After being postponed for two long years, MageUnconference returned from September 30 to October 2, 2022 and gave the European Magento community a chance to reconnect with their peers.
Like with the previous editions of the event, our team took this opportunity to sponsor this community event that we appreciate so much. Of course, we also made sure to attend with quite a bunch of our team members, some of them first time attendees, others have attended every single edition of MageUnconference since the very first one in 2015.
Our team, including the Raccoon, at MageUnconference on Saturday. Thanks to the photographer Korbi!
Meeting new people
During the official opening of the event by appropriately clothed Rico Neitzel and Fabian Blechschmidt, the audience was asked to look to their sides or in the rows in front or behind them and introduce themselves to 4 persons that they had never met before. Looking through the rows I realized how many of the people there I know already. I was surrounded by my colleagues, friends, and acquaintances in the community. So, I left my seat and spent the next couple of minutes to get to know at least one person I had never talked to before - hi Peter!
And here's where you really notice the difference between in-person events and virtual events. The off-topic conversations you have are much more in depth. Finding myself on the same page with others or discovering we share similar experiences has given me such a boost in feeling connected to the people. Often organisers of virtual events try to accomplish something similar with social hangouts as part of their events, e.g., the Magento Association did this before and after the presentations at MA Connect and we do this during the 'speed dating' part at Hyvä Meetup. But it's just not the same as talking directly to another human being without any medium in between. And now I realised how much I've missed it.
Using discussions to get a better understanding
Coming back to the point of being surrounded by people with similar experiences and opinions: Of course, there are also advantages to talk more to people with a different background and different opinions. And that's where the sessions and hallway track came in handy. I purposefully suggested a topic that would spark a discussion - Reviving the Magento community - that was merged with Jeroen Boersma's topic suggestion on finding out how the Magento community is doing in 2022 - and our topics were elected into the agenda. (This is one of the principles of an unconference. There are no previously set presentations, but every attendee is asked to suggest a topic (or more) and then everyone can vote on the topics, so the agenda can be built from the most popular topics.)
Jeroen and me started our session by asking the audience (approx. 30 attendees):
- if they think the Magento community is currently in a better state than in 2019 - no one agreed to this
- if they think the Magento community is currently in a worse state than in 2019 - some agreed to this
My colleague Andreas chimed in here with the statement that the community is right now in a better state than in 2021 and there were some nods in response to this.
Next, we gave the audience 20 minutes to describe how they perceive the community right now. What's going on, what's good, what's bad. The following 20 minutes were set to collect ideas what could be done to improve the situation. Our intention here was to come up with potential solutions to the identified problems.
The group wanted to have someone who would note down the ideas. No one volunteered. Instead, everyone looked at one of the few women in the group (we were seated in a circle) who was taking notes in her own notepad and some suggested to appoint her as notetaker. At that point I intervened.
In most meetings I experience, it's one of the few women present who is responsible for taking notes, regardless of hierarchy and whether they want to or not. And while notetaking can be a form of influence (you get to influence what is written down and how it's phrased, especially when notes are not visible to the rest of the group when writing them), I reject the impulse of predominately male groups appointing one of the not-volunteering women as the notetaker.
Imagine already feeling like the odd one out in a group and then being tasked to spend the rest of the meeting at the whiteboard / flipchart / Google doc, where you either have to turn your back to the group or have others watching your spelling. It's also harder to take part in a discussion when you are tasked with taking notes.
Here are the notes from the session on the current state of the Magento community and how to revive it. Naturally, attendees of an event want to see more events taking place.
Centralised point of information
Next to having more accessible events, the group suggested a more centralised point of information for those just finding their way into the community. David Lambauer shared an example from the Laravel community where you have a couple of well-known official pages that provide you with the information you need to get started. This is currently felt to be missing in the Magento world and the group discussed ways to improve this. And naturally, the idea of a magento.com or magento.org website came up in this context.
Where are the Magento Newcomers?
Another issue is the perceived lack of newcomers in the Magento community. Some believe this to be a generational challenge with today's young developers choosing their profession for rational reasons like good salaries and work conditions, compared to the past generation's motivation to be paid for what they already did in their free time-coding. The younger generation may be less inclined to spend more than their paid working hours on Magento topics and may also be less motivated to attend a conference on the weekend, like MageUnconference.
At the same time, with many of the "veterans" of the Magento community not holding back their criticism of the platform and Adobe's actions, how shall the newcomers feel motivated to put their effort into this ecosystem? The discussion group agreed that we must do more to show why we care, why Magento is important and valuable to us. Instead of being like Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy old men from the Muppet show, we should thrive to share our enthusiasm.
Checkings our privilege and implicit biases
One of the first sessions on Day 1 of MageUnconference was offered by Sanne Bolkenstein on the topic of diversity and inclusion. One of the main takeaways here for me was to check your own privilege and position of power which can be easily done using the Wheel of Power / Privilege, created by Sylvia Duckworth.
