Library Podcasts

Ep. #8, Digital Events with Jana Boruta of HashiCorp

Guests: Jana Boruta

In episode 8 of Developer Love, Patrick speaks with Jana Boruta of HashiCorp. Jana details her learnings as a global events planner and the hurdles that have arisen while transitioning from hosting live, in-person events to digital conferences.

About the Guests

Jana Boruta is Director of Global Events & Experiential Marketing at HashiCorp, and the co-creator of EpicConf. She was previously DevRel and Conference Manager at New Relic.

Show Notes



Patrick Woods: Jana, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

To get us started, would you mind sharing a little bit about who you are and what you're working on?

Jana Boruta: Sure. Thanks for having me Patrick. And I'm glad we can connect.

I know first time we met was on a panel that Heavybit led. Was that July? That seems so long ago now.

Patrick: Oh wow.

Jana: So I'm Jana. I've been doing developer marketing, community building, I guess for the last eight, nine years.

I started at like a company called Engine Yard, I was at New Relic and now I'm at HashiCorp, and I've been at HashiCorp for the last five years. A little bit more than five years.

Patrick: Awesome. How did you make your way into the world of developers and communities?

Jana: Yes. Well, I graduated college in 2008 during the worst part of the recession.

We all graduated, they gave us a diplomas, and they're like, go have fun.

And you're like, okay, I have all this college debt. What do I do now?

And I was living in Colorado at the time and I couldn't find a job there.

And finally my parents, I grew up in Berkeley, and they were like, "Just come home."

So I came home and just got really lucky.

The first job I ever had was like a customer support job at an online advertising company called Jivox.

They're actually still around.

And so I just started at just like a really low-level position doing customer support and eventually like slowly moved into sales there.

And then I ended up getting a job at Engine Yard which was really, Engine Yard's no longer around, it was a competitor to Heroku and they were phenomenal.

Like that was my first exposure to the Ruby on Rails community, to the developer community.

And they just did so much to build community.

They sponsored a lot of conferences, they hosted meetups, they had their own meetups, they sponsored open source projects, they hired folks to work on open source projects, and I think that was my first real experience into how to like, properly build community in the developer world.

So I was doing sales and I was like, "Wow, I really don't love selling, right? I really love building relationships. I really love connecting with people."

And so that's why I made the pivot into like community building and focusing on online and offline community.

And I've been doing that ever since.

Patrick: Yeah, so what do you think is the role of events when it comes to building and sustaining communities?

Jana: That's such a great question 'cause that's exactly what my team is focused on now.

So DevRel, and I'm sorry if you can hear my niece and nephew running around but DevRel has a set of activities, right, that help build community around your product or helps build community in general.

And that's from in-person events, right?

You're hosting meetups, doing conferences to a lot of online activities like launching a forum or an education platform, having a swag store, running like monthly hackathons, things like that, right?

So DevRel makes, it's a collection of activities, right, that helps you build community, and events is one piece, and I think a super important piece.

What's been really great at HashiCorp is from the very beginning building community was embedded into how we work, think, operate, right?

So when the HashiCorp hired me in 2015 to do our first HashiConf, and we're doing our 10th one next week, which is nutty to think about, they just deeply understood.

They're like, "Hey, we just want to bring together our community that's never met in person into a space and teach each other," right?

And from the very beginning, our conferences were about knowledge sharing.

How do we teach people? How do we have either workshops or trainings or really technical talks?

How do we build genuine connections amongst the community members, genuine connections between HashiCorp employees and the attendees, and then also trust building right?

How do we kind of build trust?

And so if something does go wrong, right, people are like, "Oh, well we love HashiCorp. We love what they're doing."

You know, maybe something went down or something went wrong, right, but if you have this trust, people know that you're in it for the long haul and like, it builds a bit more empathy, right, amongst, amongst you and your community.

So yeah, events are super important. It builds trust, it builds loyalty.

It builds connections, it builds brand. There's so many benefits.

Patrick: Yeah, thanks, I was just taking notes there 'cause I always learn so much in these conversations.

Jana: Yeah, and again, so what's really beautiful is we've been doing these from the beginning and, I mean, I've definitely spoken to community managers that ask me like, "Okay, Jana, what was the ROI on that one meetup? Or how many leads did you get out of that?"

And I think yes, there needs to be some type of KPIs you measure but there's also, like we did the first HashiConf and we had a really big bank that spoke, right?

It was one of the first Vault customers to speak about how they were using Vault in production.

Well, four years later we closed a multimillion dollar deal with them.

I can't now go back to that first HashiConf and apply that to that event, right?

