I am a big picture thinker and a perpetual dreamer. I love taking an idea and fleshing out the concept, and I’m continually inspired by the potential that today’s technology affords. If I’m in a room with a like-minded person, things can really take off.

So what would happen if you put me in a room with over one hundred?

My wife and I attended Greenville Grok, a conference designed around conversations and bringing people together. It’s put on by The Iron Yard, a local startup accelerator / code academy / coworking space, and it was started by Matthew Smith who realized he enjoyed the conversations and hangout times at conferences more than the keynotes and formal talks.

While there are a couple of keynote speakers at Grok, the emphasis is on what it calls “10-20s”: ten- or twenty-minute discussions on one topic in groups of eight to ten. My groups included software developers like me, graphic designers, artists, managers, and others; and our employers ranged from hot startups to established players to freelancers. While we all possessed an interest and affinity for technology, the similarities stopped there.

The opening keynote by Kristian Andersen set the tone for the discussions to follow. He started by dispelling the notion that people need to “find what they’re passionate about,” reminding us that the actual root of the word means “to suffer.” Finding what we are built for and willing to suffer for should be the real goal, not simply picking a topic we are excited about. The topic wove its way into the discussions to follow, introducing ourselves to our groups with “What’s your name, what do you do, and what do you suffer for?”

There were a number of good questions addressed in the breakout groups, including

  • How does one deal with the transient nature of digital work?
  • What can a developer do to keep his skills polished?
  • If the internet disappeared tomorrow, what would you do?
  • What’s the place for liberal arts education in learning to code?

I was also able to talk through some some of my thoughts on Netflix and television, but my biggest personal insights came from bouncing off an idea I’ve had for an educational video series. Being able to get quick feedback to help round out my abstract idea has helped give me direction for this venture. (The actual execution, of course, is still up to me.)

The fringe aspects of the conference were good too. We elected not to participate in the BMW test track activity, but the Squarespace-sponsored “hangover lounge” had Mario Kart set up, so that helped. The Vagabond Barista had a pop-up shop set up, and it was nice to have his (very caffeinated) coffee in the mornings. Even the conference t-shirt was different: local print shop Dapper Ink brought a silkscreen rig to the conference and let attendees print their own copies of the t-shirt.

This is the second Grok I’ve attended, and I will continue to attend any chance I get. I learn best by participating (or maybe I just love running my mouth), so the format of this conference means I get much more than my money’s worth. The fact that it’s put on by cool people, has cool stuff, and was held in a cool building just makes it all the more enjoyable.

See you next year, everyone!