It's such a powerful (sorry for the pun) illustration of how privileged one can be and how it differs between people. I've read other people's comments on the Wheel of Power, criticizing missing aspects, such as religious beliefs. It's a model, so it cannot represent the full complexity of reality. From what Sanne told us, this wheel should be applicable worldwide which means that aspects that have different impacts on your power depending on the geographical region you are staying in may have been left out to make it more universal. All these points are good starting points to reflect on your position and your culture!
And while I have my doubts about some of these aspects, e.g. whether a person whose native language is English living in Germany is actually more privileged than a German native speaker, I still believe this to be a valuable resource to get a better understanding of society.
Sanne also referred us to the Project Implicit and where you can test your own implicit associations, the results are used in research. I did the tests on skin-tone, race, and weight one or two years ago. The results were humbling, and I recommend everyone to take at least one of these tests. We all need to be aware of our own implicit biases to be able to act against them.
Go check out the wheel of power / privilege that Sanne presents here. It will give you a better understanding of your position in society and why life may be harder or easier for others.
As a previous member of the MageUnconf organising team and as someone involved in organising Magento meetups, Hyvä events and Magento Association events, I didn't want to miss Jisse Reitsma's session on Magento events. The organisers of MageUnconf wanted to attend too but first had to take care of the big amount of leftovers from lunch. To solve this, all the attendees were then tasked to help pack it in boxes.
To better relax afterwards, we moved the session outside. What followed was a lively debate on what works, what doesn't work, what the biggest cost factors are (in Europe: venue and food) and how you can simplify your event (with only one track, you get a wider choice of venues and lower costs for audio / video equipment).
Jisse shared his plans for MageUnconference NL and his experiences of organising very specific Magento events, like MageTestFest and Reacticon. We also discussed financial pitfalls, e.g., when organisers get enough budget from sponsors to break even or even make a bit of profit but then decide to do some more fancy stuff, like getting shirts for all attendees, spending all their budget, and having nothing left for incidentals.
We also talked about how much in advance you need to start planning for an event. Jisse said that for MageUnconference NL he has the impression that even starting 15 months before the event was a bit late and it limited his choice of venues. From my experience with MageUnconference in Cologne (back then when I was part of the organising team), it was similar. Finding an affordable venue with one big room that holds all attendees and three smaller rooms for breakout sessions is very hard to find and you need to book it more than one year in advance.
Still, everyone is happy to see in-person events return as they provide the Magento community a chance to get together and have a direct exchange of ideas.
Hyvä Themes for Adobe Commerce
Torben Höhn moderated a session to talk about how Hyvä Themes and Adobe Commerce can be made compatible and how far along the process is. Depending on their clients and their projects' needs, this is a tough topic for agencies: When plenty of required Adobe Commerce functionality cannot yet be used with Hyvä Themes out of the box, the required work to port it becomes too much of a risk.
Interestingly to note here is that the audience was very open to Hyvä Themes asking for higher license fees for Adobe Commerce projects if the increase in license fees would result in a wider support of Adobe Commerce features in Hyvä Themes. Unfortunately, neither Willem Wigman nor Vinai Kopp nor Willem Poortman nor Sanne Bolkenstein (all of them Hyvä employees, they all attended parts of MageUnconference) were present during this session. I talked to Willem later in the day about the discussion going on. They are definitely aware of this being a chicken and egg problem, as Christian Münch phrased it, for agencies: As long as Hyvä Themes doesn't support more Adobe Commerce features, agencies focused on Adobe Commerce can't recommend Hyvä to all of their Adobe Commerce clients. Since the number of potential clients requesting Adobe Commerce support for Hyvä is rather low, porting the features had a lower priority than other tasks for the Hyvä team. But according to Willem it is now moving up on the Hyvä team's todo list (see his comment below this article).
Want to know which Adobe Commerce features can already be used with Hyvä Themes? Check out Hyvä's Feature Matrix. Depending on the requirements of the project, you may already be good to go with Hyvä and Adobe Commerce.
How many sessions did I attend?
With three tracks running in parallel, I could have attended up to 8 sessions (four each day). In sum, I ended up attending 5 sessions, 2 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday.
What did I do the rest of the time?
- Catching up with people
- Picking up cakes with Carmen
- Talking about Magento Association and community
- Talking about challenges experienced by Magento agencies
Time well spent, both in sessions and on the "hallway track".
I'd like to thank the organisers, Claudia, Carmen, Fabian and Rico, and all others involved for creating such a lovely reunion event and also a big thanks to all of the sponsors who like us believe in the value of supporting MageUnconference without a direct ROI. Hope to see you all soon again and that the event claim holds true and we are not going viral this year!
Did someone mention cake?!
These lovely little fruity cakes are made by a pastry shop called Klüppelberg in Cologne and they are sooo good! The MageUC team always finds new ways to delight the attendees.