Season 4 Episode 2 Feb 17, 2021

A Critical Look At Distributed Conferences

Pitch

Educate. Engage. Inspire.

Description

In this episode, we talk about the grand experiment that is distributed conferences with Paul Campbell, founder of Tito and creator of Ull Conference, and Angela Andrews, associate solutions architect at Red Hat, and avid conference attendee.

Hosts

Ben Halpern

Forem - Co-founder

Ben Halpern is co-founder and webmaster of DEV/Forem.

Jess Lee

Forem - Co-founder

Jess Lee is co-founder of DEV.

Guests

Paul Campbell

Tito - Co-founder and CEO

Paul Campbell is co-founder and CEO of Tito, makers of Tito and Vito.

Angela Andrews

Red Hat - Associate Solutions Architect

Angela Andrews is associate solutions architect at Red Hat.

Show Notes

Audio file size

69349034

Duration

00:48:10

Transcript

[MUSIC BREAK]

 

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[00:02:01] AA: For someone who loves to attend conferences and network and interface and just be submerged into the conference atmosphere, online conferences don’t do it for me.

 

[00:02:13] PC: I think this is going to be such a good conversation suddenly.

 

[00:02:30] BH: Welcome to DevDiscuss, the show where we cover the burning topics that impact all our lives as developers. I’m Ben Halpern, a co-founder of Forem.

 

[00:02:38] JL: And I’m Jess Lee, also a co-founder of Forem. Today, we’re talking about the grand experiment that is distributed conferences with Paul Campbell, Founder of Tito and Creator of Ull Conf, and Angela Andrews, Associate Solutions Architect at Red Hat, and an avid conference attendee. Paul, Angela, thank you both so much for joining us.

 

[00:02:53] AA: Thank you so much for inviting.

 

[00:02:55] PC: Yeah, it’s great to be here.

 

[00:02:56] BH: Well, let’s start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in the software space?

 

[00:03:01] PC: So coming up on 10 years ago now, I was high and dry in the software world, had a few years of experience out of college and had met lots of people at conferences. And I decided to start my own conference. And through one way or the other, we decided to call it Funconf, and it had nothing to do with functional programming, and everything to do with fun. The piece that I’m most happy with was that we brought people across the technology sphere. We had JavaScript developers, PHP, developers, Python, Ruby. It was a big eclectic mix of a hundred people and it wasn’t like a RubyConf or a JSConf. It was people who came for the love of tech. We use Eventbrite. The second year, I was doing consulting work. I had some payment code lying around. I built it on API. And so the process for buying tickets to Funconf 2 was you would click buy tickets, you would pay, and then you were told that you were going to a conference in a castle on the side of Ireland. I liked the simplicity of that. And then the toy turned into a thing that I showed to somebody else and they used it. And then I showed it to somebody who would now be called an influencer, I guess, and they used it, and then they influenced somebody else to use it and then suddenly NodeConf was using Tito, JSConf was using Tito, RubyConf was using Tito, and that kind of spiraled slowly. We grew very, very slowly over the last seven, eight years, and then had our best year in 2019. And we were going to have our best year in 2020 when COVID-19 hit and destroyed the business. So then we conceived a veto. We were like, “What if we built a video app? What if we built a community app? What if we built an app that had an agenda and everything live updated and it was much easier to use than all of the existing systems that people use and stick together?” And we built all three.

 

[00:04:49] JL: So Angela, tell us a bit about your background as a developer and your history with going to conferences.

 

[00:04:55] AA: I started out as a systems administrator and I got into development because it was a hobby. And so I got really interested and into the online coding community. So I was teaching myself JavaScript, Python, and things like that. I was a really big follower of the CodeNewbie Twitter chats and I started attending those conferences. So I was at the first, in the second, and I’ve been attending them ever since. And I never flipped the switch into development. I even went to a full stack coding bootcamp in 2018, and I decided I was a much better sysadmin than a developer, but having those skills really parlayed it into a sweet job. So I don’t regret taking that leap at all.

