Putting Together Our First Shyft Week
I'll admit, I easily get lost in the day-to-day grind of project work. It's hard for me to step back and think about growing my skill set, especially if I'm supposed to be doing that outside of working hours. My current government project is going through a big transition which requires a lot of energy and brain activity during work hours. Very often, I come home mentally exhausted, and the last thing I want to do is get back on a computer to take classes. If I had to guess, I'd bet I'm not alone in that feeling.
This is the main reason that Shyft will always provide an opportunity for growth during working hours. No one should feel like they need to sacrifice their free time to grow in tech and try new things in their career. Balance is important. SHAMELESS PLUG With that in mind we've added benefits like paid conferences and online courses, development days, and internal projects using the latest (or close to latest) tech stack to make sure everyone at Shyft has the opportunity to try new things.
The stars aligned for us this summer: the Nebraska.Code() conference was being held in person, COVID numbers were looking good, and Shyft had grown to include a few remote employees who we wanted to meet in person. The lightbulb moment: Let's make a whole week of it! Shyft Week 2021 occurred July 12-16, 2021, and it was a week to remember... two days of conferences, a development day, and some fun activities with all the Shyftees we could get together in Nebraska.
Making It Happen
We knew this sounded like an awesome idea, but was it actually feasible? In the name of transparency, we're a small (some would say micro) business, so taking that much time away from our project work was something we had to really think about financially.
Some of the big costs that we had to account for were: Shyft company dinner night, conference tickets and sponsorship, travel expenses, and hours away from the project work. If we could have made it an entire week of non-billable work for everyone we definitely would have, but in order to make our first Shyft week possible we did 3 days of non-billable time and two days of mostly project billable work. If anyone is interested in our actual numbers for an event like this, maybe I could make a follow-on post about it. After crunching the numbers, we determined that Shyft Week 2021 was a go!
With the help of our new front-office staff, Haley and Amanda, we were able to plan an entire week of festivities with only a couple of weeks lead time. We took a page out of our Slovakian friends IBL User Group Meeting handbook and made sure that we had a fun activity planned for each evening. Oddly enough, one of the biggest time sinks in our whole planning process was figuring out our travel time and expense policy! Anyway, once we got all the logistics worked out, it was time for the fun.
The main event was obviously Nebraska.Code(), a favorite at Shyft. We love listening to the great speaker lineup, getting to know the local tech talent, and learning about the growing tech companies in the area. To take a bit more advantage of the situation, we thought "what better time for a dev day, than immediately following a conference where we learned about a bunch of awesome new things?" For us, dev days consist of 8 professional development hours about once per quarter where everyone gets to spend time learning or building something new. It can be anything in tech. Doesn't have to be related to your current project or any work Shyft is doing.
After much deliberation, this is the official schedule that we put together.
Our remote folks made the trek to Omaha, one from Florida and one from Illinois! Luckily no issues with transportation. Everyone else still worked on their project work. We had a quick dinner at a fantastic local spot, SPIN.
This day was spent working together on each our projects with our respective teams. The Cloud team, with most of the remote employees, worked together locally for the first time at the Shyft office and they even got the chance to have an in-person meeting with our customer at Offutt Air Force Base.
The evening is where the fun began and probably where we spent the most money, but it was so worth it. We got together at TopGolf for an evening of mis-attempts at hitting the targets. While none of us are proclaimed golfers, we certainly enjoyed relaxing and catching up with each other. Haley reserved us a few bays for a couple of hours along with tons of food and drinks. We wanted to get everyone something to remember the week, so we took a note from one of our favorite local software companies, Aviture, and got everyone a nice Timbuktu bag.
I don't think we've ever been fully prepared for a day at a conference/fair booth. Our stress balls didn't make it in time, the signs weren't updated with the latest job postings, and we still hadn't decided on our raffle prize for everyone who stopped by our booth as we were setting up on Day 1. Needless to say, it always works out. We really enjoy having a booth at conferences because it allows us to have small conversations with so many individuals and businesses. I highly recommend it for small companies hoping to network. It is almost always worth the couple of hundred bucks spent on sponsorship and swag.
Another reason we love Nebraska.Code() is because they too believe that there should be Attendee Parties at conferences. Wednesday evening provided perfect weather for a fantastic patio party hosted by Amegala.
Day 2 of the conference was just as fun as the first. This day I was not responsible for manning the booth, so I took some time to check out some great speakers. I learned a bit about Mutual of Omaha's automated testing suite from my cousin Lauren, an example of Scooby Doo AI using Redis and Python, and a quick Firebase application setup.
For our final evening all together, we decided to check out Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo Late Night event where they serve alcohol, there are a ton of local food truck vendors, and you get to walk around the zoo exhibits. Most of the local Shyftees have checked out zoo night before, but this was my first time. It is definitely something I'll do again. Although, next time I might eat a bit more beforehand. The food trucks were pretty packed!
Dev Day! We had a lot of fun ideas that everyone worked on: a D&D story generator, a Unity game, an automated verified package generator for our secure device setup, Shyft website updates, an Adobe template for our health insurance elections, and a home chore tracking system using React. The out-of-town folks started their travel home around noon, and the rest of us ended the afternoon with a demo of what we built and a board game.
Overall, I think we all had a lot of fun! There may have been a few logistical hiccups that came from trying to plan something a bit last minute, but this week gave us a great opportunity to get to know one another outside of the daily grind and to sharpen our skills a bit.
The only things I hope to remember next time are:
- Order swag well in advance. You would think we've already learned this lesson from the many conferences and fairs that we've been to, but alas we remain procrastinators in this realm.
- You can't put a price tag on growing together as a team. We should try to do this kind of stuff as often as possible.