital Asset Management in an AI-First World: Santosh Mishra gave a great preso and later workshop on the infrastructure and moving parts that we’ll all need to be thinking with, as our asset management moves to take advantage of more and more AI capabilities. With so many users growing to expect AI and amazing “magic” with respect to media handling, it’s only natural that we move away from the manual-labor-intensive, monolithic manually-tagged asset systems of the past and confront the gear and new skills that we’ll need to create fast-moving DAM systems of the future.

Further on this topic was Odyssee Tremoulis’s fabulous presentation on AEM.AI and AEM as a Content Science Platform.

This further dove into the new AEM.AI framework for integrating AEM with not just Adobe Sensei but the AI/ML features from other cloud platforms to enable crazy new capabilities to further leverage AEM as the centerpiece of an amazing Asset management system.

Then there was Mikhail Egorov’s totally fascinating and totally terrifying presentation on AEM security vulnerabilities, that I feel nearly every product manager should watch – especially those project managers who think that “staying on AEM 6.2 should be fine.”

As you can imagine, there were also several panel discussions and presentations on AEM as a Cloud Service, some great discussion on various strategies for migrating AEM content from prod to lower environments as well as syncing to new environments, a run through of the fabulous Gradle AEM Plugin (which makes me want to re-enter the Gradle world) and several others.

I’ve been looking forward to attending for years now, and even though this one was virtual, it absolutely did not disappoint. Hope to get a chance to meet everyone for real in Berlin next year!