When the team at experiential marketing agency Agency EA partnered with internet hosting service GitHub to plan Git Merge, a two-day, in-person conference in mid-September, the focus was on delivering a strong education program. The event is designed to amplify new voices in the Git community and showcase the most thought-provoking projects from developers, maintainers, and teams around the world.
The first day of the 150-plus-person conference held at Morgan Manufacturing — a historic former industrial warehouse and manufacturing complex turned special events venue in Chicago — was dedicated to hands-on workshops. A full day of technical talks followed, given by speakers from GitHub as well as Twitter, Google, and Uber, along with breakout discussions about Git and the people who build the world’s technologies with it.
Given such a session-heavy itinerary, the team at Agency EA “almost explored not having any playful engagement opportunities,” said Jessica Tarnacki, an account manager at Agency EA. But then they decided to “level up” the conference with innovative décor and balance the tech talks with networking opportunities and creative activations. Chief among those was a magnet wall they installed, filled with programmer-specific magnetic words and individual letters that participants could string together to create funny messages.
“We used the prompt, ‘Git Jokes?’ to get the ball rolling,” Tarnacki said, “and pre-set a few magnetic phrases based on popular Git memes and jokes online — we git very punny.”
The magnet wall served as the focal point of a dedicated networking space adjacent to the food and beverage area where attendees could “Git Their Game On” — outfitted with lounge seating, tabletop games, puzzles, and magnetic darts, Tarnacki said.
The wall was meant to be more than a fun, interactive feature of the event. It also served as a physical manifestation of what’s at the heart of the audience. “We wanted to find a budget-friendly way to bring the Git community together that reflected the core values of GitHub,” Tarnacki said. “The most beautiful strength of Git is its collaborative open-source platform, which led us to concepts all about collaboration and playing with code.”
The giant magnet wall became “a playful communal open space, much like GitHub itself,” she said, “that allowed attendees to co-create a ‘communal fridge door’ of all things Git. We were delighted to see Git-related puns, Instagram handles, run-on sentences, and fun, inside jokes specific to the Git community” created using the magnetic word tiles and letters. “The display morphed throughout the day as multiple participants built on top of the pre-existing text to make it funnier — just like how they improve on each other’s source code.”
The initiative ended up being “way more successful than expected,” Tarnacki said. “It created a physical shared content space that brought the online community to real life. Conferences always generate the need for ways to engage and network outside of the content,” she said, and the magnet wall “created a low-pressure, fun activity for attendees to express themselves.”
Tarnacki said she is “so glad in hindsight that we fought to prioritize fun amidst the formal programming. The attendees were drawn to the wall during every break and mealtime, evolving the content and humor throughout the day. By the end of the event, there was barely any space left on the wall.”
It’s not uncommon to feature other kinds of message boards at events, enabling participants to express themselves by writing on Post It Notes or with erasable markers on whiteboards, but the magnet wall has a few advantages over those. The wall itself can be reused at other events, and its elements can become swag: Attendees were encouraged to take the magnets at the end of the event “to add their jokes to their home offices and shared workspaces,” Tarnacki said.
Along with the takeaways, all Git Merge events give back. The ticket proceeds from the 2022 event were contributed to the Software Freedom Conservancy to support its work in improving and defending free and open-source software. In addition, 100 leftover boxed lunches were donated to Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago’s South Loop.
The event wrapped with a closing reception, where participants sipped signature drinks and snacked on small bites, with a magnetic tile or two tucked inside their pocket or bag.
When it came to Git Merge’s décor, no detail was overlooked by Agency EA as an opportunity to reflect the creative spirit of the coding audience and to physicalize their digital work.
“We wanted to think outside the traditional box and get inspired by the problem-solving mind of a programmer,” said Agency EA’s Jessica Tarnacki. That led to brainstorming about how the participants could “construct imaginative solutions out of raw building blocks.”
A literal interpretation of that was Lego bricks, and Agency EA landed on the idea of using them to create floral arrangements which became centerpieces at tables in the event’s networking space. “It was fun to bring attention to every detail,” Tarnacki said, “and find ways to interact with what it means to be part of the Git community.”
The arrangements were a “huge hit,” she added, with many participants bringing them home.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief or Convene.