 

[00:05:44] JL: Awesome to hear that you are an original CodeLand attendee that you happen to attend our distributed conferences this past summer, which our ticketing system was powered by Tito.

 

[00:05:56] AA: Yes. And yes. I was able to attend it this summer. It was one of the many distributed conferences I attended this year. So it’s great. I was able to attend conferences that I probably never would have before. So I guess for the sake of outreach and getting more people interested in attendance, those distributed conferences were a success in that regard.

 

[00:06:23] JL: Would you say that you went to more distributed conferences than you would have gone to in-person conferences in the typical year?

 

[00:06:30] AA: That would be a yes. So I attended quite a few. So CodeLand, a little bit of PyCon, the Pluralsight Conference. I went to Red Hat Summit. I went to Ansiblefest. I went to QCon, and there was a security conference where the logo was a stack of pancakes. And I can’t remember the name of it, but it was very early in COVID times. That was probably the best distributed conference that I’d been to and the rest were interesting to say the least.

 

[00:07:04] BH: Interesting to say the least. Can you expand?

 

[00:07:08] AA: I’m usually very engaged in conferences. I’ve gone to, I can’t tell you how many in-person conferences, probably more than 20, 25 over the years. I mean, in-person traveling, that doesn’t even count local meetups and local conferences. So yes, when you say she’s an avid conference goer, yeah, that would be pretty much summing it up. So I’ll say this. For someone who loves to attend conferences and network and interface and just be submerged into the conference atmosphere, online conferences don’t do it for me.

 

[00:07:46] PC: I think this is going to be such a good conversation suddenly. I just had a thought, right? No matter how good Zoom is and no matter how amazing Zoom is where we’re all massive distances from each other, and speaking through this amazing technology, like the scale of human achievement required for us to be simply having this conversation is huge. But it’s so much crapper than being in a room, having a chat.

 

[00:08:18] AA: It is. I have to agree with you. I really missed the human interaction. I like the hallway chats, meeting people for the first time, being able to look them in their face, shake their hand. I really do miss that human interaction. And I felt just so wanting in every last one of these conferences, I’m going to give you two reasons off the top of my head. One because it doesn’t take me away from my office or my desk. So I am always inundated with the work thing. So it’s very hard to submerge yourself into an online conference because of that pull. If I were even not even in my building, if I were in a conference space down in Center City or across the country, there’s nothing stopping me from being 100% invested and engaged in the conference and the materials that it’s trying to share with me. When you’re sitting at your desk at home or wherever you’re working and the phone rings or you get a ping, it just immediately takes you away. So that’s the one thing. The other thing is I already mentioned it, the human interaction part. You really miss that. A lot of these conferences have already pre-canned or prerecorded content, so there’s not a lot of feedback until the very end, and then it has its benefits because it opened up a whole new world for folks to be able to attend conferences that maybe they would not have had the ability to attend, but also you lose a lot. There’s a lot lost in translation, in my opinion.

 

[00:10:02] PC: Angela, you mentioned there are benefits. There are so many benefits. There are huge numbers of benefits to doing things online, but I don’t think they come from the conference world. When you’re at a live event, you get taken away. I have had that experience recently on Netflix. I was watching a show called Little America, which I had never heard of until I watched at the Top Netflix Shows of 2020. It’s about immigrant stories in the United States. And each episode is 30 minutes. It feels like watching a three-hour movie. It’s an escape. You just get sucked into this person’s life for a few minutes. It’s similar to what you described as this being taken away. That sort of happens naturally in a conference where there’s this human connection in a room, being in the same room with somebody. To get to do that sort of requires Netflix production values, a team of writers, producers, camera work, photography. There is an industry in producing transcendent experiences using video or using screens and it’s called movies and television. There’s also a platform that does that for a lot of people with very low cost video, and it’s YouTube and another one, Twitch, and all these other video platforms. And then there are platforms for sending messages and chatting and there are platforms for getting content online and publishing. For every single one of these things, we know tons of examples of successful online experiences. So what’s interesting to me is that I don’t know if there’s a magic analog to in-person events. And I think a really great premise that Angela has hit on immediately in this conversation is that in-person events are sacred almost because I don’t think that they can be replicated. And so if you take it from can we replicate the feeling of an in-person event to how can we use the web technology to create experiences for folks that aren’t necessarily trying to replicate an in-person event? To me, that was a more interesting premise, I say, as I built a platform that really has not cut any traction.

