Jun 19, 2019
 in 
Events

Selling Is an Act of Indirect Intelligence

T

his year, we decided to join a new community built around Javascript, the ever-present programming language that is used on most websites and services you rely on.

We picked JSNation, which takes place in Amsterdam each year, because we had assumed a couple of things about the event:

  1. The organization seemed good.
  2. The speakers were relevant.
  3. The focus was not placed on big companies appropriating topics, but rather, on real people and their work.

If our assumption #3 would prove to not be true, we would have been swag-collecting drones. I did not want to be bombarded by advertisements, as I believe that selling does not have to be like that, it can be an act of indirect intelligence.

That is, the intelligence traded serves value to people, regardless of any potential transaction. But indirectly, it unavoidably results in purchasing decisions.

In other words: let the nature, reach and usability of the product lead your sales effort. It gives people something accessible to decide if they need it or not.

This was enough to make the trip to the beautiful city of Amsterdam, and so from June 6th to 8th, our attention was placed on JSNation.

Amsterdam is a vibrant city, home to many companies like Google, Netflix, IBM, Tesla and Irdeto, to name a few.

It is always difficult to attend a conference, particularly because at some point, reality strikes and you go back to your desk with double or triple the workload. If I was to go through that, I figured it should be over something substantial, where you can connect with people and ideas.

At a casual meet and greet before the event, I befriended a very nice group of people from different countries, companies and functions. We formed a team for the fun, pre-conference pop quiz on Javascript-related things, and we came in second place.

This sense of community and belonging was established and maintained throughout the event. Everyone experiences the talks differently so it is great to explore and discuss with attendees. From these exchanges, some companies build recruiting efforts and/or sales pitches, but it happens in an organic, fun and respectful way.

Unconventional by design, JSNation takes advantage of the beautiful layout of Zuiderkerk, to provide resting areas where people can interact with the conference's content in different ways. Credit: JSNation.

There is an emphasis from the brilliant organizers on the code of conduct, which centers around just being a good person. This is also reflected in everything they do.

Perhaps it is cultural, but there was no aura of competitiveness or exclusion as there tends to be with other tech events. This is not a closed club of marketing dollars. The sales pitches had to deliver some value to the community, and that makes a big difference.

You get this sense of maturity when you put the commercial speak in the background, as if to tune out the noise, and center mainly on the way we do things. After all, we are just tool makers discussing our different techniques.

But this does not mean that commercial objectives are not attained. My particular emphasis for this event was in software testing. I had identified this as a weakness and a necessity, and I came out of this even with a clear path on how to advance.

I had never heard of Cypress.io, a company providing services in that realm, but I saw the technical presentation from Gleb Bahmutov (VP of Engineering at Cypress), and it sent me into a specific direction.

Now I can change the way our development team does testing, and I can choose to use the commercial services from Cypress.io, or to keep using the free, open-source packages. I have seen how great and simple it is, and I feel like I could begin using it myself.

It is important to note that I have never done regression, unit or any other kind of testing for that matter. I am more on management and design functions, but I think testing as a Quality Assurance process should involve designers who worked on the first prototypes of what is being built. Perhaps it could even involve sales people who are close to the use case, and willing to get more technical.

Gleb Bahmutov, from Cypress.io, presenting about their testing tool. We talked briefly afterwards, and I was able to confess my deep regret in using Selenium. We laughed and discussed the best way to get started with modern testing tools.

Similarly, I have discovered other complementary tools that place a focus on seamless automation of processes, which would help with this view of involving cross-functional teams. Using Percy, for example, we can do visual testing to handle quality assurance automatically.

This enables us to discuss how to change something, while before it could go unnoticed, and it could come up in manual testing. It would be written into an issue and then the team would gather to see how to provide a fix.

The main difference in knowledge diffusion here is that I was not given a brochure about this, or a cold sales speech. I was shown different workflows and practical demos, and then I was able to corroborate them with other attendees.

This is what a tech conference should be. It would be strange if we were in software but our selling efforts were the same as, for example, the insurance industry.

Whenever we do get close to that (I am looking at you Microsoft), it is important that we can give the community enough room to express itself.

And this was reflected at JSNation, as the main speaker, Kyle Simpson (from O'Reilly Media) was allowed to be critical of TypeScript while Microsoft-owned GitHub was sponsoring the event. This essential liberty, while it might seem obvious to some of us, is not precisely guaranteed in all tech events.

Certainly a big plus is roaming the beautiful streets of Amsterdam while considering all the ways you can improve your work and the output of your team. Credit: Personal photo.
Utility and community are central aspects of software, whether the goal is just sharing, learning or selling. I think this is particularly true because software begins with knowledge conversion, and we simply cannot stop helping others acquire that knowledge, it is key to improvement and sustainability.

Yet many tech conferences forget this, and let themselves be guided by commercial efforts worthy of car salespeople. In this situation a programming language or a testing method becomes akin to improved air conditioning, and since most brands approach it the same way, it is a function of the amount of marketing spent in promoting one over another.

If the conference would have used the latest technology trends or the programming languages as waving flags to get attention, but then engaged only in active, direct selling of solutions to the audience, it would have been a complete waste of time. My attention would have probably focused on finding something useful on Twitter instead.

But JSNation 2019 was not like this, it was true value delivered, and the fact that the selling effort was indirect did not diminish its effectiveness, but rather augmented it. I have a lot of trouble explaining this to company members and partners who do not come from a software background. But the hope is that participating and sharing our experiences can help us, collectively, to do a better job.

This is why JSNation was a great choice for an event. They get the difference, they know better. We are thrilled to be part of their community, and we cannot wait until the next edition of the conference, where we will bring more people and expand our participation.

-Mariano Malisani.