Inside GitHub Universe: GloFish, Play Rooms and Inclusivity

GitHub Universe Courts Developers with GloFish, Play Rooms and Mona the Octocat

GitHub Universe Courts Developers with GloFish, Play Rooms and Mona the Octocat

At this year’s GitHub Universe, an annual technology event for developers who build software on GitHub’s platform, the goal was to create an experience as innovative, creative and inclusive as possible to reflect the brand’s values. To achieve that, GitHub chose a non-traditional venue, leveraged a customized sponsorship program to enhance attendee engagement and fostered an air of inclusivity—from parenting rooms to gender neutral bathrooms to a scholarship program. Forgoing the traditional trade show venue of the convention center, the brand hosted 1,800 attendees, Oct. 16-17, at the Palace of Fine Arts Event Venue in San Francisco.

“One of our goals is to get face time with the people that use our product and to share those things with them in a spectacular environment that gives the announcements this sense of gravity,” says Kelsey Schimmelman, senior event producer at GitHub. “The venue has a breathtaking, awe-inspiring exterior. Our job was to build an interior that lived up to the promise of the beauty of the exterior.”

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Approximately 31 million developers code and build software on GitHub using tools to facilitate code review, hosting, project management and more. As a result, community and collaboration are the brand’s key tenets. To make attendees feel as if they were entering a unique GitHub Universe, the brand brought sponsors’ products and philosophies to life with customized activations. The event featured nearly 30 sponsors and 15 original installations, each a customized activation.

“GitHub’s biggest asset is its community, so this was about getting our community together and showcasing how diverse and how broad it is in terms of the different applications that people find for our collaboration tools,” Schimmelman says.

It wasn’t easy convincing sponsors to forgo the traditional booth setups. “Going into this type of unconventional sponsorship strategy, especially in a community with a codified event culture of trade shows, was a challenge,” she says. For instance, when it came to generating leads, GitHub pushed quality over quantity—not always an easy sell. Sponsors, however, have been returning year after year, and upping the ante on their interactive exhibits.

“We’ve tried to set a standard of creating a spectacle and making sure that people are having fun and that they feel relaxed and comfortable,” Schimmelman says. “They’re more likely to make organic connections if they’re in a mindset that’s conducive to play.”

Conveying inclusivity and a welcome vibe to all attendees was another priority at the event. The two-day affair featured parent rooms with private pumping stations, child play areas, service pet accommodations, prayer and meditation rooms (functioning as a place for prayer and also for those who feel overwhelmed by social interaction), and gender-neutral bathrooms. Guests were offered preferred pronoun stickers at registration, and the event’s merch shop had Pride and Trans Pride items to purchase. The venue was also ADA accessible.

Inclusivity was extended to those who might not be able to afford tickets as well, which played out in a GitHub Universe scholarship program. The scholarship program is run by the brand’s social impact team, which distributes free tickets to people who might otherwise not be able to attend. Recipients are provided resources including social events and an exclusive talk from GitHub’s chief strategy officer.

“We want to encourage people who might not have the economic means to attend other tech events to attend ours. It’s very important to us that they be there,” Schimmelman says. Agency: agencyEA, Chicago.


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