 

[00:12:13] BH: From my perspective, there is a little bit of over investment in in-person conferences from certain cohorts, like in our industry, as we step from possible over investment or lack of thinking outside the box through enforced thinking outside the box, which only can go so well to maybe like an outcome of a more overall balance between the best stuff that you can do in a distributed fashion and the best stuff that you can do in-person. And from my perspective, you waste a lot of the in-person time in conferences in ways that are not necessarily better in-person anyway. And if in-person conferences can really focus on what it means to get together and have those relationships forum and those moments strike alongside the best stuff from great keynotes in-person. And if we can achieve balance with everything we learned in this year, everything we learned from having to do everything online and missing the real people connections, that to me is the best place we could be.

 

[00:13:23] JL: For our listeners who might be planning a distributed conference or planning to attend one, Angela, what has been your takeaway of like what organizers have done really well that have made for a positive distributed experience? And any advice for people to attend so that they can be a little bit more submerged from it and get something out of it?

 

[00:13:44] AA: So what sticks out to me was the security conference that I can’t remember the name for some reason.

 

[00:13:50] JL: The pancake one?

 

[00:13:52] AA: Yes, the pancake one. That’s what we’re going to call it. It was a day long. And what I liked was there was interaction during the presentations and then of course after the presentations. It was almost as if you could still do that Q&A or the presenter could go off script and talk more about something. So that interaction was amazing. What I don’t think works a lot is there are these rooms you kind of go in and they remind me of chat rooms where people were talking about a particular topic. And these conversations, they are so in-depth and it’s like if you had a question, you’re not sure if it fits the time, so it’s almost like you’re jumping double Dutch. You’re like trying to wait and see when you can kind of get in. And I found that, “Oh, okay, well, I’ll figure out this, the answer to this question some other way.” So it was the interaction between the presenter and the audience at the end, sometimes during, but at the end of the talk and it kind of solidified the content and the interaction that we were missing. Great content, even in some of the conferences where I just sat and watched and then logged off and moved on with my day. The content is great. It’s there. It’s nice that people can access it. But again, what we’re missing is the connection and the interaction. I can honestly say I’ve not walked away with a conference buddy, like someone that I met and we hit it off and we’ve communicated after the conference. That hasn’t happened one time because it doesn’t feel like that’s kind of possible, but it has happened in the past. So I don’t have the magic bullet. I think what was talked about, Ben mentioned that there’s room for both, there’s information out there, and it can be shared and we may have to re-imagine it. I’m just waiting to see how it’s re-imagined because I don’t think we’re going to go back to the 25,000 attendee VMworld conferences anymore. I don’t know if that is the world that we’re going back to. So we have to figure out what to do next. That is as effective in the distributed space.

 

[00:16:18] PC: I feel there’s a risk of having glorified in-person a little bit ahead of time. And I think Ben gave us a good reminder that a large part of motivating me to build software in the events space was that a lot of in-person events are lacking. I can think of a handful of things why in-person doesn’t work out. I can count the number of times that I would show up in a city. I’m happy to go for a beer, go for dinner, go for coffee with somebody, and I don’t know anybody. But I do know that there are 1200 people of whom I would probably get on with the vast majority of if I had some way to simply break the ice, which feels like it is a problem. ICQ was solving that problem for strangers in the ’90s. It feels like for a tech conference in 2019 where I found that happening where I would show up in London at a conference and I didn’t know anybody, I’d stand in the corner until the ice was broken. Some folks think the conference is about the content, but there’s this great concept of come for the content, but stay for the community. And it sounds like that’s the piece that you feel you’re most missing from your experience.

