Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pluralsight Author Summit '15

I had the opportunity to go to the Pluralsight Author Summit in Salt Lake City, UT this past weekend. And it was an amazing experience. I wanted to let the experience settle a bit before I tried to write about it. The best parts of the event for me were really about the company, the authors, and the conversations.

The Company
Pluralsight as a company is dedicated to learning. This is not changing, and I don't see it changing in the future. The company has grown incredibly since I first got involved as an author (which was in May 2013). In less than 2 years, they have acquired several other companies, and the library has grown from around 400 courses to around 4000 courses.

With most companies, there would be a concern that a company cannot maintain its culture and core values with growth of that nature. But Pluralsight has managed to do this.

Here's a taste of that:

And this isn't corporate propaganda. I saw these values in the eyes of every employee that I talked to over the weekend. This is what they truly believe.

This goes all the way to the top. Two of the company founders stepped out of their "C" level roles because they were concerned that they would hold the company back. They stepped into roles that allowed them to continue to guide the company, but in different ways. That's the kind of dedication to values that I would like to see spread to other companies -- people focused on doing what's best to drive the vision forward and not just what's best for "me".

In addition, they talked about how each acquisition fits in to the overall goal of the company. This is not "buying out competitors", this is about finding companies with excellent content or tools that fit in well with furthering the Pluralsight mission. This is a strategic process focused on improving learning.

On a personal level, this makes Pluralsight a company that I want to be more involved with.

The Authors
Pluralsight has amazing authors. I don't know that I have ever been in such a large group where everyone is so passionate about what they are doing. I spent the weekend surrounded by people who knew their technologies and were dedicated to sharing that knowledge in the most effective way possible.

And everyone is incredibly open to sharing what they've learned about creating good courses. Some people were sharing tips on how to get the best audio recordings. Other people were talking about how to save time editing.

One author (Michael Perry) wowed everyone with a tool he created to make his own editing and recording process easier. He was soliciting input and has made the software available to other authors.

"Watch My Course"
Creating a course for Pluralsight is a lot of work. And a big reason for that is that the authors are fanatical about getting the best content with the best demos with the best audio with the best visuals all edited together in the best package. And this is why authors are always saying "watch my course". They aren't saying this because they are hoping to get more royalties; they say this because each and every one of them thinks that they have created something of high value (and they have). And they want to share that with as many people as possible.

And now's my chance to say "Watch my courses" ;-)

The Conversations
I had direct conversations with close to 50 authors this weekend (yes, I was trying to keep track of who I met and talked to). There were tons of opportunities for casual and directed conversations, whether during sessions, at meals, at evening activities, and in the hallways. I met a lot of new people, and I got to catch up with folks I haven't seen for a while. I'm looking forward to continuing the conversations in the future.

Sometimes you meet people you already "know". I sat down and started talking to someone, and he told a joke about introvert developers. And I said, "Did you leave that on my blog?" (Comment on "Becoming a Social Developer: A Guide for Introverts"). He said, "Yes", and then we were instantly friends. (BTW, it was Steve Ognibene. Even though the comment has a fairly generic user name, it tracks back to both his blog and Twitter account.)

Open Space
There were 6 time slots dedicated to open space conversations. This is a format where the people pick topics that are important to them (or they think are important to others), they pitch the topic, and then people show up for great conversations. For more info, check Wikipedia for the Guiding Principles (and 1 Law).

The result was a lot of great sessions. Some were "Here's how I was successful with X"; others were "I have no idea how to do this, so let's get together and talk about ideas". Excellent discussions with people who have lots of good ideas. And there were folks from Pluralsight in each and every session, offering suggestions and thinking about ways Pluralsight can incorporate these great ideas.

Here's a photo of a session that I proposed and hosted:

I was simply the host for the discussion (I was at the front to write down ideas and try to make sure that everyone had a chance to speak). As Megan notes, it was a brilliant discussion. There were about 50 people in the room, and I'm amazed at how open everyone was -- willing to ask questions, sharing experience, and coming up with new ideas.

The conversations from this and other sessions continued through the weekend (and some of them are still going). These sessions were just the seeds to get things started.

Still More
I would be remiss not to talk about the formal content as well. Nancy Duarte did a keynote that was amazingly inspiring. You can get a taste of it from a TED talk that she did several years ago. Nancy shared how great presenters create something that resonates with the listeners/viewers. And this is something that we (as people who produce technical content) can bring to our own courses. Lots of great ideas.

The best part is that these are just small examples of the focus of the entire summit: how can we make things better for the learners.

I know this sounds like an ad for Pluralsight. But it's really hard not to sound like that. I've seen the dedication of the company itself; I've seen the values of the employees; I've seen the passion of the authors. After spending several days in this environment, it's inevitable that you want to be involved in it further.

Happy Learning!


  1. Gutted I missed it. Thanks for sharing your experience. Hoping to make it along one year myself. And I fully agree - Pluralsight is a fantastic company to be involved with.

  2. Glad you had such a positive experience Jeremy, it was also great to get a chance to meet you!