I went to the GLUE conference to get in over my head. That was my entire goal. I wanted to learn about the technology that helps to stitch together the various parts of the Internet, but I also wanted to spend some time getting to know the people who made that technology do what it does. Over the course of 2 days I met people who made me feel dumb, saw thousands of lines of code and left with a new appreciation for how technology works.

I’ve tried for the past 3 days to write this post, but it wasn’t until now that I can finally sit down and make the thoughts collect into something that’s worth putting into pixels on a page. You see, GLUE isn’t your ordinary conference. But that’s exactly the point. In order to set the stage, let’s first talk about what exactly makes GLUE stand apart from the crowd.

The first thing that you’ll notice is that GLUE is set up more like a WordCamp than a typical tech conference. Whereas with normal conferences, there are entertaining speakers, the real point is in the networking that you do. Want to take a networking break? There’s probably someone worth listening to on a stage. At GLUE, things are different. Yes, the networking is still great, but it’s more like a crash course in how to Internet than it is a business card exchange.

Each day started with a keynote presentation. But even those, which are meant to be more along the lines of entertaining than informative, got deep incredibly fast. By 15 minutes into Chris Hoff‘s talk on “Sh*t My Cloud Evangelist Says”, I was buried in acronyms and statistics. There were funny moments, and the presentation was great, but I had truly gotten in over my head. Exactly what I wanted.

The rest of the day was set up in three tracts – Mobile, Cloud and Big Data. APIs being the tie that binds between all three, there was an amazing amount of representation from companies like Netflix, Gnip, Box, FullContact and more. You couldn’t turn around without running into a conversation where two or more people were hacking away at something to make life easier.

2012 05 28 1306 520x157 GLUE Conference wrap up: If youre a developer this is the event you should have attended

A sample of the GLUE agenda

GLUE’s organizer, Eric Norlin, took some time to talk with me on day 1 about the genesis of the conference and how it got to where it is today. Interestingly, in year 1, it was a completely different animal.

“In year one we had a business and a technical track. But the comments from the people who attended all said the same thing – business is worthless, and we can’t find good tech content anywhere.”

So to please the crowd, Norlin went deeper. GLUE dropped the business side of things entirely, and went full-bore technology. But even that wasn’t enough to sate the appetite of the nerds. “When you put a bunch of cloud engineers in a room, they want to talk about APIs”, says Norlin.

By year three, with a focus on mobile and mobile and Web development, Norlin was told “you’re getting close”. Challenge accepted, planning for year 4 began.

This year, heads were spinning. Time and again I heard people who had been digging deep into code for a good majority of their living years saying how they’d learned more in 2 days than in months or even years previous. There were big ideas, but what matters is that those ideas were executed upon. A hackathon went down, 12 companies did a Demo Pavilion and the majority of those in attendance voted Distil as the winner.

But much of what makes GLUE successful is in how it is held. It’s in Broomfield, Colorado. Never heard of it? You might have driven past it between Denver and Boulder, but chances are that you’ve not spent any time there. It’s a town that seems to exist solely for the purpose of having hotels. In short, it’s not someplace that you’re likely to just “end up”.  Of course, that’s exactly how Norlin planned it.

“It’s the same reason that we do Defrag here. It’s forced interaction. Lots of networking goes on in the one bar in town. 70 percent of those in attendance are from outside of Colorado. This isn’t a drive-by conference.”

So for two days, around 500 geeks from across the globe converged on a sleepy Colorado town. They hacked together viable ideas, they learned and they networked. I made some amazing contacts, I got in over my head, and I gathered stories to tell you. So stick around for the next few months as I introduce you to the people and companies who attended GLUE.

Want to be a part of something bigger than yourself? Watch out for next year’s event. I’ll be there, and so should you.