 

[00:17:22] AA: That is what’s missed and the t-shirts. I mean, definitely my wardrobe has really suffered because I haven’t been to any in-person conferences, but what I’ve found is in-person conferences also lack diversity too. On these distributed events, there’s more women than I’d ever seen. There are more LBGTQ+ people. There are more people who look like me. And I’ve been in tech for a really long time and I was impressed by the diversity of content, the diversity of presenters, the diversity of how content was presented. That was the boon for me in this distributed conference year. I had not seen it before. And that is probably the feather in the cap or those folks putting these conferences on. I felt maybe that they weren’t encumbered by things that they were encumbered by before, whatever those things are. It was just really nice to see that difference. And I can honestly say most conferences don’t provide that. And the online space in 2020 really shined to me in that respect.

 

[00:18:36] JL: Yeah, a hundred percent. That was so evident with CodeLand and our ability to reach people from all around the world. The biggest constraint of physical conferences is the ability to get people there. We had like a scholarship program in the past, but we couldn’t offer scholarships to every single person because it was such a big expense for us too, and this year we could let everyone who is interested in, which made it really special. I mean, for us, at least when we think about CodeLand, we definitely want there to be a strong virtual component, even when we go back into the in-person world, just because we realized how many more people can benefit from the conference itself and how many more people we can reach. And yeah, I think that missing piece is really like how do we have folks walk away with a buddy, and I feel like that’s like a really good goal for a lot of conference organizers to think through and ground themselves on.

 

[00:19:31] AA: I will say this about CodeLand. Again, I’ve been to my share of conferences and I’ve been to all the CodeLands. It has been since its inception the most inclusive, thoughtful, open conference that I’ve ever been to. And so many other conferences could learn so much from following how CodeLand has come to be. And it’s only gotten better over the years with the things that they may have missed something this year, next year they take feedback very seriously. It’s going to get incorporated. I’ve always championed. You really need to look at what they’re doing at this conference because I’ve not seen it replicated before or since.

 

[MUSIC BREAK]

 

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[00:21:54] BH: What would you say about CodeLand to other conference creators, like if you were to just try to give them a few points about what makes CodeLand work? And then what would you kind of say to us in terms of what should we be saying to tell people why they should come to CodeLand, either in-person or the virtual experience, given our best efforts to bring some of the values to the virtual experience?

 

[00:22:19] AA: I can’t say enough about the diversity of the speakers that speak at CodeLand. It really hits to the value and the breadth and depth of the dev community and it’s nice to see it highlighted on that stage. I like the fact that even the small things about the types of food that are available, people have dietary restrictions. You don’t want bad food just because you have a restriction. That is one thing in the last year or maybe the year before. They added closed captioning. And that was stellar. That was so stellar. So you have to start looking at people as a whole. We’re not a monolith. Everyone doesn’t like t-shirts as gifts. And I know it’s hard because conferences are expensive. I used to put on motorcycle conferences back in the early 2000s. I know they’re expensive. But you have to realize that people are diverse and their needs and how they come to the conference are going to be diverse. So you really have to juggle what can you do to be as inclusive as possible. Also, I’m going to say this because I’m here and I know it’s probably not a popular opinion. I did attend the CodeLand distributed and I liked it, but it was the same thing that I felt in the other conferences. So I wasn’t able to make that connect and I’m already part of the DEV.to community and it still felt a little bit weird. It felt a little awkward. And I’m not an awkward person. And I saw this at an AWS re:Invent, how they kind of prepared you. What happens is we kind of just drop ourselves into these virtual conferences and we don’t know the machinations of how they really want it to be presented to us. What reinvented, which I thought was clever, they showed you how to reinvent. Right? How do you maneuver? How do you communicate? How do you get to where you’re going? How do you get back to the content? How do you interact with the speakers? How do you interact with the other attendees? And it was a series. So it kept coming. It kept getting better and better. So by the time I got to reinvent, I didn’t feel like I was dropped into it. I think priming your attendees, one, because you’re wetting their appetite. Two, they’re not guessing as to how to maneuver this platform. You want them to ingest it the way that you plan. And I think how re:Invent did it was amazing because it was my first one and I did not feel that angst that most people feel at their first re:Invent.