But it was because of these different touch points over the years, right, building trust, and then you know, attending workshops and different events.

And it's a bunch of different touch points that DevRel has, or marketing has, that then helped us get this personnel over the line to close a deal.

Patrick: Yeah, totally.

We see that a lot and I'm interested in your perspective on some of the benefits of events in the community related to trust and empathy and loyalty and sort of abstract notions in the context of generating demand and closing deals, which is sort of very objective and feels sort of at the opposite end of some conceptual spectrum.

How do you personally navigate the potential tension between the qualitative and quantitative measures of the work that you do, and how do you tell that story internally?

Jana: I mean, I've definitely struggled with this at past companies of, "Hey, it's not this one activity but it's a collection of activities over time that help build and strengthen your community, to then get those benefits of building trust, opening up channels for valuable feedback," things like that.

So, it's something that I just I push really hard for and stay true to.

And at least at HashiCorp, I'm lucky right?

Because again, it's a top-down type situation where it's like, okay, if leadership believes in building community then I don't have to fight as hard, right?

For resources or money or things like that. So I think I've been a bit luckier at HashiCorp.

Patrick: Yeah. We've seen that the top-down nature of that buy-in is incredibly important and it's almost a cultural orientation that has to permeate a company?

Jana: Yeah. It really does.

'Cause then that impacts a lot of the decisions you make 'cause DevRel again is a small piece in terms of like marketing as a whole, but, we then make strategic decisions on like, "Okay, hey, we have these websites, right?"

We have like a website that's just dedicated for Terraform and for Vault and we're like, "Okay, well, our community goes to these so let's make sure that we don't kind of have like pop up, like, hey, come talk to sales,"right?

So it's like, we make these decisions of like, "Okay, our people are practitioners, right? It's a community, we're trying to build community. So let's make sure that we don't make decisions then that hurts how they want to interact with us."

Like for example, people love to talk to us on GitHub, right?

So it's like, well, let's go talk to our community where they want to talk to us instead of forcing them to communicate on a platform and an avenue that they don't want to.

Or, there are .io sites, right, there are like, the Baltera forum where people go, let's not impact that, right, and move it underneath the corporate site and then it gets lost and it's really hard for people to find.

So, we always try to make a lot of strategic decisions in terms of how we build out the websites, how we build out our learn platform, different platforms.

And then also how we build our products, right?

Like what goes into our open source, right, versus what goes into enterprise.

So it's a whole collection of things but it's a top-down of, if we believe in building community we're going to make the right decisions for our community.

Patrick: So I'm curious, you know, thinking about 2020, I know you had to make, you made a lot of shifts in your strategy and your approach.

How would you characterize kind of the top two or three big learnings you've had so far as you've transitioned things to online and dealt with all of the shifts in the environment?

Jana: Yeah. That's so funny as I'm preparing for our largest digital conference next week.

Patrick: Mm-hmm.

Jana: It's a wild, I would be flying to San Diego right now.

We'd be putting on HashiConf US, so was going to be in San Diego.

We were expecting about 2,000 people. And instead, next week at our virtual conference we just passed 12,000 registrations.

Patrick: Wow!

Jana: So that's six X the amount of people. And that's huge right there, right?

All of a sudden these conferences become way more accessible, right?

We have people from every country registered to come and it's low cost, it's affordable, it's accessible.

And I think that's been kind of my biggest learning or our biggest learning of like, "Okay, why didn't we always have like a fully built out kind of digital experience, right? Why was it so much like you needed to come and be there?"

And yeah, we would live stream the keynote but it's now from what we've learned, I just put together like an RFC for the evolution of HashiConf.

So through next year they're going to be virtual, all right, until we figure out what's going on with COVID, until we get a vaccine, it's not safe to host large-scale in-person events, which is fine, but after that, I'm going to approach these as a hybrid events, right?

So, we'll have a fully built out digital experience.

People can talk to each other, that they can watch the talks, things like that.

We do this like you can watch a talk and watch it later as well, right?

'Cause if you're on different time zones, things like that, sometimes you can't watch it live.

And then maybe some type of small in-person as well. I think Apple does this really well.

And I love modeling after things Apple does, you know?

They do their big product launches which are streamed to, you know, hundreds of thousands of people, but they'll have a small kind of VIP, right, where they'll do press, analysts, the engineers that built stuff.

So for us, it's like, "Well, let's still have kind of small, and maybe, it's our ambassadors or core contributors or just still kind of building community, right, and bringing people together."

You know, I was about to, before COVID hit, I was about to book a venue for '23 and '24, and it's going to be the Washington Convention Center 'cause I had a four year kind of growth plan for my HashiConfs, and we were by 2023 expecting HashiConf to grow to 10,000 people.

