The Worst PA

By Emilie Smith (@emiliesmith01) Manager of our Virtual Office and Guru of All Things

How to be the worst PA in the world.

I walked into my interview with Mark and Ryan of Software Acumen having done all my interview preparation, researched the company, studied my CV, prepared questions for them and felt quite confident.  The interview was going well and then suddenly there it was – The Killer Question:

What would make you the worst PA in the world for Mark

Well I hadn’t prepared for that one and it wasn’t just a question;  I was given a pack of post it notes and a sharpie pen and told that I had 5 minutes to sit in the interview room on my own and come up with as many things as possible that would make me the “worst PA in the world”.

Was this a trick?  What was the reasoning behind this?  Surely I should be selling myself as a great PA and presenting my positive attributes, not showing my interviewers that I know how to be a bad PA.

Coming to work drunk

So off they went and left me too it.  I started writing the obvious things, coming to work drunk, ignoring all my emails,  trawling social media (although now this is a big part of my job so actually that one shouldn’t really count) etc.  The ideas kept on coming and actually I found myself filling 17 post-it notes with things that would make me a bad PA.  So that got me thinking, was that a good thing that I came up with so many in such a short space of time or a bad thing that at a job interview I came up so quickly with 17 ways that made me a bad PA.

The Anti-Problem

Well it turns out that I just got to play a game in my interview!  This was actually an innovation game called the Anti-Problem.  The purpose of this generally is to help people look at a problem differently.  By turning the problem around and trying to work out how to solve its opposite, this in turn will help you look at the situation with a new approach and hopefully give you some sort of solution.

This of course gave me an insight into how my boss and the rest of Software Acumen works and a new idea and creative ways to come up with lots of excuses for being the worst PA in the world.

The New Job

So not only did I get to play a game in my interview, show that I know how to be really bad PA, I also got the job. So either Mark wants a really bad PA or he thinks I have what it takes to be a good one….. I’ll let you know. Or he will…

The Worst Lightning Talk in the World

It turns out that Mark is a big fan of the anti-problem and uses it in many of the workshops that he facilitates. In fact, he gave a short talk on the technique and how he’s used it, at UX Bristol 2013. For the talk he used the format of the anti-problem to generate ideas for a great lightning talk by, you guessed it, turning that problem around to think about how to give the worst lightning talk in the world.


7 deadly sins event venues are making

By Jacqui Davidson (@JacquiDDavidson), Organising Guru at Software Acumen

I have been organising Software conferences at Software Acumen for the last three years and before that I worked at Reed Exhibitions. I like to think I know what I am looking for when choosing a venue and know what works.

Over the last few months I have been sourcing new venues and have been amazed by some of the sins that venues are making. Many seem to think that we are still in the 1990’s. Anyway here’s some advice to venues of about what we really want and the best (or should it be worst) sins that venues are still making.


Please don’t charge additionally or tell us you have great Wi-Fi when we have better at home. We will check when we visit with a speed testing app (free and easy to download I like Ookla speed test). Most humans now see Wi-Fi as the same as water (a basic human right) so provide great Wi-Fi and we will be happy and book.

Power supply

I know it’s not green (we can balance with other elements at the event) but conferences take a lot of power. Ideally I need at least ½ a socket per delegate so they can charge their devices plus more for speakers and sponsors. Power is again seen a basic right and 4 sockets in a room will not do. On this same note: During the conference keep it safe – no-one wants to take a broken ankle home from their favourite event of the year having fallen over a badly laid cable.


We want to find you, we really do. You may know where to go as you’re here every day but it’s all new to us and our participant. If someone has to ask even once, then your sign is badly placed or too small.

Be truthful

Don’t hide costs or forget to tell us things. We will find out and won’t book next year. If we know everything up front then we can make an informed decision.


Projectors are not all equal. I have learnt this the hard way. Colours alter and blur when the projector is old or the bulb is about to go. Make sure you know how old the projector is and that it is maintained on a regular basic. You would be amazed how many conference managers have no idea what a projector spec is, this is why our delegates to come to learn and listen and a clear clean projected image is vital.


Well this is the only true sin: Gluttony! Keep it interesting, keep it local and if possible recycle leftovers to food banks and compost heaps. That way, if there is waste we will not feel so bad about it! Also (signage again) let us know what we are eating and don’t hide the veggie food in with the rest of it. If you’re a veggie, you really don’t want you food tasting or smelling of meat.