 

[00:25:17] PC: One of the things that has annoyed me about the way events are presented online is that they’re continuing to do, you buy a ticket and then you get a link to Zoom or the platform or whatever it else is like the morning that the event is on. And I think the only reason that that is done, particularly if it’s on Zoom, Zoom doesn’t have any kind of non-ephemeral UI, but the reason it’s done is that it just maps one-to-one with the real world. I just think it would be great that instead of, if I buy a ticket to CodeLand, I knock into CodeLand too. I thought it was really good, but I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I was like, “Where do I go? Where do I look for people? Where’s the schedule?” It kind of felt like I had to reorient myself. And it would have been super helpful to have, like, instead of buying a ticket and then waiting until the morning of the show, I could have bought a ticket and then just gone into The CodeLand space, and maybe it would have been quiet. But to me, there ought to be a place to introduce myself or a place to start meeting that cohort of people who are probably at least some of them who are like me or to find people who are like me and start chats well in advance because ultimately isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Or at least isn’t that what we come back for is the people?

 

[00:26:36] JL: Paul, can you actually tell us a bit more about Vito?

 

[00:26:40] PC: Vito is a software that’s based on a lot of the principles that I’ve talked about. There’s so much waste in in-person events. When you show up at an in-person event, you’ve only got three days. And for a lot of people, I assume their experience is like mine where such a huge part of that is standing around in a corner awkwardly, but looking for a moment to find somebody that you know or sense something that you can join a conversation for. Or even filtering out the people who maybe you don’t get on. That’s so much waste. And actually there is technology to do that, whether it’s Slack or Twitter or whatever social network. These tools are reasonably okay for following what people say and say, “No, that person’s not for me. So I won’t talk to them.” And if there was a central place to do that for every event that I went to, I’d be very happy. And if that little network of people who I was interested in would follow me around and if I go to an in-person event and it has a Vito hub that I could join the Vito hub well in advance and start to get to know people so that when I land in St. Louis or I land in London or I land in Berlin that I meet Ben and I say, “Oh, you’re Ben123 on Vito. How’s it going? We’ve been chatting.” So what I want Vito to be was like a centralized, almost little social club thing for event attendees. And then I was building it with in-person in mind because all of the ideas came from in-person. But of course the practical application had to be online during COVID. So we’ve conceived it as a tool, like you can grant people access as soon as you’re ready to. Even if you have no content, you got no speakers, you got no agenda, you got nothing, you can grant people access. There’s a miniature communication channel. You can send messages and you can create Slack-ish channels. On the day of your event, you can live stream. We’re using a third-party live streaming platform so you can send video to it. And you’ve got little agenda, the live updates throughout the day to give people context for what they are. And then after the event, the same hub, the same access can be used to share the videos. And you can just paste all the videos live in the schedule or create on demand or continue to provide content afterwards, but also continue to sell access, which I think is really cool as well.

 

[00:28:55] BH: What do both of you think given like what we can accomplish between now and 2025? What should we be building towards?