Patrick: Wow.

Jana: But not right, like, but actually who wants to attend a 10,000 person conference, right?

Like, do you actually enjoy going to AWS Re:Invent?

I personally don't. I find them like overwhelming and exhausting.

And especially if our community, right, some people are like extrovert, introverts, and some people are introverts so imagine going into an environment that's you know, has 10,000 or 50,000 people, and I think it's harder to build community at that scale.

But I'm actually really happy with this shift of digital right, these building out these really interesting digital experiences, figure out how to make them engaging and sticky.

And then the future of events, right, will be this hybrid model of, some portion will be in-person, but again you'll still have that really awesome digital experience.

That's my bet, anyways.

Patrick: What have been some of your favorite tactics or tricks you've learned as you've transitioned to doing all this stuff online?

Jana: So it's interesting with a digital conference, there's like two main components that make up a digital conference, right?

There's kind of the broadcast portion, which is your speakers, and your content, and broadcasting out.

So, the biggest thing I learned is like all my team were actually like TV producers.

Like, we're running a TV show. We have a minute by minute run of show, right?

We, you have to license music, and you have breaks, and you have speaker Q and A's right?

And you have lower thirds that need a roll-in to introduce your speakers.

So it's, you're actually running a TV show and that's actually how we record the talks at in-person events.

We used to have really long talks, but now you're like "Oh, how do you make, you know, one episode, right, one speaker, how do you make that talking engaging?"

And so we're learning a lot from like TV producers on how to make our talks like interesting and engaging.

So that's one, it's like, we are now we're running a TV show, and two, it's the platform piece, right, it's like, I mean, you could just use YouTube and then stream it that that's one way, or Twitch, right?

But it's how do you create an engaging online experience and then it's that platform?

And there's some products out there out of the box.

I actually wish someone would build something great, I haven't found anything great yet, everything's kind of fine.

We decided to the approach of building our own.

So we hired a team out of the Netherlands to build our own which has also has its own as I'm like, right before, you Patrick, you and I jumped off and we're like, "Oh my God, these features,"right?

We're right now in the testing environment, checking everything.

We're like, "God, do we have to cut this feature? Is it going to like?"

We're opening the platform to 12,000 people on Sunday and we're like, "Is it going to be ready, I don't know! Right, like.

So I, both things have its own issues right? I like an out of box platform. You can't really control the experience.

And for us, that HashiCorp, design is so important. The practitioner experience is so important.

So for us, we're like, "Hey, how do we create a really seamless, beautiful experience?"

And so that's why we decided to build our own. But again, that's stressful.

And another reason we decided to build our own because we're like, "Okay, how do you make something engaging and interesting in an online experience?"

And so for us with this platform, we're like, "Okay, so, for one people really need to be able to watch the talks and see the talks really easily," right?

So you need to make sure you're not having any bandwidth issues.

We made the choice to prerecord a lot of our talks.

Some people do it live, which is fine, but we're like, live can mean a lot of different things.

So for us, our MCs are live, our chat is live, so it's like the platform and the other things are what make the conference live. Just because our keynote isn't live doesn't mean you can't chat with people or you can't ask questions things like that. Our speaker Q and A is live.

So anyways, we're playing around what live means but we just didn't want to risk something going wrong, right?

Our keynote has six different people that come in, right?

Some of these talks have you know, two or three, or there's panels, so for us, we're like, "Hey, we don't want to take that risk."

So that's one. Yeah, what was the question? Oh, right, building a platform.

So, we tried to build this custom platform to increase engagement, right, and to figure out how to make this thing sticky, like, how do people stay?

So get, be able to watch the talks is really important. Being able to chat.

And it's so funny, in June, we had a chat that refreshed after each talk, but it killed the conversation, so for this one, we're like, "Hey, let's have a continuous chat."

Being able to really easily ask questions so people can submit questions to the speakers and attendees can vote on it.

Having a really easy schedule. So being able to create a schedule because I think in a virtual setting, people are distracted right?

You have a bunch of other meat. It's not like someone is at an in-person conference and they're just kind of going from talking to talk, getting a coffee, stuff like that.

Here, people have kids at home, and their pet needs to go out, or they need to go get a coffee.

So you can't expect someone to stay on all day.

So we tried to design a really nice schedule where you can like, "Oh, I'm just going to make my own schedule. These are the talks I want to go to."

You can add it to your calendar, you'll also, if you have the platform open, it'll just ping you like, "Hey, Mitchell and Armand opening keynote starting in five minutes, join us."

So it's like a really nicely built out schedule.

