A Tech Conference That Embraces Family

June 2015

CIS-Seaworld

Families returning from SeaWorld during this month’s Cloud Identity Summit in La Jolla

The first thing I noticed on opening day of this month’s Cloud Identity Summit in La Jolla was more women. As a female who has worked in male-dominated fields, I can’t help but notice when there are few women in a room or around a conference table. I also can’t help but notice when the ratio is a bit more balanced.

It turns out some of those women were participants in the tech conference, but not in the traditional sense.  The CIS organizers encouraged participants to bring their families and then made sure those family members were entertained while everyone else was learning about digital identities in an increasingly “cloudy” world.

The idea to run a concurrent program for families was the brainchild of conference organizer (and Ping co-founder, chair and CEO) Andre Durand and his wife Kim, who have two daughters. Everyone shares most meals together and while mom or dad are learning about how to harden APIs or manage millions of IDs generated by the Internet of Things, everyone else is either chillin’ by the pool, taking a trip to SeaWorld, exercising at a boot camp led by Navy SEALs or enjoying a picnic at Del Mar’s Powerhouse Beach.

This year 1,000 standards builders, speakers and identity professionals (“identerati”) came to CIS, and at least a few attendees told me said they chose this conference in part because they could bring their families. Having just written about ways to meld family vacations with business travel, I think these folks are on to something.

“It all started fairly harmlessly in the first year,” Andre said in an email. “My wife and kids were at the pool with several other spouses and their children were swimming during the conference. My wife called and said, ‘Several families are at the pool and I’d like to buy them pizza, can I have your credit card?’

“A few hours later, my wife called back and said, ‘Thanks for the pizza, we all appreciated it. We’d now like to go up the mountain on the chair lift. Would you mind if I bought them tickets with your card?’ I never heard from them after that. They moved throughout Keystone as a posse for the week. The friendships became so strong that the mothers said they wanted to come back the following year. Kim then asked me, ‘Hey, could I get a budget for families?’”

Every detail—from custom T-shirts to block parties, surf lessons, family bingo and even space in the family conference program to record contact information for new friends—shows companies can hold excellent technology talks on one side of a hotel and family functions on the other. It’s possible this has been happening elsewhere and I haven’t noticed, but I think it’s still unique in the tech world.

Would this work as well on a larger scale? We shall see. Next year’s CIS is in New Orleans, and something tells me attendance will be up, especially among those whose families want to vacation in The Big Easy.

—Anne