 

[00:29:05] AA: I think the bridging of social media into the conference space is probably the next logical progression because we’re so used to building communities in our Slack channels and on Twitter and on Instagram and that it already has such a strong foundation. People are comfortable. They’re already interacting. But we have to figure out, “Well, how do we pivot that from these disparate platforms where the community exists for something wrapped around a conference, a conference topic, a conference in general? How do we bridge that?” I think we have to figure out how to bring people because we’re comfortable in the social media space. We’re comfortable talking to people that we don’t know on a regular basis. How does that translate? And I think it might have a lot to do with maybe, like I mentioned, you might have to prime the pump. Like Paul said, he has these little hubs where people can kind of talk before conferences. This is getting people interested and excited about the content. That’s a small part of it. Again, being inclusive really has a really big part of it. We want to see conferences take this trajectory that it’s already on and keep it pushing. We don’t want this to stop. We don’t want people to take their foot off the pedal when we get back to whatever that new normal is. But give it a couple of years’ time, technology is going to improve. These platforms are going to get better and more intuitive. You’re going to be able to bring more people to them, but the hard work is always going to be, how are we building community around these topics? Because the content is already there. We can go to YouTube. We can go to insert platform here where I go to learn about something. What makes that any different? Well, it’s usually the people. So focusing on how to integrate that better into these conferences and these online platforms and this distributed way of getting this content, it’s going to be a challenge, but I think a lot of conference planners are going in the right direction. I think we really just need to figure out how do we forklift that comfortable social media, and the keyword here is social. How do we bring that into the space? So when the conference is over, one, you have all of the content that you’ve consumed, it’s great. You want to interface with those people because there’s always more learning and understanding after it’s over.

 

[00:31:58] PC: My wish is that I always like to think about it as conferences are about inspiration. So inspiration is tricky to find if you’re just kind of clicking links on a page versus sitting, telling somebody about what you’ve done, and then they say something, or sitting in a room with a bunch of people with somebody influential, inspiration, empowerment. There’s something very different about being around a bunch of people who have achieved things. And by the very virtue of the fact that you’re in the same room as them, they become peers. And so it’s almost like getting permission for you to be more ambitious, and then of course education. So if we say we can achieve education through the use of technology, we’re still a little bit short on empowerment and inspiration. And I think a lot of in-person events you go to hoping to be lifted out of yourself and you go away feeling, “Oh, I wish I could have done more.” And if out of all of this that more educational resources go into, the cheaper to attend and wider distributable videos, tutorials, live sessions, panel sessions like this. If a lot more of that stuff is produced to allow people from a more diverse background to bubble up so that when you do bring people in-person that the money that you invest in in-person is solely focused on building remarkable experiences and life-changing experiences and bringing people together in ways that absolutely lift people out of themselves, then I would be very happy.

 

[00:33:37] BH: So with that being said, I think that it’s easy in some ways to accomplish some of this inspiration and fun part, if that’s the focus, but how do you get people to buy in to come in? How do you say on the landing page of your conference that this is about fun? Even if everybody will benefit from it being more about inspiration than about the specifics of the content, how do you justify getting people to come and possibly having their work pay for their ticket, if their work is doing that for conferences? If they’re going to be inspired to learn a lot more after that, if they’re going to attend a conference talk that teaches them about either some new functional programming paradigm that’s going to inspire them to rewrite the whole company software as conference stocks sometimes do or inspire them to just get some new technology or meet people or all the other things that in-person conferences or any conferences of any kind can accomplish, how would you sell a conference when the point of it is inspiration? Do you say that on the landing page? Or is it better left unsaid and you try to make that more of the fundamentals of what you try to achieve? What do you tell people about a conference that’s driven to inspire and to bring people together, maybe they’ll find a buddy, et cetera?

 

[00:35:06] AA: I think you tell them. I think a lot of people go into spaces, go to conferences, go to meetups. They want to be inspired. They want to take away something that will educate, empower, and innovate. That’s what they want. They don’t just want to sit there for 45 minutes or an hour or two and not have something tangible that they can make use of. So I think the inspiration part is a really big part of conferences. And if you’re baking that in, you are enticing folks who may just go to conferences for whatever reason, but don’t come away with that inspiration. They don’t come away with the invigoration that you would hope they would. But if you’re setting them up for the greatness that is, you’re really providing them with at least putting them in the mindset that we want to inspire you, we want to make sure that you come out of this better than when you went in. So bake it in. Say it from the rooftops. Definitely. You want to sell that because a lot of people may not be inspired. Hopefully, they are at the end of any conferences that they attend. But making that a selling point, I think that’s fun and I think that’s important.