Heating and Light

Basic really. We need the room to be warm enough not to need a coat but not so warm that we go to sleep. Participants are coming to learn and need to feel comfortable.  We need air-con in the summer and heating in the winter and a fan just will not do. It is 2014 invest in a decent temperature controlling system. Regarding lighting, natural light is best and if a bulb needs replacing then ensure it is replaced promptly. What is more distracting than a flickering bulb? Our participants are coming to learn and need not to be distracted.

The UX Scotland Panel says…

We spoke to our Panel members – the wonderful group of UXers who helped shape our programme and your UX Scotland experience – and asked them what they took away from their conference experience. Here are some of their responses:

“UX Scotland was a brilliant event. The sessions were great and I’m increasingly sketchnoting which has proved incredibly useful. That said, what I appreciated most was getting to meet so many brilliant people. The conversations I’ve had post-event have been incredibly useful. In short, UX Scotland helped me learn, find new collaborators, mentors and friends!” Francois Roshdy

“UX Scotland blends the best of local practitioners with some international flavours, too. With just the right ratio of presentations and hands on workshops, plenty of inspirational ideas were shared, as well as hands-on tools and techniques that I could use once back at the office. Couple this with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and you’re onto a winner.
The things I found most useful were Jeff Gothelf’s workshop on ‘Better Product definition with Lean UX and design thinking’, and Bonny Colville-Hyde’s teachings on storyboarding. Thoroughly enjoyed Michele Ide-Smith’s Sketchnoting workshop, too. Now use these techniques regularly. ” – Rhys Nealon

“Great venue and good conference. It was fantastic to see the hidden UXers of Scotland all gathered in one place and take the opportunity to meet with them. I only managed to attend one complete session on making UX comics. This was an intriguing methodology which I could see being of value. At the least it stretched my artistic skills!” – Kevin White

“UX Scotland was a fantastic opportunity to bring together UX practitioners and advocates from across Scotland and beyond. Considering this was the inaugural conference, I was surprised by the volume and diversity of the attendees and this range of backgrounds and roles really added to the depth of the conference. Overall, it was a great couple of days, with many interesting discussions, new techniques and forged relationships. I look forward to 2014!” – Stephen Denning


UXScotland 2013 Free Form Feedback comments

We ask all our participants to provide feedback on their conference experience to help us continue to design an event that meets their aims and goals. We have responded to the constructive feedback in the comments below at the end of this document.

Below are the free form answers given to the question What best sums up your overall experience of UX Scotland?

  • I learned so much and built some great friendships.
  • Very good user experience! Very well organised conference.
  • Great experience with collaboration at the core.
  • Useful enjoyable, I have taken away many things that I will put into practice at work.
  • Overall good although some talks centred around a potentially interesting subject matter were not delivered in an engaging manner.
  • Very friendly and welcoming conference. Lovely food. Three tracks seemed a bit much for the size of the conference, one or two possibly with more slightly shorter sessions.
  • Mass info overload, but good all good, learnt so much that will help me in my new career.
  • Like so many people, great to be and around others who speak the same language, face the same challenges. Going back to work heartened and galvanised.
  • The range of topics has been good, with some standout sessions. Venue very appropriate
  • Cosy, inspiring and very well organised.
  • First time I spoke at a conference of that scale, everything was taken care of and I felt well taken care of as a speaker. Great venue and good networking opportunities.
  • Excellent organisation, brilliant speakers/content and wonderful people! Really feel the event has brought together locals I have never previously met.
  • Great relaxed atmosphere, helped by venue. Good mix of talks.
  • Learnt lots of interesting ideas and examples that would benefit my organisation across all our teams.
  • Great connecting with thought leaders and practitioners in a beautiful and relaxed setting. Part castle, part circus, part alien lair, all awesome.
  • I have had a great couple of days and am excited to see how this conference develops in the future as the community grows. On another note I would really love to see all the talks that I could not go to so if they are available online it would be amazing.
  • A great platform for conversation on UX and many other topics!
  • Fun interesting people and some great sessions please come back next year and bring the ace weather again!
  • I learned a few nice things like how to do Lean UX and Sketchnoting that I was not aware of. I met lovely people with the same interests and challenges and I want another one next year.
  • Good mix of presentation topics and styles.
  • Met some lovely people, heard about new things, tasted Whisky for the first time.
  • Excitement and pride that I am associated with such a clever bunch.
  • Really informative. Generally well led session’s good mix of theory and practice, plenty of food for thought. Liked short sessions easier to digest. Thought the breaks could be shorter so we could finish earlier.
  • Great way to develop and enthuse the UX community on Scotland.
  • A lot of fun. Eye opening learning something I don’t understand at all.
  • Learnt to sketchnote and spoke at the conference for the first time. It was ace!!
  • Interesting, informative energising.
  • Great friendly event for the UX community in the heart of Scotland. Just needed better time keeping for speakers. Great to see an event which isn’t in England (London).
  • Very interesting topics covered by thought provoking sessions and fun workshops. Great Keynotes and lots of variety.
  • My first time meeting fellow practitioners from Scotland. Need to do it more.
  • The fabulous offbeat venue really beats a dull hotel! Beautiful setting. Wide variety of talks free drinks tickets.
  • Eye opening insight into a discipline that has helped me understand and express the questions I already had.
  • Some interesting insights, but nothing ground breaking.
  • I feel enthused and more immersed in the whole UX community/buzz. Being relatively new to the field it has really broadened my experience.
  • A great range of UX speakers and topics. Great to meet lots of people. Really friendly atmosphere and a lovely venue.
  • Hot food would be good or more options. Hotel info sooner.
  • Thought provoking. Could have had more interactive workshops. Intros could have been more engaging.
  • Good range of sessions. Really enjoyed the comics workshop. Beautiful venue, some noise travelled a bit (not drastic though). Would be good to have speaker pics on the website.
  • Great learning experience.
  • Sharing is casing.
  • Meeting new people and getting a whole range of experiences and new information. It was very well organised and I enjoyed myself.
  • Looking at my work with a new set of eyes. Need to work on my preaching skills.
  • Interesting most not directly applicable to my current work but enjoyable for that reason. Lots of food for suggestions to make to my employer.
  • Great people, great food, love the discussion and interactive sessions.
  • Really liked designee bits – sketchnoting, comic books, other people seemed to as well.

