Shirin Ali hero - employee

Meet Shirin
Director, Marketing and Head of CONNECT

Producer of CONNECT, office chai and good times.

It’s rare for Shirin to repeat an outfit and even rarer for her to repeat how she executes an event. She comes to CMiC with a wealth of experience running some of the largest international conferences, which shows in the flair she adds to the CONNECT Annual User Conference. It was hard to grab a time with Shirin, especially with the conference just around the corner, but she is never one to turn down a moment for a fresh cup of office chai.

When did you join CMiC and why?

I joined CMiC in February of 2018. What cemented my decision to come on board was my conversation with Jeff Weiss, CMiC’s chief revenue officer. My criteria for joining any organization is to see that there is a clear vision for growth. The fact that the CRO, who is responsible for revenue growth, could confidently speak to that impressed me because it’s not something you normally discuss during interviews.

I was initially nervous because I never worked in the construction industry before, however, because my background was in IT and technology, I saw many opportunities for growth at CMiC. I gained a lot of industry knowledge within 6 months and found myself enjoying the new challenge.

What is your role at CMiC?

I am the Director for Field Marketing and Events. I am responsible for all client-facing events, including conferences & tradeshows, online events like webinars, executive board meetings, member of the CMUG steering committee, and, of course, CONNECT.

Organizing events has always played a big role in my career. At my previous organization, I was the head of marketing for MENA (Middle East and North Africa), with a specialty in client success, advocacy marketing and audience acquisition through events. I believe events and tradeshows are one of the most effective business tactics—an insight I gained from having worked on both sides as an organizer and exhibitor. I’ve organized the GITEX tech tradeshow in the Middle East, which gave me a lot of great ideas on how to grow CONNECT and events at CMiC more generally.

What is your favourite CONNECT memory?

It was seeing a full house on day one of the 2018 conference before the start of the opening remarks. Watching everything come together and feeling the energy of the room brought me a lot of satisfaction and relief!

Fun fact about the 2018 conference: It was the first time I ever organized a large-scale event with a core team of 3 people! It’s easy to underestimate all the moving parts and logistics of CONNECT but running it with only 3 people and at over 500 attendees was a first in my book. But we made it happen!

Where is the best lunch spot?

Lately it has been Souk because it reminds me of the ka’ak sandwiches back home in Dubai. I recommend the haloumi cheese and pesto spread.

In the office I usually eat in the lunchroom on the 3rd floor. It is a positive space for employees, customers and even family. I have brought my daughter, who enjoys the space if she has to wait for me to finish up at the office.

Share with me one secret about this year’s CONNECT

The content at this year’s CONNECT will be equivalent to a full training session from our Services and Product teams. That’s because the agenda has been developed a bit differently this year; we took the entire Enterprise suite of CMiC and created sessions around each functionality, catering to specific job roles. Many of these sessions are brand new and were created from the feedback we received at last year’s CONNECT. We also took the opportunity to create sessions that cater to the ways our clients work, such as with third-party partners and APIs.

We have something for everyone this year, no matter where in the corporate structure you fall or your job function. I promise that you will be busy and will always have a session to attend!

How has CONNECT changed since you began organizing the event?

We introduced Learning Labs in 2018, which were completely sold out in their first year. It helped us understand that there’s a demand from our users for workshops and hands-on instruction, and we plan to deliver that again this year.

As with any event that grows larger in scale, it becomes more difficult to maintain the personal touch. Last year alone, we grew the event by 37% and doubled our exhibitor showcase (the largest growth in CONNECT history). To help maintain the close-knit community feel CONNECT is known for, we introduced a one-on-one attendee meeting tool in our conference app. This allows attendees to look up other attendees and schedule time with them. We’re happy to be bringing it back again this year.

How do you envision CONNECT to change in the future?

My goal is to make CONNECT a 1000+ attendee event in the next 5 years. As we continue to expand internationally as a company, I hope to also grow CONNECT into an international event. I dream of Barcelona one day!

Short-term goals include recognizing client achievements at CONNECT during an awards night and expanding Learning Labs into a full day. Because we’re always looking for the latest and greatest content, we never shy away from trying new things. So, stay tuned!

What makes CONNECT unique compared to other large-scale events you’ve organized?

At other user conferences I’ve been to, it’s unheard of to have more than a fraction of the host organization in attendance. Each year we send about 50% of CMiC employees to CONNECT. That’s because we want to ensure that every client touch point (i.e. account executives, solutions consultants, account managers, etc.) are all available for our clients to talk to. We also send members of our support and programming teams to CONNECT, which are often roles that don’t travel at other organizations.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s CONNECT?

I love Halloween, so the CONNECT Halloween Spooktacular evening event. Expect plenty of surprises!

Otherwise, it’s always exciting to see the fruits of your labor and see it all come to life. I look forward to seeing happy smiles, and I hope to hear from all attendees that they will come back next year!

Any tips for clients?

I urge all organizations to attend the conference as a team. In order to maximize your learning at CONNECT, we suggest ‘dividing and conquering’ through 35+ sessions. You’re going to learn a lot this year and having others to share the ‘work’ will ensure that you don’t miss anything.

Also, don’t forget to rate your sessions and provide feedback in the CONNECT mobile app. We’re always looking for client feedback to ensure we improve CONNECT each year!