After a couple of years of uncertainty and online activities, 2022 showed that developers were really missing the in-person events. Dozens of initiatives happened all around the world, with different approaches and ideas, offering the possibility to people from different backgrounds to congregate in venues of all types to learn, share, connect and enjoy.
From a personal perspective, 2022 was the first year I attended in-person conferences as a Developer Relations Engineer. Also, during this year I had the chance to present talks at in-person international conferences for the first time, being React Miami 2022 my first experience.
With this article, I’ll try to recap and share some thoughts, reviews, and impressions related to my in-person experiences during this year that is about to end.
Before the events
Among the different tasks that the organizers have to accomplish, communicating with the people is an important one. They need to send details about the conference, the venue, the talks, the tickets, pre and post-conference events, and other interesting information for the attendees. To maximize the experience, organizers should share with the people as many details of the event as possible.
From the point of view of the speaker, you may be asked to send some information in advance: An outline of your talk, the slides that you will use, equipment that you’ll need, preferences about the day/time for your talk, etc. One thing I learned is that even though not all the speakers will have the slides ready in advance, sending them to the organizers can help to verify the direction of your talk and check if you are following the code of conduct and accessibility standards. Organizers can check the font, colors, and animations to confirm that your slides will see correctly during the event.
If you are going to the event as a regular attendee, you will probably receive some emails with important information about the conference: The schedule, venue details, sponsors, details about the talks and the speakers, stats about the tickets being sold, etc. Some conferences also send regular emails, like a newsletter, with other interesting news and articles.
I’m grateful for being able to travel to different countries and cities. I always loved traveling, and doing it as part of my job makes me really happy. Visiting nice places, talking to locals, going to cool restaurants and pubs, and getting some spare time to walk around the streets, are great boosts of energy that, combined with the events themselves, end up being amazing experiences.
I had to take a lot of planes this year, and most of them were really long trips. Buenos Aires is pretty far from most of the cities in Europe and the US, and we don’t have direct flights to all of them. The more I traveled, the more efficient I tried to be with the whole experience. Traveling to the airports, going through all the security checks, waiting for the plane to take off, connecting flights, and other fun (?) experiences consume a lot of time and energy, that you would prefer to spend on other things.
Here I share some tips that helped me to get better experiences when traveling to different cities. If you, the reader, have some tips and travel hacks to share, I’ll really appreciate it!
- Pack as less as possible. Avoid taking big bags with you, you will have to carry them. Also, you will need space for the swag that you will get at the conference.
- Whenever it’s possible, do the check-in of your trip in advance, online.
- Don’t check your bag. Most of the time spent in an airport is taken by the process of checking bags. The long line at the airline desk, waiting for the families and groups to get everything ready and leave their big bags, can be spent in a smarter way (arriving a little later to the airport, drinking a coffee, reading, etc.)
- Sign up for the loyalty programs of the different airlines. And, whenever it’s possible, use the same airline to fly in order to earn more miles that can be used later.
One more important thing: Check which hotel are the speakers going to stay in, and book a room at the same hotel if it’s possible. The fun things of a conference also happen in the lobby of the hotel.
Being from South America
Something that I always insist on, and I usually tell this to the people I meet during the conferences, is how privileged I am to attend these amazing events full of people from all over the world. In Argentina, and Buenos Aires in particular (the city where I live), we have just a few dev conferences and a bunch of local meetups. And even though some of them are pretty cool, the speakers are generally local, as well as the audience.
Don’t get me wrong: That’s very cool and I really enjoy attending these events. But in other parts of the world, conferences join attendees and speakers from different countries and cities, who rarely come down to Argentina. This year I had the chance to meet amazing folks, some of them whom I already knew from the internet, and some I didn’t, and I ended up sharing amazing moments with them.
If you have the chance, at least once, to travel to a different country and attend a conference, I encourage you to do that. I know that not everyone has the chance to do it, because of different reasons. Conferences, in general, happen in places like Europe or the US. And might be hard to plan, organize and pay for a trip to those destinations from distant places, like South America. And that’s why I say I’m a privileged person and I’m thankful for that. But again, if you are lucky like me and you have the chance to travel, attending a dev conference with interesting talks, and chatting with people from different backgrounds, and from different places of the world, is a really fulfilling experience.
Also, it’s always cool to meet your heroes in person.
I enjoyed having one-to-one talks with awesome people from the developer community. Some people that I already knew from the internet, and some people that I met for the first time and now we keep the contact. You don’t need to get to any VIP place to talk to the speakers. They spend time at the conference as any other attendee, and they are open to talking with you! Popular devs, trainers, and teachers, that have created amazing content to help other people to learn about development, are in-person at the same place as you are. And they will be happy to talk to you. That’s an opportunity that you don’t want to miss.
Conference staff usually organizes a speaker’s dinner, as a way of saying “thank you” to the people for the effort they put into creating the content, preparing the talk, and traveling to the event. This is a cool opportunity to talk to other speakers while having some food and drinks, in a place with a reduced amount of people. If you are speaking at an event, the speaker’s dinner is a great moment to talk to your colleagues and learn from them.