 

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[00:38:12] JL: Now we’re going to move into a segment where we look at responses that you, the audience, have sent us to a question we made in relation to this episode. The question we asked you all was, “What do you like and/or hate most about distributed conferences?” And our first response is from Jonathan.

 

[00:38:28] JONATHAN: Hey, DevDiscuss. So something that I miss about distributed conferences is seeing people’s faces. And there’s this energy at conferences that you just don’t feel when you’re at home. But I do love that my fridge is just a few steps away and I can snack all day. Thanks.

 

[00:38:45] JL: Ah, distributed conference solves the diet problems since everyone has their own fridge at home.

 

[00:38:51] BH: When I go to in-person conferences, I pretty much snack the whole day nonstop. I’m always finding the snack table or especially the coffee table and tend to have about 10 cups of coffee when I’m attending long in-person conferences.

 

[00:39:06] JL: That’s also where I get a lot of the social interaction, too, is sort of like bumping into people at the snack table.

 

[00:39:12] AA: I think I met you at a snack table, Jess.

 

[00:39:14] JL: Probably.

 

[00:39:14] AA: I think we were in a Google IO many years ago.

 

[00:39:18] JL: Oh my gosh!

 

[00:39:19] AA: And it was this relaxing area where people were just kind of chilling. And it’s like, “Wow! That’s where I met Jess Lee. What the heck!”

 

[00:39:27] JL: That conference is particularly overwhelming because there are so many people there. So yeah, they need to have snack tables. I mean, they do have snack tables everywhere where you can have these interactions.

 

[00:39:39] AA: So snacks and human interaction. That’s what we’re taking away from his comment. And I agree with both. I agree with both.

 

[00:39:47] BH: Here’s a response we got from our Google Voice.

 

[00:39:49] WOMAN: What I have liked is that they are more accessible. And honestly, this year I’ve found out and attended more conferences than I knew about prior to the pandemic. Usually they’re free. Makes it a lot easier to attend if it’s free or low cost. I don’t have to travel. I would say the downside is that maybe it’s not sustainable long-term. I know some conferences exist to make money or their sponsorship and their certain expectations. I don’t know if having that free or low cost virtual aspect is sustainable long-term, but I do like it. I will say a downside. I do miss the face-to-face interactions. Sometimes it can be hard to attend a conference virtually if you’re also working that day. Whereas if I was in-person at a conference, chances are I’ve taken off work and I’m not multitasking in that aspect.

 

[00:40:36] AA: I swear to you, that was not me on the recording, but she definitely spoke to me. All of her comments were spot on and I agree wholeheartedly. So whoever you are, great comments. You’re really speaking directly to me. I agree. Those are just so important in conference going.

 

[00:40:54] PC: This might be overly cynical, but watch out for the free ones, because if you’re not paying, there’s probably sponsors and you probably are the product.

 

[00:41:09] BH: The economics of conferences in general. And Angela, you had mentioned that conferences can be expensive to do some of this stuff, but it’s still worth ensuring accessibility, even if there’s additional costs and making the economics work. Sometimes we also have to acknowledge that some of the economics in play in the tech industry are so much bigger than some of what we do as conferences. And ultimately, they should I imagine be contributing in a way that is driving value for the entire developer ecosystem. So when someone learns something or is inspired at CodeLand to maybe learn Swift to get into app development on iOS, also Boeing, a company that’s worth $2.1 trillion now, maybe more, I don’t know, last time I checked. But the expense of the closed captioning compared to some of the economics as you bubble up and Apple’s now worth $2 trillion built on developers, there ideally is a component where the benefactors of tech education are able to contribute without unilaterally taking the value. So even if I’m not only teaching about Apple, why shouldn’t Apple be contributing broadly to this type of education in a way where it doesn’t make the learner just the product but is kind of more like acknowledging how much value they’re extracting from the growth of software development. That’s a bigger picture within all of software.