And then we're trying this cool thing where we're hosting, you can host a lightning talk.

So we're trying to replicate the hallway track but in a digital setting.

So you can like, "Hey, I want to host a lightning talk on this kind of, plug-in I built."

Or a sponsor, right, that's part of a sponsorship. Instead of having someone come to your booth, a sponsor's just kind of hosting a lightning talk. Some of our core contributors are hosting lightning talks.

So, again, I'm trying to play with how do you make something sticky, and engaging and interesting so people stay?

Another thing we're having a lot of fun with is we always have really good coffee at our conferences, and we do, it's call that the HashiCafe.

And I really love, I don't know, think of like 1920s in Paris, right, where you had like a lot of intellectuals, and artists and musicians would sit at cafes, right, and kind of smoke cigars and drink coffees and just kind of talk.

So we always tried to create that setting at our conferences and we're like, "Oh shoot, well now it's virtual, so how do we create a virtual cafe?"

And so we start the conference actually with, we just hired a barista, that's walking people through like how to make the perfect cup of coffee at home.

And then the next video is someone just kind of doing like latte art and creating all of our, like the HashiCorp logo and the Packer logo in latte art.

And there's just like really cool music.

So the HashiDafe is fun visuals, and music and artists, but it's just something that you can passively watch, right?

So it's like, "Hey, you're going to fully be engaged in a talk but then you need a break. We'll just go to the HashiCafe and listen to some music on the background."

And I hired a bunch of like my friends to create, again, you have licensing stuff, so it's not like you can play like Kanye West or something, so created music.

So again, it's, it's so funny.

I actually got into LinkedIn debate maybe last week or something where someone had posted like, "Oh, virtual events, people aren't coming to virtual events or people aren't staying."

And I'm like, "Okay, but have you actually tried to think about the attendee experience? Have you actually tried to think about like how to make this thing engaging?"

And maybe like, maybe we'll fail, right, maybe the lightning talks won't work or maybe people are like, "Oh, this music is horrible, I didn't want any music," but it's like, if you don't try that, if you don't try, like, okay, so developers, this is how they think, this is what they want, right?

And here are some of the activities and things we're doing to make it easier for them to like want to stay and engage with us.

So that's the platform piece.

Patrick: Yeah. That's brilliant, I love it.

The addition of the passive consumption track, it's pretty cool, and it definitely, it seems like it mirrors the ability just to go and grab a coffee and decompress for a few minutes between sessions, so, that's really cool.

Jana: Yeah. And you just put on your background, right?

And then you're like, "Okay, I'm just going to like code for a little bit, or I'm going to go make myself lunch," but it's like, at least you have some great tunes.

Or another thing we did is virtual swag.

Right, people love swag, and we're like, "Okay, well we can't, to 12,000 people, we can't send stuff."

Plus it's, you deeply care about the environment and you don't want to be wasteful, stuff like that.

So we created a virtual swag page where people can download stuff.

So they can download emojis, or Zoom backgrounds, or every event we do custom playlist, so people always seem to love the music at our conferences, so we just made a Spotify playlist.

So for four hours, right? It's a four hour playlist.

Yeah, and there's, so there's a bunch of stuff that you can just download or like listen to music.

'Cause again, it's, you're creating experiences, right?

Sometimes people are like, "Okay, I'm doing an event and here's the Zoom link" and that's it, but it's like, it's more than that.

Patrick: All right.

When you're thinking about the experience design for an event like this, you know, what are the models or the heuristics you were thinking through to make sure that it's consistent with the brand and the community expectations, and how do you decide what goes in and what goes out?

Jana: So it was really interesting.

We were lucky that we made the decision really early in March to transform these conferences to virtual events which gave us about two months to really figure out like, okay.

And we just kind of like, took a step back, 'cause at our conferences we had a massive expo hall.

We had 10 in-person trainings. We had partner summit, executive travel.

There was just so much, right? And we're like, "Okay, well we can't replicate all of that in a virtual environment."

So we're like, "Why does our community come to conferences?"

So we really just kind of took a step back and we're like, "Okay, what do developers want," right?

And it's really education, like I always go back to this kind of like knowledge sharing, right?

And it's connections, it's connections with each other.

And so those are the two things that then kind of went into designing the experience for our community, right, in terms of the type of content we pick, on like, the broadcast piece, from the music and stuff like that, to the platform, right?

To the vehicle that our conference is delivered in.

Patrick: So, you know, fast forwarding a couple of weeks, the conference is over. It went really well.

What are the things you're looking at to measure whether or not it was a success? How would you assess that?

Jana: Yeah. A couple of different ways.

