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A Live Conference Experience at Data Minds Connect 2021

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Last week I was privileged to attend a live conference in Belgium. dataMinds Connect 2021 took place in Mechelen, just outside of Brussels. I had submitted months ago, was accepted, but didn’t know I’d actually get to go until late September. However, I was glad I went.

A Normal Experience

I’ve been able to live parts of my life across the last year, but many things were limited in some way. Either I couldn’t do some activity I expected, or everyone was masked and separated. I’m grateful for what I could do, even with restrictions, but I’ve missed the world since 2019. The exception for me was a volleyball tournament in Orlando in June. It was a busy convention center without masks; the type of event I went to regularly the last few years.

dataMinds Connect 2021 was the first normal work event I’d attended since SQL Saturday #910 in Slovenia. This was a good sized event, 400+ people, and it felt good. People were interacting with each other, able to shake hands, see each other talking, and recognizing faces was a great experience.

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I enjoyed being able to chat with people in person, watch body language, meet new friends and see ones that I’ve missed.

There were multiple sessions during the day, with 15 minute breaks for coffee or a snack. I got to speak in front of a good crowd, was able to see their reactions to my talk, and interact with them.

Communication and COVID Rules

I’ve had this event on my schedule for months, and I was happy with the way it was handled. Benni De Jaere (@BenniDeJagere) had emailed early with information on the event, venue, travel, and accommodations. A few months ago he contacted me again, asking if I was coming and giving guidance on the local restrictions.

Just before the event, we got another long email with all the details of what we needed to be concerned about, how to get tested, quarantine rules, etc.

While the event did not publish a specific policy, they did note they were deferring to local regulations. Since those can change, and even government sites can struggle to keep coordinated, this was fine for me. Grant (@gfritchey) and I were communicating, trying to decide the rules we needed to follow. I went through the border first, so I let him know about my experience and how to find the testing center and then our plans for quarantine.

Foreign travelers needed to be tested and show vaccine proof. From there, the city where the event was held (Mechelen) was fairly open. Brussels was more restricted, and I wore masks and abided by their rules while there.

I understand some people being concerned about safety under this pandemic. I don’t expect events to act differently than their local area. If they do, then they need their specific restrictions published. If not, then we are old enough to check the local guidelines and decide if those are acceptable to us.

Overall

I think Benni and his crew did a great job of setting up and running an event. Almost no one has done this in 18 months, and despite the delay, they smoothly handled a large crowd of people at entry and throughout the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the event, the people, and the area. I had never been to Belgium before, but it’s on my list as a place to come back to in the future, hopefully at another dataMinds Connect.

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