Back in 2013, the landscape of meet-ups in Leeds was very different. Whilst there were plenty of user groups and topic-specific events, there was a gap for something more general purpose. I personally craved something that held talks with the diversity and intrigue of TED, but on a local level. I wanted to invite the community to share experiences, ideas, fun projects and promote exciting discussion.
So it was on a weekday evening in June of 2013 I held our first event. The name "Hey!" seemed like something fun that didn't take itself too seriously. It was inviting, and I enjoyed the play on my company name with the hashtag "#heystac". Along with doing a talk myself, I asked some friends to help kick things off, Andrew Nesbitt (who by complete chance happens to share my last name) and Harry Roberts.
Andrew was doing exciting things with Quadcopters at the time, so he agreed to come and do a demo in the small room below my office in The Faversham. This turned out to be absolute chaos but in the best possible way. Andrew had just finished hacking on the code that navigated the Quadcopter, maybe a little too close to the demo. Before long, the 'copter proceeded to accelerate full pelt into the wall. This would be a difficult situation for most people to come back from. Still, Andrew styled it out like a true professional and carried on talking us through the world of Quadcopters. I did a talk on lessons learned trying to build a startup, and Harry finished the evening off talking us through best practices with CSS. From there, we got to know each other better, and this friendship eventually spawned the conference a few years later.
Since then, we've held a lot of talks.
From producing a budget film to selling your company to a silicon valley giant. From advice on living with ADHD to cryptography basics. From how to keep your mental health in check within a world of digital distractions to partnering up with the fantastic She Does Digital to host one of our busiest events to date. And of course, we started the conference right in the heart of Leeds, founded in 2017 and MC'ed by the fantastic Phil Hawksworth.
I believe everyone should have access to these kinds of events for free. Every talk event has been and always will be free, kept alive by the sponsorship of those in the community or funded directly through my company. Even the paid conference feeds back into the more regular events, providing a sustainable model to support the community.
I believe in the type of community that can exist from these events. I want us to have a safe space to share experiences and inspire each other without barriers. To this day, I'm proud of every event we've hosted, and I'm committed to ensuring this continues as the broader technology community in Leeds continues to grow.