I’m ready for a new kind of conference
During the last week I was able to go to two software development conferences, the Ann Arbor Day of .NET and Stir Trek. I love these events because I get to see a lot of people that I don’t get to see on a regular basis.
On the other hand, I don’t feel like I get much out of the sessions anymore. It’s not that the sessions are bad, but I feel like I’ve heard a 100/200 level talk on pretty much everything I want to hear about. At each of these conferences there have been some talks that I have really enjoyed, but a lot that I don’t have a real interest in hearing again.
Granted, I’ve been to more of these events than a lot of people. I remember the first time I went to events like this and they were awesome. I was learning a ton of stuff and it was new and exciting.
I miss that feeling. I certainly don’t know it all. I know there is a lot that I could learn. But I guess I’m ready for a new kind of conference. Some ideas floating around in my head:
- A conference featuring mostly 300-400 level talks
- A BarCamp style event where anyone can sign up and show code
- An all open space conference
I know there are conferences like this. I know I’m not the only person who thinks this because I’ve talked to other people feeling the same way. I’ve heard of some of these conferences, but they’ve been other places other than Central Ohio. For example, look at the session list for the most recent ALT.NET Seattle event and notice the difference between this event and the various Day of .NET events. Granted, the target audience is different. But I’m a part of that target audience. I don’t always have the time and money to travel to these events.
I think part of the problem is the wide breadth of technologies in the .NET space. In the last year Microsoft has released Silverlight 4, Windows Mobile 7, .NET 4, ASP.NET MVC 2, OData, and probably other stuff that I can’t remember off the top of my head. So it’s really easy to come up with an “Intro to <insert new MS tech here>” because there are so many choices. Often times these are compelling topics, don’t get me wrong. But every day I go to work and I’m working on plain old web apps or Winforms apps or WPF apps like the rest of you. I want someone to come talk about how I can do better at what I’m doing every day. Show me how to better implement design patterns, or how to test my code better, or how you structure your MVC app to take advantage of jQuery validation, or how to use some ORM, etc. Those things will help me do a better job on the projects that I’m working on today. Sure, I’m curious about Windows Mobile 7 and Silverlight and OData, but my first priority is to get better at the stuff I’m using at work right now.
Please don’t think I’m criticizing conferences like Stir Trek or the Ann Arbor Day of .NET, because they’re good events put on by volunteers who spend their own time to put it on without any compensation, and I’m really thankful that people spend their time so that we can have community events like this.
I guess I’m just looking how I can take my daily work to the next level.
Same here. I’ve been to a handful of events over the last few years, but there’s only been one or two presentations I’m really interested in hearing at each one – the other ones are just fillers. Good content, mind you, just not what I want/need. If you get anything like this going, let me know. I’m up near Canton, so it’s a bit of a drive to Columbus, but I’d love to help in any way I could.
Have you ever taken JP Boodhoo’s Nothin’ But .Net course? If it’s ever around here, I’d highly recommend it. Pretty sure I got more out of a week in that course than I did from a year of reading/tinkering on my own!
A true nerd-core event? I’m in. If you want help organizing something like this. I’m all over it. I’m tired of all my wicked-cool ideas for sessions being passed over because they’re 200-300 level. To me, that’s where all the COOL stuff is.
I want to learn stuff I don’t already know. I want to talk about PEX with a roomful of people who are already doing TDD, or talk about T4 to a group who already know what they’d like to automate.
Let’s do this thing.
I’ve been thinking the same thing to myself after going to Stir Trek yesterday. It was an amazing conference and I picked up a ton of information but I need something different.
Jon I’ll toss in my 2 cents as to why I think most conferences are not of the 300 or advanced levels. Like yourself I have been attending more and more conferences over the past 2 years (6 in the past 3 months actually.) I’m not sure which conferences you’ve attended but as for myself I’ve seen quite a variety of conferences from Day of .Net’s to SharePoint Saturdays to regional SharePoint conferences all the way up to TechEd. Over time I’ve found that sometimes I primarily attend a conference more for networking rather than the content of the conference itself. Other times I enjoy going to intro level sessions on topics that are well outside my typical work zone. As such I like the short (50-70 minute) sessions focusing on a variety of topics at an intro to medium level.
That’s not to say I don’t like advanced sessions. I do feel though that most conferences I’ve attended wouldn’t work well for an advanced level topics. Advanced topics typically require much more time (2-4 hours) for the session, more preparation time by the speaker, and sometimes even hands on machines and labs to walk through. At that point we’re pretty much talking about a large scale (or very focused) conference where you’ll be paying $1,000+ to attend or a custom training session.
Overall I think some of the reasoning rests with sponsors. Sponsors want eyes on their products or services. Either they would like to get word of mouth around or pull in potential customers. With very advanced topics you are limiting the appeal to attendees who are looking for intro level material. I’ve even heard some feedback from conferences where attendees complain about the advanced sessions because they feel those sessions are aimed at the “consultant” type who works on specific niche cases more regularly than a typical full time employee (FTE) would.
End of random musings. I’d love to hear your thoughts back and discuss more sometime.
I don’t think this would *have* to be a $1000 event. But I think the number of people that would be interested, even pulling from the whole midwest, would be fairly minimal – 50 or 60 people maybe. So sponsorship is probably out of the question. You’d just have to rent a couple of rooms somewhere and try to get the interested people together.
Citconf is the conference I’ve been to that I thought was the most similar to this. There was one in Chicago a few years ago but it’s never been back that close to us since.
