Without the support of our passionate volunteers, no #mtpcon would take place. It’s as simple as that. So what do they get out of volunteering and why do so many keep coming back? In this blog post, we’ll meet some key players in our ‘cyan army’, to show you what goes on behind the scenes at our conferences.
Like us, our volunteers are people who are passionate about product. They care about helping others to hone their craft and see the value in supporting the product community.
Some volunteer their time every year while others do so when they can. Here’s why newbies and regulars alike give up their precious time to support #mtpcon.
“It’s so fun to be part of”
Day-to-day Lisa Radel is a product manager at XING but she regularly volunteers her spare time to support the product community. She’s been a part of our crew four times now, and not just in London – she’s also volunteered behind the scenes in Manchester and Hamburg.
“Volunteering at the conference is a great way to expand your product knowledge but for me personally, it’s very much about team spirit,” she says. “I love flitting around all day with a cyan crew of cool people, fixing problems and helping make the con a great experience. It’s so fun to be part of it, so high energy and everyone is there because they really want to help out.”
Starting on a High
With a couple of cons now under her belt Lisa knows the drill and explains that the most exhilarating, part of the day is registration.
“It’s such a critical moment,” she says, “it’s also the most nerve-wracking part of the day for the volunteers. There’s so much electricity as the doors open and then it all gets going.
“Sometimes there are little issues to iron out but helping to solve those problems makes it all the more exhilarating for me. Get through registration and the day then just flows. After that, it’s pretty relaxing. You do your thing, you meet new people, it’s great.”
But while the hustle and bustle of registration is Lisa’s favourite part of the day, it also one she personally finds quite difficult.
“One of the reasons I volunteer at #mtpcon is to challenge myself because I’m really quite the introvert. In fact, a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this but normally I’m one of the volunteers handing out the tote bags at the beginning of the day saying ‘hi welcome, have a great day, how you doing, grab your bag, there’s the bathroom, there’s the cloakroom’.
“Last year, after an hour and a half of that I had to go and hide in the bathroom for 10 minutes just to calm down! That part of the volunteering isn’t easy for me, but I love doing it in this context and it’s a good thing to get yourself out there.”
Catching the Product bug
Lisa’s also found that with great challenge comes great reward.
When she first volunteered for Mind the Product in Hamburg she was working in user research. Through volunteering, she was inspired to move into product.
“I really loved the community, I loved the sessions, I learned so much at the conference and I met so many lovely people.” she says. In fact, Lisa enjoyed the experience so much that she ended up having a life-changing coffee with her current boss at #mtpcon London last year. “He did work at the company I was at so it wasn’t a huge change but I had a conversation with him about wanting to move into a product role. Then, by the time Manchester came around in February, I had just started my product management job.”
“You’ll meet some really great people”
It would be rude to say he’s like part of the furniture but it’s fair to say that product manager Ed Kendall is certainly part of the make-up of #mtpcon London.
He’s volunteered at every single London conference since the first one.
“Since the first #mtpcon London, there’s been a lot of change,” says Ed. “Even just in terms of volunteering. At the first conference, there were eight volunteers and I remember us meeting up the night before to make goodie bags. We’d also have all the badges pre-printed and I put them out alphabetically on the front table so that when people arrived they could look for their name badge. Now it’s far more simple. You come, we scan your ticket and that enables us to print off your badge automatically. It’s so much smoother.”
Ed’s involvement came as a result of his connections with the Mind the Product team.
“I used to work with Janna Bastow and James Mayes nine or so years ago and it was Janna who initially got me involved in the conferences to help out.” he says. “Since then, I’ve made lots of friends in the volunteer crew and, aside from the overall experience (and the after-party!) that’s really one of the main highlights for me – meeting people.”
A Professional Opportunity
Ed explains that as a volunteer, you’re able to meet the rest of the crew, other attendees and at times you have good access to the speakers too.
“It’s a real opportunity,” he says. “I’ve met speakers like C. Todd Lombardo and Dan Olsen, which has been great. Being in the thick of it is good for my own professional network and I feel that I get so much out of the conference professionally, maybe even more, than I might as an attendee.”
Like Lisa, Ed’s made the transition into a product role because of his experience with Mind the Product. “I got my first job in product, partly from being involved in Mind the Product as a volunteer. When I began volunteering, I was working in quality assurance but a few years later I was looking for my first product role and I think that having this experience, and having been part of the volunteer crew, made the transition into product much easier for me.”
“There’s great connectivity”
Hilary Reynolds is a product manager at Vesta Property in London. Her experience of volunteering started at MTP Engage Hamburg and she’s now a well-established member of the crew, having been a Mind the Product volunteer for three years.
“I started at Hamburg and later joined the London crew where the conference is about four times the scale,” she says.
“I do it to support the product community but I also personally take something different away from every volunteering experience I have. It’s the same whether I’m volunteering for Mind the Product or at a London ProductTank – these events are a chance to build new connections and to reconnect with people I’ve met before – and of course the talks and after-party are great!”
During her years as a volunteer, Hilary has become firm friends with many of the other crew members and describes coming to the conference as a reunion.
“Being part of the crew isn’t just about the day of the conference itself,” she says. “I’ve known people for years. We go away for weekends together and if I’m having a problem at work, I might call them up for advice or as a sounding board.”
“You join an amazing network”
Helene Sanchez, a product manager at Mixcloud, joined the crew for the first time in 2019 after repeated (failed!) efforts to persuade her company to send her as an attendee.
“I’ve followed Mind the Product for the last two years, reading the blog, watching the videos and I regularly go to the ProductTanks on Wednesdays because I love being part of the community and meeting new people,” she says. “But, I’ve always wanted to go to the conference.”
In her previous role at the BBC, Helene remembers asking her boss if she could attend the conference.
“At the time, I wasn’t in a senior product manager role and that’s the role that would be sent to #mtpcon,” she explains. ‘It was actually by chance, through my Head of Product at Mixcloud, where I work now, that I met Chris Massey from the Mind the Product team. We talked about volunteering, which I didn’t even know you could do, and it was through that chance conversation that my volunteering opportunity came about.”
Like all our volunteers, Helene’s passionate about product and wants to learn as much as she can. The opportunity to volunteer is her way of giving back to her community and developing her professional skills.
“Being at Mind the Product is exciting for me because it feels authentic,” she says. “Whether we’re attending or volunteering, we’re all there because we want to discuss things, to make better products and to improve peoples’ lives through our work. The experience is all about being around product people, who are like me, who have jobs they love, talking and learning about something we’re all so passionate about.
“After the conference, I want to take everything I learn back to work with me. I think it’s a great opportunity to corroborate the literature I’ve been studying and some of the things I’ve been trying to figure out so that I can make some big improvements with my team at Mixcloud.”
But it’s not only conference day that’s beneficial, as Helene explains.
“A few different channels are set up in the weeks before the conference where volunteers can talk to each other and the Mind the Product team,” she says. “I spent those few weeks just laughing and chatting with everyone and I didn’t l know any of them before, I was totally new but it didn’t matter. I was quickly made to feel like part of the crew and now have so many new connections. It’s great.”
If, like Lisa, Ed, Hilary and Helene, you’d like to volunteer for Mind the Product simply contact Will Barritt.