Someone asked me how many DEMO conferences I’ve attended. The truth is that I can’t recall exactly, but it’s somewhere around 19 or 20 of them.
But no matter how many times I go, no matter in what capacity I attend (I also realized this week I’ve been to DEMO in pretty much every role except for just plain old attendee) every iteration of this event teaches me something new.
And in the case of DEMO 2008, the lessons were plentiful and – for the most part – incredibly positive.
For example …
You know how everyone talks about the fact that it’s a small world? That’s especially true in Silicon Valley and even more so when you consider an event that has a hard core posse of media, VC and entrepreneurial alumni who attend year in and year out.
But even with the rather tightly knit community that is the world of technology in the US, each gathering brings some new faces – as well as faces from the distant past.
This past week in Palm Desert one such long lost connection resurfaced in a rather strange way.
I was standing by the Seesmic booth during the open exhibit hall time, when one of the DEMO staff came by to learn more about our company. I was mid-way through the demonstration when another woman approached, walked directly up to the woman with whom I was speaking and proceeded to talk with her as if I wasn’t standing there.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be a bit put out by someone so rudely interrupting a conversation – especially one that was so clearly deeply engaged and business-focused. But the woman was with another demonstrator and the woman with whom I was speaking was part of the conference staff PR team, and so I figured it was something urgent.
I was wrong.
The PR woman with whom I’d been speaking, looking as though she felt quite awkward and wanting to do the polite thing, gently interrupted the interloper and said, “Do you know Cathy from Seesmic?”
At that point the woman turned to me. To be honest, her face didn’t even ring a distant campanile. Thankfully there was a bold name tag nearby.
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “
Sounded familiar, and I knew we knew each other somehow, but I was having trouble placing the precise when and where.
That’s when she turned and spoke – this time including me in the conversation.
“Of COURSE I know Cathy. We worked together at XXXXX … Gosh what was that? About 15 years ago?”
Her vocal pitch was slightly pinched and racing, bringing to mind an over-caffeinated greyhound. Come to think of it, that’s kind of how she appeared.
And then it hit me and I recalled our working together. And I remembered why I had blocked her out.
“Actually it was closer to 18 years ago,” I said – rather softly for my usual tone.
She then let out a raw-edged cackle that I think she thought was a laugh, and she added: “Boy were you a pain in the ass. I mean, wow.”
Now, the truth of the matter is that 18 years ago, I was a pain in the ass. And depending on who you ask, there are some folks today who might say that I still am. Though today’s characteristics are more saturated by dogged determination and occasional obstinance; and back then I was relatively fresh Northwestern University graduate, cocksure and temperamental – partly due to youthful inexperience and partly due to the fact that I just wasn’t all that certain yet of who I was.
But the story of my personal evolution is a story for another day. This tale relates more to the fact that some of us actually recognize our shortcomings and spend the time doing the work to fix them.
And then there are those who don’t.
Back in those days, even with my relatively tender years, and even with the myriad personality traits that permeated my life at the time, I quite clearly recalled the insidious, backstabbing and downright reprehensible behavior of this particular woman and her cronies. I make no excuses for errors I’ve made in my career (actually those missteps have often been the source of my greatest learning and therefore ultimately my most powerful growth), but there have been moments along my professional path when I have encountered people whose thoroughly inexcusable behavior served as a cold reality check that in this world the assholes sometimes do win – or at least make playing the game miserable for those around them.
As I stood there, thinking about how this woman had contributed considerably to a rather miserable time in my life, I came to another conclusion. She hadn’t changed a bit. She was still insipid and catty. But I was no longer the kind of inexperienced, insecure weakling that would cave in front of her or, even worse, that would stoop to her level and fire back some nasty comment based on the rude statement she had made.
That felt pretty damn good.