Below is our response to the constructive feedback within the comments above:

You told us that some of the talks sounded interesting but were not delivered as well as you hoped.
We are exploring ways to mentor new speakers, work with submitters to sharpen up their offering and considering different ways to ensure the proposals that are chosen are what you see when you join the session.

We had a comment on the number of tracks in the conference – where less would be more! Once we have the submissions for the 2014 conference we will be able to assess whether reducing the number of tracks is reasonable or if there is a structure we can put in place to make it easier for you to choose sessions to suit your aims for your conference experience.
What about reviewing the talks you missed?
We were not able to film all the sessions at this year’s conference however any sessions that were filmed will be added to the coverage on the 2013 conference listing (

Time keeping for some speakers was indicated as an issue.
We will work harder in 2014 to wrap up sessions before they overrun. Also, when setting the programme, we will consider which sessions overran in 2013 and where we can tighten things up for 2014.

It was mentioned that break lengths could be shorter to allow for earlier finishes.
We’ve considered this one at length but logistical requirements tie our hands. Not only do you, the participant need time to take in what you’ve learned at sessions as well as to connect with other participants but we also need time to make room set-up changes to prepare for different types of sessions. Wherever possible we will arrange the timetable to keep things as simple and quick as possible.

It was suggested that hot food or more options would be good.
We will work with the venues catering team to see what we can do.

You told us it would be useful to have hotel information sooner.
With this in mind we will include some links in the confirmation email when you purchase your tickets. You are also always welcome to contact us via our hotline to ask any questions about the venue or location – 01223 901700

We also received the comment that there could have been more interactive workshops.
We will do our best to make sure there is a good balance of session types at the 2014 conference and encourage you to consider submitting a session. If you have an idea for a workshop but aren’t sure how to go about shaping an engaging session around it let us know – we’ll see what we can do to help you out.


Hello from Software Acumen


Welcome to our blog! We are going to use this blog to capture information and provide resources that relate to our conferences.

What conferences? We run a bunch of awesome little conferences in Cambridge and Edinburgh (and who knows where next) in the UK. We want to run great conferences rather than big conferences that give participants and exceptional learning experience that they will want to repeat every year. But you still don’t know ‘what conferences’. We run:

  • Code Generation
  • Agile Cambridge
  • UX Cambridge
  • UX Scotland
  • FP Days
  • Cloud East
  • to name but a few…

So we will use this blog to upload all sorts of information from generic information pertaining to how we work, links to documents we want to make available, little thoughts, big thoughts, thoughts from other people we have invited to join the fun, how to info, where to info, all sorts of information.