By Promoting Creativity, Inclusiveness, and Activations, GitHub Universe Showcased the Future of U.S. Events

GitHub is the most popular online platform for project management and open source collaboration, providing tools that facilitate code review, hosting, and more. Over the past 12 months, GitHub was used by more than 31 million developers, which is an increase of more than 7 million from the previous year.

So, when GitHub hosted its latest annual event for developers, GitHub Universe, it wanted to replicate the openness, inclusiveness, and creativity that is represented in its product. To achieve this goal, the brand needed some out-of-the-box thinking, a little common sense, and buy-in from its vendors.

“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,” Kelsey Schimmelman, Senior Event Producer at GitHub, said in an interview with Event Marketer.

Out of the gate, one of the most noticeable differences between GitHub and a more traditional developer-focused conference is how the vendors and sponsors were presented to attendees. Instead of the typical trade show set up, where exhibitors and sponsors are arrayed in rows and rows of conventional booths, this year’s GitHub Universe featured customized activations. In total there were unique activations for 30 sponsors.


Photo Credit: Sider

For example, software services company Cloudbees illustrated the brand’s product verticals and offerings through a six-foot-long fish tank featuring GloFish, a type of fish that’s genetically engineered to be fluorescent. Inside the container, the fish swam around a Cloudbees-branded iceberg and components that were indicative of the brand’s products and services. The fish tank centerpiece was augmented with giant seaweed decorations spread throughout the display and overhead clouds that masked black lights (which made the dayglow fish shine even brighter).

Another example is security company Sentry and its whack-a-mole installation. Sentry is open-source, error tracking software that enables developers to identify bugs to avoid, monitor, and fix crashes in real time. In other words, it helps developers put out fires. Which is why, instead of a typical whack-a-mole game, Sentry’s activation featured a “whac-a-fire” game where attendees used a mallet to smack little plastic fires that popped out of stylized trees.

Sider, which helps developers increase their code review efficiency, took a fun approach. Because the automated tool allows users to save time, they extrapolated that there is more time for the developers to play. So, their activation was a giant toy room complete with a 10-foot-tall teddy bear (wearing a Sider-branded shirt, naturally), a toy chest full of giveaways (that played a celebratory choir whenever it was opened), a rocking horse suitable for adults to ride, and Rubik’s Cubes.


Photo Credit: Event Marketer

Of course, GitHub had to get in the game – with two activations, no less. One was a gallery display that featured a variety of videos telling the stories of different GitHub developers. The other focused on GitHub’s mascot the Octocat (just for clarification, although the name is rather descriptive, it’s part cat and part octopus). At the Octocat generator lounge, attendees were able to deck out a virtual Mona (that’s the Octocat’s name, Mona) in a variety of themed outfits, wigs, and accessories. After jazzing Mona up to their liking, attendees were able to use their Octocat as a social media profile.

“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. They’re more likely to make organic connections if they’re in a mindset that’s conducive to play,” said Schimmelman.


Photo Credit: Event Marketer

While all of the above examples showcase the creative qualities of the event, the inclusivity was exemplified in several different aspects. All bathrooms were gender neutral; a quiet room was provided for people who wished to pray, meditate, or just take a break from the busy event; and child play areas were available as were parent rooms with private pumping stations. The show made sure to offer a variety of meals, including vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free, and additional dietary requirements were honored as long as organizers were notified 48 hours before the event. Also, all talks had closed captioning included, the venue was ADA compliant, and service and therapy dogs were provided with fresh water, treats, and an onsite relief area.

In addition, GitHub wanted to ensure that as many people as possible had a chance to attend its event, so the company created a scholarship program. The brand’s social impact team partnered with several local nonprofits and meetup groups to provide free tickets to GitHub Universe with the goal of creating a broad, diverse atmosphere. The recipients of the free tickets were also provided with additional resources, such as social events and an exclusive talk from GitHub’s Chief Strategy Officer.


Photo Credit: Event Marketer

“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,” said Schimmelman.

Finally, GitHub decided to hold Universe in an unconventional venue: The Palace of Fine Arts Event Venue in San Francisco, which was originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition. Featuring Greco-Roman rotunda and colonnades, exquisite grounds, and a magnificent lagoon, the venue certaintly presented an inspiring sight before attendees even walked through the doors.

“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,” said Schimmelman. “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.”

Across two days, more than 1,800 attendees of GitHub Universe were able to take part in the announcements, talks, and activations. With its unique venue, emphasis on inclusiveness, and focus on activations over static sponsor booths, GitHub Universe provides an insightful representation of the immediate future of U.S. exhibitions. As companies make plans for their 2019 exhibitions and beyond, they should be encouraged to think of how to incorporate more interactive elements into their exhibits. Companies that plan their booths and displays as activations, as opposed to static representations of their company, will be best positioned for the future of trade shows.

While this may seem complicated, it is, in fact, a fun and inventive way to express everything your company has to offer. The more creative your event, the more effective you will be in attracting attention. For tips and ideas of how to add interactivity into your event plans and activations, Event Architecture is here to help. Give us a call at 972-323-9433.