It's so funny 'cause the HashiConf and its purpose has evolved as well, and for example, it also becomes a really great vehicle for us to do product announcements and feature announcements.

So that's one piece, right? We look at like the number of press hits, number of social mentions we got.

And then two, we also look at all the folks that attended right, live.

We just take those and then we create a campaign in Salesforce and we see, I mean, it takes a couple of months, but you're like, "Hey, did this touch point have an impact on helping our sales team close deals?"

So revenue, impact, helping move the deals through the pipeline, and then also like, the press and media mentions that we got.

Patrick: So if you could abstract your learnings out a bit, you know, a number of our folks, our audience are early stage founders.

They don't quite have the budget and the firepower of HashiCorp.

So what type of guidance would you give a, sort of a seed or Series A company who's thinking about doing some events, doing some in-person community?

You know, how could they bring the professionalism and polish that you do in a massive scale to a much smaller venue and audience size?

Jana: Yeah. That's such a great question.

Even in the early days, right, even when we spent a 10th on our events, it's a couple of things, right?

So when you're small, you have to think about marketing as a whole, right?

So it's like really understanding who your audience is, really understanding how to message to them, really nailing down kind of your brand.

I think what people, and at least what I learned at HashiCorp is, I don't just do events, right, I do kind of these brand experiences.

And that is a collection of really deeply understanding who the audience is, and then understanding kind of how to message and communicate.

Like, my team in our brand guide, we have tone and vibe, and then also a style guide of how we communicate with them and how we write messages.

And then we also have a brand guide, right? So you would apply that to like a company.

I just have this for my conferences, but this is like, what you should have as a early stage company is try to have really kind of strong branding and messaging be cause that then translates. Then you decide, now that I deeply understand who my audience is, that then impacts the type of DevRel and community activities you do. And then if that is events, that's amazing.

And then people understand, right, especially with small scale startups, people like scrappy, right?

Like, if the HashiCorp hadn't been.

Right, we're like a $5 billion company so we have to put on this type of thing, but, if it's also just kind of a Twitch stream right, and you're doing a hackathon, like it's also okay to be scrappy and playful 'cause people understand, right?

And people are empathetic and I actually kind of love those.

Like, it's so funny because I work with one of my best friends, right, she's like our lead designer, all that stuff, and we've been doing this together for four years now.

And she's like, "Jana, sometimes I miss those early days."

Right, like I sometimes, I still remember the first HashiConf, right?

It was like we just, it was in Portland, and we just had Blue Star donuts, and we had like a local brewery serve beer.

And that was awesome, right? Now, it's like, well, we did an event at the Fairmont and had like, someone teach us about shit, right?

It's sometimes like goes a bit too far. And you're like, why can't I go back? But I like, I miss going back.

So it's, again, it's okay to be scrappy as long as it's about the community, right?

That the content is about the community and that it's genuine.

I had a call with a founder last week.

They were like, "Oh, we just were about to announce our," or sorry, "we just got funding."

And I'm like, "That's great. But that doesn't help you really build community."

Like I think too many times we kind of talk about ourselves, but it's like, well, is that helpful, or is that interesting or relevant to the community?

So if you do like your first, maybe webinar series or events, have the content be about something that like, helps people, all right, and educates people, and not just like, "Here's how you use our stuff and, blah, blah blah."

My advice to early founders is really kind of either hire someone like a consultant or hire, like, I think like one of the first hires should be someone that is in DevRel, right, but that also likes marketing.

And there are those kind of people out there that will help you figure out, like how you message and how you market and that have like solid branding.

Like, I hate to say it but like, developers appreciate good design, good typography, a solid logo, you know?

Or something that doesn't look like everything else.

Patrick: Yeah. So I think about this, this question a lot.

What do you think is the relationship between brand and community?

Jana: They're intertwined.

I mean, it's so funny because for a couple of years we have to called them brand experiences.

Like a conference is a brand experience, 'cause the second someone walks in, yes, it is a conference, but who is HashiCorp, right?

What do they look like? What do they feel like, what do they sound like?

What type of vibe do we want to put out there, right? Do we want to be approachable?

Are we cold, are we not, right? Do we do ball pits or do we not?

Like, so a conference is an expression of your brand in a physical space.

Patrick: Yeah, totally, totally agree.

Jana: Yeah. And again, it's so funny.

I used to do community at New Relic and I did their user conferences, and I did one that was right before we IPO'd and we kept like, we need more wow, we need more wow, so I spent like $150,000 on like I Heart Data letters and we had this massive party and we hired OK Go, and I think I had like 600 pounds of confetti and I rented out the work.

But I'm like, at the end of the day, is that what people really wanted or needed, right, or was that just us like having fun?