 

[00:43:00] PC: In fairness to Apple, specifically, they did just that with WWDC, like made it entirely free and you know down the line where Apple’s interests lie. But it feels like that’s a good model. If a conference is free, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your product in the same way maybe as a web app is.

 

[00:43:18] BH: Yeah. And I think it’s complicated and I think a lot of these tech companies are contributing pretty consistently to this space already. It’s why some of these conferences exist in the first place and it’s all part of that ecosystem. But in 2020, the big tech companies grew more than the rest of the economy combined, practically. If you look at the S&P 500, it was anchored by the tech companies and grew, and the next biggest 500 companies, like massive bankruptcies, small businesses, massive bankruptcies. So the economy is growing. The tech companies are becoming bigger and bigger at a pace that’s like if they seem big in 2019, look at them now. There’s an opportunity for an acknowledgement, even maybe what was happening a year ago. There’s so much more value captured for some of these organizations that they could potentially put back into the ecosystem, especially in ways that building accessibility and things like that. So I think we have to try to just be aware of some of the size of some of these things.

 

[00:44:26] JL: Let’s go for one more member response. Shannon wrote in, “What I’ve liked about most distributed conferences I’ve attended this year is the prerecorded format. It’s really cool watching a talk live, but the speaker is also live in the chat to engage with attendees. Distributed conferences also feel like they have less of an environmental impact from a slight perspective. Don’t get me wrong. I like swag, but I also don’t need more swag. If I remember correctly, CodeLand gave attendees an option for swag, which swag, they wanted, which is a good compromise of swag being mindful of ways. But the downside of distributed conferences is attending while also working a 9 to 5.” Angela, you definitely spoke to just not being able to be emerged because you get a ping somewhere. So definitely agree here. How do you balance a full-time work and also like being a full participant in a conference?

 

[00:45:18] AA: I haven’t figured that out yet. It has been, I want to say, almost impossible to be fully immersed in these distributed events because when conferences made that switch from on-prem to distributed, even though you tell your folks that, “Yeah, I’m going to this, I’m on this online conference,” they don’t respect your space. It’s almost as if, “What conference? What are you talking about? You’re here. I see your green light in GChat. What are you talking about?” I don’t think people have made the mental break that when you say you’re going to a conference, I think your boss, if it’s during work hours, they should allow you that time. And I don’t think that that has happened for a lot of people. So they feel like they’re being torn between trying to get in as much content as they possibly can versus I still have a day job that I need to be responsible for. I don’t think managers or supervisors or whomever, I don’t think they give you that leeway. So people are making this really hard choice and maybe not walking away with the experience that conference planners are hoping because it’s so disjointed and stop, start, stop, start. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know how to change that other than hoping managers give people the opportunity to check out for four hours. Pick AM or PM. Give them something. You shouldn’t have to have your feet in both worlds when you’re trying to consume something like this. I don’t think it’s fair.

 

[00:47:07] JL: Angela and Paul, thank you both so much for joining us today.

 

[00:47:10] AA: Thank you both for inviting us. This was fun. I enjoyed it.

 

[00:47:13] PC: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

 

[00:47:22] I want to thank everyone who sent in responses. For all of you listening, please be on the lookout for our next question. We’d especially love it if you would dial into our Google Voice. The number is +1 (929) 500-1513 or you can email us a voice memo so we can hear your responses in your own beautiful voices. This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. Editorial oversight by Peter Frank and Saron Yitbarek. Our theme song is by Slow Biz. If you have any questions or comments, please email [email protected] and make sure to join our DevDiscuss Twitter chats on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM Eastern, or if you want to start your own discussion, write a post on Dev using the #discuss. Please rate and subscribe to this show on Apple Podcasts.