How I will be preparing for Dreamforce, the Burning Man for enterprise technology

Tall man with a big conference.
Tall man with a big conference.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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Next week, I am joining a cult.

Well, not really, but the closest you can get to one in the wild world of customer relationship management. Along with nearly 200,000 devotees of the cloud-computing company Salesforce, I will attend Dreamforce, the firm’s annual takeover of San Francisco and the largest tech conference in the world.

I will be reporting on the conference. It will be my first Dreamforce. Whenever I tell a veteran Salesforcer this fact, their eyes widen, their faces go blank, and they stare into the distance for a beat, like they’ve just flipped into an acid flashback, recalling a memory so singularly powerful and awesome that there is nothing to do but wait for it to pass.

Then they’ll say something like, “Hope you’re ready.”

I am—shall we say, eager? curious?—to discover how Salesforce has managed to inspire the kind of devotion usually reserved for the likes of the Dalai Lama and worker’s rights. Outside the tech word, the company is known primarily for heavy use of acronyms (“At Salesforce we have the ‘V2MoM’ process, where every employee types out their vision and values, methods, obstacles and measurements”) and for having a very tall CEO who recently purchased Time magazine.

But there’s got to be something more to this adulation than “cloud computing.” And so I’m trying my best to prepare before Dreamforce gets going on Tuesday. Here’s my checklist for getting ready. I hope I will be.

Do not drink until the conference begins. Dreamforce is famous for its parties, and I want my liver to be ready.

Listen to some Metallica. Ever since these guys tried to kill Napster in 2000, when I was a music piracy-advocating teenager, I have been opposed to them on principle. Nevertheless, they will be the latest in Dreamforce’s string of ultra-famous musical acts—past headliners include U2, Stevie Wonder, and The Foo Fighters—so I should try to get my head around them.

☑️ Download the PartyForce app. This smartphone app handily lists all of the aforementioned famous parties, in one place. Of course, the exclusive, secret, celeb-heavy parties will not be on there, but I will try to find my way to them somehow.

Study the “campus map.” I assumed this thing would just be in one big building, but apparently the conference is so goddamn massive that it spills out all over San Francisco.

 Separate the can’t-miss speakers from the must-miss speakers. Can’t-miss: Al Gore, Unilever CIO Jane Moran, former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, and for some reason, I’d really like to see what the NBA player Andre Iguodala has to say. Must-miss: Adrian Grenier and Will.I.Am.

Buy a copy of TIME magazine to carry around. Marc Benioff, the very tall CEO I mentioned, recently bought this storied publication for $190 million. Having one under my arm will be a good talking point and will signal my interest in Benioff’s decision-making.

Familiarize myself with the jargon. For example, at Dreamforce, talks are not talks but “Dreamtalks.” Roundtable discussions are called “Circles of Success.” Surely there are many more terms I’ll have to know if I want to keep up. Mercifully, the Dreamforce Dictionary videos tell me that “breakout sessions” are simply called “Breakout Sessions.”

Figure out what Salesforce the company does. This seems useful to know.