I have to say “It depends”
I was talking to a friend who I invited to Stir Trek but was unable to attend, while giving him a re-cap, I was keenly aware of how little I felt got out of the event.
It seemed that the “take-home” substance was minimal and I think there are a few reasons for that.
The effectiveness of a session is distinctly limited by a completely different skill set. The speaker’s oral capability. Boring presenter with a bevy of theoretical slides is way more effective than Extra-Strength Nyquill. Good speaker with a slew of slides is able to communicate their point.
We are covering a slew of new technology. For instance Win Ph 7, hot off the press and totally new but still the 100 level session yields only two or three important facts.
At the same time never having seen ASP.NET MVC; Steve Horn’s presentation was very informative, he covered a broad range of topics in sufficient detail, which is exactly what I needed.
I think Brian is correct. Raise the fee, pay the speakers, juice the content up to 200-300 level and you would get a lot more take-home but what’s the price point? It’s impossible to beat the $25 price point the MS guys put together (and throw in a good movie and food – those guys rock!) but the take-home meat is vital to lasting satisfaction…
For the record, I’m not necessarily advocating creating a mini-version of PDC where we get big name speakers. I’m thinking about something more along the lines of the ALT.NET Open Space conferences where we just get a bunch of people like us in a room, decide what we want to talk about, and then talk about it (and maybe show code on a projector).
There are always people innovating and coming up with new ideas and better ways to do things, and not all of these people speak at conferences. But if you show me your good ideas, I might get something cool out of it.
I don’t care if you have 20 years of experience or 2 years. Just come and show us what you’re learning and what you think is cool. Maybe it will be cool to us too.
I 100% agree with your sentiments. I had these same conversations with a lot of people this past year.
Much to my dismay while I still loved the Codemash experience I even felt somewhat the same way about a lot of the Codemash sessions this year. Sadly I felt that way even though I went to nearly all sessions on Ruby/Rails, and other things I don’t work with on a day-to-day basis and only play around with in my spare time.
There were certainly a few exceptions to the rule (shout out to Leon & the Edgecaser’s).
I think the problem for me is that if I wanted to see intro level content on a topic, I’d go read a book or read a blog post. I go to conferences to get the kind of info I can’t get from those sources! I want someone who has been working with the tech day in / day out to share their deep practical experience and wisdom that can only be gained from that level of understanding.
I’m tired of people coming up with sexy abstracts that sound like they are going to make for awesome sessions only to be disappointed when the actual content is just another intro level session.
The way to killer sessions I think is for speakers to pick topics that are either:
A) not readily talked about
B) very specific in nature
C) self-reflective & technology agnostic
D) different format
A works because it’s not a common topic so it’s OK if your material is a bit intro because it would be hard for someone to go google that topic and find the same info.
B works because if you’ve got a laser-like focus for your topic you’re going to likely be talking about something at a level that not many people have gone to.
C works because the topics tend to be very human and relate-able to everyone regardless of their experience level or technology preference. Case in point was Joe O’Brian’s talk this year from Codemash where he related his personal experiences to practical tips from great books he read. These kinds of talks take a *lot* of critical thought and self-examination and are always interesting in the hands of a capable speaker. Another case in point are any of the talks from the Future Ruby conference that you can watch online. Not a single shred of technical content, but all massively thought-provoking.
D works because even if the content isn’t perfect or everything doesn’t run entirely smooth, the simple change in format keeps your attention and excitement. Case in point for this one was Leon’s pre-compiler session where we created a rails project from the ground up as a 70+ person agile team. Never seen anyone try that before and although things didn’t go perfectly at times it was still awesome as an overall experience. Format changes take a lot of bravery because you expose yourself to tremendous failure. On the flip-side they can also be a monumental success.
Choose one of these options, then pull together the best information from the hard to find resources, inject personal experience and wisdom, and synthesize it all down to cut out all unnecessary fluff. That’s how you make a killer talk!
As one commenter said above, the one thing all these options have in common is that they take a tremendous amount of thought, effort, and time to pull off. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t done another talk yet since I finished making the rounds on my debugging gig. I know my wife was about ready to kill me for the amount of time I spent on it! I’ve got some good ideas, but haven’t been able to invest that amount of time again yet to pull it all together.
Thankfully, we’ve got a lot of rockstars in this community that are willing to go to that level to put together sessions like that for free, but for a lot of people I think the ROI just isn’t there.
When you’ve reached the point where you feel like you and I do, I start to wonder if maybe more of the craftsman-swap model is a better thing to push for rather than trying to “build a better mouse-trap” so to speak. That being said if this generates a lot of interest I’d be more than willing to help in whatever way I can to pull together some kind of new conference.
I think people are coming up with those kinds of sessions and they aren’t ever getting picked because they don’t appeal to a broader audience. So then people stop coming up with those kinds of talks because they don’t think they have a place.
Here’s another problem I thought of — there are a lot of good ideas out there that aren’t enough to fill a 60 minute time slot. These are getting lost and are never shared, yet this is some of the good stuff that could really help you on a day to day basis.
One of the interesting concepts I heard that they did at JsConf this year was to have one track of sessions that were not pre-scheduled.
Those slots were taken up on a first-come first-serve basis by people at the conference. Again, this could be either a massive failure or success, but I thought the idea was interesting.
I don’t know if this is appropriate, but I see stuff like this and think of the term “Advanced Beginner” from the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. But I agree completely: “101-ism” is rampant, and we need to find something more.