COFES, the Congress of the Future of Engineering Software, is a quirky conference by design. It houses a micrometer collection. Its rules forbid suits and ties. It can even set a minimum IQ to attend a session. The brainchild of Brad Holtz, Joel Orr and Evan Yares, COFES was conceived in 1999 as a meeting to facilitate more of the chance encounters and conversations that happen at other conferences. As Brad is fond of saying, the most important parts of a show are not its presentations, but the chance to meet and interact with people, often informally. After a proof of concept in Chicago, it moved to Scottsdale, AZ, near Phoenix and Evan’s home. Known only for major league spring training and a golf course, the town annually attracts 200 to 240 attendees, an eclectic mix of the most important --and self-important --software vendors and users, pundits and a few journalists, all of whom spend three days in a desert oasis (the Scottsdale Plaza Resort) in t-shirts and sandals.
This year, Brad announced that he will be turning the reins of the show over newly minted COFES Institute, which is to be run as a non-profit organization. Not that he’s abandoning the conference - Brad is quick to add that he will still show up to offer guidance to the new management, but hopes to enjoy more of the show from among the audience. “A few house keeping rules…” will not be the same. He will be turning his attention to another project, serving as “Nexus Officer” at a “stealth-mode startup.”
It was a decision that caught almost no one by surprise. Many COFES regulars knew Brad wanted to– and needed to -- get out from under COFES. Becca Yeh, hired initially as Brad’s assistant, has over the years gained more responsibility, and will be taking on a more managerial role with the new committee.
Vince Caprio, head of the COFES Institute, will lead sales. The show’s primary revenue came from attendee registration fees, in which Brad had a strong role.
Over the last few years, both those who attend and those who don’t have expressed a common concern: that the rank of attendees from big vendors was seen as dropping. When COFES was at its prime, it was not unusual to see the CEOs of top companies chatting with each other by the resort pools. This year, there was one business development person from Autodesk.PTC was a no show. Dassault sent the CEO of one of their divisions and Siemens sent none. That being said, our percentage of CEOs overall is higher than ever, says Brad.
As with the age of its founders, so goes the age of the average attendee. So old are they at COFES that a young face, usually a student intern, shines among a sea of gray hair, hats over bald heads, canes against chairs. The age issue is common in the industry and conferences across the board and has proven to be a tough nut to crack. “We’ve cracked it,” argues Brad. “We have more younger attendees this year than previous ones.”
We hope the new management will be able to turn COFES around. There is no other show like it.