And so when I started at HashiCorp, I'm like, "Okay, who is HashiCorp," right?

And I spent a lot of time with the founders and the staff and I'm like, who are we, right?

And for us, it's we just, again, we're, we're very humble, we're very kind, we're very matter of fact, and we want to be approachable, right?

And so now, we don't do parties, right? We'll do an evening social.

And we'll never have a ball pit and we'll never have a DJ, right?

Instead it's, it's about like, again, education, and genuine connections, and trust building, right, and that's what we focus on.

So like, when you come to our conference, I hope you feel those things and you don't see something like a massive ball pit or a inflatable giant balloon thing.

Like everything we do has A purpose, right? It's related to the brand and who we are.

Patrick: I think this is a key point that many folks that sort of came up on the DevRel or community side of things might not have had exposure to, in terms of defining brand values and ensuring there's consistency across the board from every brand touchpoint, and community and experiences are just manifestations of those decisions.

So, it's about being intentional in defining those things at the front end.

And I think to your point the ball pits aren't necessarily bad in and of themselves, they're just not consistent with the brand, and the values, and the principles you've established for HashiCorp.

Jana: Yeah. Oh, that's 100%. And say like, we don't have a lot of alcohol at our conferences, right?

We'll have beer and wine, but again, it's, that's not our brand, but it's okay if it is someone else's, but like yeah, it's so funny, right?

It just took me a bit too long to realize that. That you have to be intentional 'cause you are, again, even the way we message on social media.

Look, I have a woman on my team that does cups, right?

And she is in charge of how we like, the emails we send out and our website copy, and social and stuff like that. And again, it all ties up to like, this is the brand and how we communicate and all that stuff.

So it's important.

Patrick: What's been your proudest moment building community and experiences for HashiCorp?

Jana: Apart from surviving this year?

I really think this year has been for me, like probably one of the biggest learning and growth years of my life, right?

'Cause I had to take my team and I had to unwind events, right?

We were supposed to do our Sydney conference in April.

We had just finished our European event.

All of the design, we had sponsors, we had almost sold out, right?

And then we were planning our US event and these are like 18 month planning cycles.

So I had to take this momentum we had and kind of pivot the team and first unwinding an event.

Refunding sponsors, communicating internally, externally, and being sensitive to things, negotiating with all of your vendors, how to get money back while they're struggling.

There's some vendors I've been using since 2016, right, at HashiCorp, so I'm like, how do I? So that was really tough.

And then I'm like, how do I pivot my team, right? And then how do I also build out a team and learn how to do?

So I think that was my proudest moment of surviving that, right, and making sure that my team and I are okay at HashiCorp, right, 'cause it's like our whole job was in-person, and what happens when you can't do in-person?

So you're like, "Well, how do I keep bringing value to Hashi Corp?"

And so again, it was that kind of like catching it really early, putting together these like, contingency plans that helped us work with leadership to make the decisions to cancel and pivot these events to be virtual, and then re-shifting my whole team to do these virtual events while learning.

And then also making sure we hire the right kind of vendors.

So I think I'm really proud of that, of like all of a sudden it's like, we could have just done a YouTube stream, but instead it's like we built a platform and our first, our June event right, our first kind of virtual conference had 8,000 people,

Patrick: Hmm.

Jana: And it, it worked.

Patrick: What did you learn about keeping a team motivated and keeping their head on straight during the times of chaos?

How did you manage that and what did you learn from that process?

Jana: That's a good one.

Yeah, it's like, how do you continue creating in times of chaos, right, when you're just like, and I'm going to admit like, March, I was really depressed.

Like I was like, how do I save my job? How do I save my team?

A lot of the vendors that I had worked with since 2016, some of them filed for bankruptcy.

So, I gave myself a moment to be sad, right? To be sad of the loss of things, of the loss of this momentum, right?

Like I had mentioned earlier as like, we had a four year roadmap.

I knew week by week where we were going to be, what we were doing, right?

We had these crazy like kind of timelines in the way we use a sauna, like our processes are pretty insane.

So I let myself be sad.

But then I had to like kind of get it together for the team.

Right, and like my team, they have kids, and they have families, and they have lives, and I'm like, "Okay, I have to stay positive and excited for them."

But I also like, I have the most amazing team.

Like it's five people in my team and I'm just so impressed and proud, right?

It's like, no one has an ego, and we all just step in and help each other. Like today I ordered plants, right?

'Cause I have a woman that's like editing keynotes, you know, and working with our production team.

And so I was like, what I really love about the people I've hired is they're all flexible and they all just want to help each other. I think my biggest accomplishment is that I feel like I hired really well.

People that are very empathetic and kind, and one of our unofficial kind of team principles is #getshitdone, right?

We have T-shirts made, stuff like that, and it's a very kind of get shit done.

Where it's like, okay, Vera Knapp, who's our project manager she's like, "Okay, all of our processes are destroyed. Well let's rebuild them."

Or Amanda, she does all of our comm's that are across websites, she said, "Okay," all of a sudden I woke up and she had drafted, "Okay, here's our communication plan, externally, internally, to sponsors, to speakers, to staff, to everyone, right?

And then here's the website changes. And then of course Chris she's like, "Jana, help me come up with Patricks."

So while we were thinking of Patricks, she was like creating the logo, right?

So like, we're like, "Okay, should it be HashiConf US 2020?"

So we were playing with all this stuff and then all of a sudden it was like, well, digital, right?

Digital means hands on two-way versus virtual. So we were like on a video call, right.

Like me and Chrissa, our designer, we're like, HashiConf Digital And she did the logo and boom, right.

So, but again because I had these type of people that had these skillsets right, we were able to kind of pivot really quickly and move really quickly to do these virtual conferences.

Patrick: Wow, it seems like you've built a lot of resiliency into your team?

Jana: Yeah. It's hard hiring, right?

I think we all are learning and then struggling, you know, and I'm proud of the characteristics and the things I look for in people.

But the biggest thing I think is like that get shit done attitude, right, and like being a bit humble and not having an ego.

So, if you, all of a sudden are asked to do data entry 'cause we now have, we have the website right, where we have to add schedules and speakers, and now we've a platform as well, right?

So I have one woman on my team, that the last two weeks has been doing data entry, right, but yet she has 10 years of project management experience.

But she's like, "No problem." So it's that type of thing.

Patrick: Yeah, I'm curious. You're in a role that's very high impact, probably very stressful.

What keeps you coming back? What keeps you motivated?

Jana: I'm one of those people that constantly loves to learn and I'm at HashiCorp because I feel like I bring value, right, and I feel like I'm learning and I feel like I'm excited about the company and the product.

And then one day that may change, right, and then for me, it's something else.

But for me, I'm like, this year has been really hard but this is probably been one of my favorite years.

'Cause it's like, okay, how do you create in times of chaos?

How do you, when horrible things are happening, it's like, okay, you can either let that impact you, right, and you are like, frozen, or you kind of can build something.

My best friend, and I talk about that a lot. It was really cool.

So, my best friend and I, she's my roommate as well in New York, she runs an agency called Scout Lab, it's like a creative agency.

So we always talk about this. Like, how do you create in times of chaos?

And so for her, from our bedroom, right, we have a really small apartment in New York.

She launched, it was called InMyScrubs, a campaign that ended up raising $160,000 for nurses and doctors.

So they were able to send 10,000 meals to all of like the people that work at hospitals, right?

From our bedroom, 'cause she's like, "Okay, I can be really sad that there goes our travel and there goes our life in New York."

And so I love people like that, right, who are trying to, whether it's something a little, it's like, "Hey, I just ran this little fundraiser to something bigger."

So that's what drives me. It's like, it's creating, it's learning, it's all of that.

Patrick: Creating in times of chaos. I love that as a concept and a rallying call. That's really powerful.

Jana: Yeah. It was really cool.

So, I launched this like virtual event series called EpicConf. I've always wanted to do my own conference and I just never had time.

It was crazy, 'cause I have and @epicconf on Twitter, I've had it since 2012, 'cause I was like, "One day I'm going to do something."

And finally, right? 'Cause it's like, I didn't realize how tired I was, right?

I was just traveling so much, I didn't really have time for any personal stuff.

And then once I figured out kind of like how to shift my team virtually, I was like, well, I finally have time.

So I ended up with a couple of friends launching this thing called EpicConf, and it's just like virtual event series for like, marketers and founders.

And then people that are just like curious about the world.

But we had this amazing talk actually in June. And he's this amazing artist and living in New York, and he's an artist, and he's a model and a musician, and he's also a black man and he gave this really powerful talk on like, yeah, "How do you create in times of chaos?"

'Cause it's like, in June, the protests were really just like heated up, right?

And just, there was a lot of chaos happening in the world, like, being in New York every day right, you saw hundreds of people go by like protesting, which was beautiful, but then you also had like cop cars everywhere.

And then once like nighttime hit, you were just so worried for all the people that were out there.

And again he gave this powerful talk of like, you still have to create, right?

Patrick: Hmm, that's powerful.

Jana: And I think that, I think a lot of us are trying to figure out like, we had all these ideas and plans as humans, also as, as founders or people that run teams or run departments and 2020 really just kind of disrupted all of that.

And so it's, I think all of us, it's what, we're like seven months, eight months in, and it's interesting to see if like, "Okay, how have we shifted our different plans? What were we able to do?"

But yeah, this has not been an easy year.

Patrick: Yeah, looking forward a bit, what are you excited about?

Jana: The theme of EpicConf that I really love is like how to build things better than before.

And I think that's what I'm really excited about, 'cause we all had these plans made for ideas and they got disrupted, right?

It's like, you can no longer do messaging, or press, or launches, or DevRel how you used to, but I think we can come out even better, right, doing things stronger, and differently, and better, and more impactful.

So that's what I'm excited about.

Patrick: Hmm.

Jana: And the little piece that I own at HashiCorp, I think I'm really excited to explore like how to push these conferences, right?

How to really continue learning how to build these like, digital first experiences.

And then also what does a hybrid event look like eventually with the goal of like these are for community building?

Patrick: Are you reading anything interesting lately?

Jana: Yeah, I stopped reading business books for a while 'cause I think I was a bit overwhelmed.

I really love books that are about like magical realism.

So when my friend had given me "The Night Circus," which was beautiful, and I just read another book by the same author, her Patrick is Erin.

Gosh, what's her last Patrick? It's called "The Starless Sea."

So it's things like that, right, that kind of like transport you to another world that are just cool labyrinths and exploration and all that stuff, so.

Patrick: Hmm. So I ask this question to everyone that comes to the show. The podcast is called Developer Love, so I'm curious, what's one thing you're loving right now?

Jana: Just about like developers or or just in general?

Patrick: Dealers choice.

Jana: What I'm really loving and what has happened in my life, I didn't realize how tired I was, right?

I think we were all just moving and running so quickly forward, right?

We had work and social obligations that I really enjoyed. Like, stillness has been my word.

Just kind of being still like even, I mean I'm talking to you like while in Berkeley, where I grew up in I'm in like, I'm with my parents.

And the last time I just hung out with my parents, it's so funny because HashiCorp has an office, so I'd stay at their house, but I'd maybe see them five minutes 'cause then I'd run to the office, we'd have work dinners, I'd meet up with friends and I'd get home at midnight and I'd fly home two days later. But to just kind of be still, right?

Either be still with my thoughts or be still by myself, or just to sit there with my parents and just talk to them.

Like, I'm no longer checking my phone or email and just to be present. And I didn't realize how I wasn't.

And I think that's the thing that I've really enjoyed from this year or my learning from this year.

Patrick: Hmm, that's beautiful.

Jana: Yeah, it's deep. I try to go deep here.

Patrick: So when we do these conversations to the move there the folks we talk to are typically empathetic community builder types.

And so, the guests of the show have historically not been afraid to explore those themes, so.

Jana: Yeah. I love this podcast. I love what you're doing and I think yeah, we're all just trying to learn from each other.

And then I don't have all the answers.

I'm like, this is just kind of what I've learned and I hope, yeah, someone can learn something from it.

And that's what I think what makes us so interesting as humans, right?

It's just like thriving for knowledge and then, yeah.

Patrick: Yeah. I'm a learner. One of the things we value a lot at Orbit is learning.

Jana: Yeah.

Patrick: This podcast is a lot about that. Thank you so much for sharing your learnings today.

If people want to learn more about you and EpicConf and all the stuff you're working on, where could they find more online?

Jana: Yeah, you can just find my website, or on my Twitter.

I'm just Jana Boruta on Twitter, and my website's, and that's where I talk about my work.

I've also been blogging a bunch on Medium just publishing like our contingency plans, or how we're approaching building these digital first conferences.

Patrick: Oh cool. That's amazing. Yeah, we'll link that in the show notes.

Jana, do you have any parting thoughts you'd like to share with our audience before we part ways today?

Jana: No, I think we covered a lot. I think this year requires a lot of empathy and I think just applying empathy into how you communicate and the type of programs you build and it's not ignoring the fact that this has been a really tough year for everyone across the world and applying that to, again, how you message or communicate, or the type of programs you launch.

Patrick: Hmm. Jana, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. It's been a real pleasure to learn about creation in times of chaos and how to have empathy at scale and all these amazing things you've talked about, so, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

Jana: Thank you for having me, Patrick. Been a pleasure.

Want developer focused content in your inbox?

Join our mailing list to receive the latest Library updates. After subscribing, tell us your preferences to receive only the email you want.

Thanks for subscribing, check your inbox to confirm and choose preferences!

You've been here a while...

Are you learning something? Share it with your friends!