Something super valuable is that speakers usually attend other talks, and they share feedback about them. That’s very helpful mainly for speakers with not much experience. Also, having the chance to see them presenting is a way of learning from them. Each speaker has their own style, but you can learn something new from all of them.
If you don’t have the chance to talk to the speakers during the conference, you can do it at the after-events that usually are organized by the conference staff. I will talk more about them later in this article.
From usual office spaces to big conference venues, I had the chance to visit places very different, in size and style. It’s that the organizers consider the number of people that will attend the event, in order to have enough seats for the people that want to attend a talk, but also to have enough space to chat and walk through the sponsor booths.
For me, it’s good not to have a super small place, but either a big place can be counterproductive: People would scatter among the whole place, not enabling sporadic groups to chat to appear. It’s also cool to have quiet places available for people that need to do some work, or want to rest a little bit. About the lunch time and coffee breaks, I personally prefer the type of food and drinks that allow the people to eat standing up, while talking to other attendees.
About the stages, I personally prefer the single-track conferences. I understand that sometimes the idea is to have multiple tracks to catch the attention of people from different backgrounds, in order to cover different topics. Also, it depends on the number of people attending to the conference, since not all the venues have gigantic rooms to held all the people at the same time. But from the speaker point of view, and my personal opinion, I prefer not having to “divide” the audience and make them choose which speaker they want to see.
To mention some of the places I’ve been to this year:
- Jamstack Conf was organized in some kind of raw ballroom in the center of San Francisco. A very big place with an outdoor rooftop connected to different parts of the venue.
- Render ATL’s venue was a campus in Atlanta with three different stages. There were a lot of people and the weather was amazing. That helped to enjoy the curious part: An outdoor stage with no seats where, in order not to bother people working at a close office space, attendees needed to use headphones to hear the talk.
- React Miami was “a conference inside a conference”: eMerge Americas, a big tech conference, was organized in a gigantic conference venue in Miami, and a big room inside that venue was dedicated to React Miami.
- Kansas City Developer Conference congregated really a lot of people in a very big venue in downtown Kansas City. With multiple rooms to host the different tracks, all the rooms were always crowded with people.
- Nerdearla 2022, the Argentinian conference, is held in some kind of abandoned factory pretty popular in Buenos Aires.
I love talking to people. And the cool thing about conferences is that there is a lot of people to talk to! Listening about their stories, backgrounds, jobs, is a great experience that helps to learn a lot. People from different countries, with different levels of expertise, sharing feedback or asking questions, is something that helps the speakers to engage with the community. But also helps the developers in general to know about what is a trend in the dev world, what are the preferences when picking a tool, what is the people expecting or waiting for, what are their regular pains when working with certain frameworks, etc.
Because of the size of the conference, CityJS Brazil was probably the one with the most local attendees. It was a very cool experience, full of people that enjoyed starting a chat, asking things, and thanking for being there.
About that, something cool for the speakers is getting a “thank you” from the attendees. It may sound silly, but after presenting a talk in front of hundreds of people, you need a kind of signal to know that your talk was cool. Or probably that it was not what they were expecting: All the feedback is helpful.
I attended a lot of talks, and I had the chance to see many good ones. I personally prefer the ones that are not overloaded of data and information, but they present a specific topic in an interactive and dynamic way, triggering the interest of the attendees to learn more about that when they get back home (or to talk to the speaker later, in the coffee breaks).
Depending on the conference, you can have talks about different topics: Deep lessons about advanced topics, introductions to new tools or techniques, discussion panels, soft-skills talks, etc. That will depend on the expected audience for the conference. Conf staff will keep that in mind during the talk selection process.
What’s great for me, and it’s something I need to improve, is the way on how to present the talk. The words you use, the gestures, the design of the slides, the structure of the talk, the code that you show, the gags and jokes. I attended great talks from amazing people that I would love to learn from.
What I want to keep clear, and I think most of the speakers will agree with me, is that you don’t need to be the smartest person of the planet to stand up at the stage and present a talk. All people have great ideas to share, or interesting topics to discuss, and each one of us has its own style to present it. If you are considering to present a talk at an event, but your impostor syndrome doesn’t allow you, it’s time to present the fight. The community is rooting for you, and they want to learn what you want to share, with your personal style. If you want to get into the conference speaking world, and you don’t know how to start or you think you can’t, contact me! I will help you as much as I can.
About the questions and answers related to the talks, I prefer to do it during the coffee breaks instead of taking time in the stage. As the time is limited and I prefer to see more talks at the conference, the Q&A time can be used to fill the schedule with more talks. If the attendees want to discuss topics with the speakers, they can do it in other moments of the event.
Something that should be implemented in more conferences, from my point of view, is asking the attendees to share feedback about the talks and the speakers. That is super helpful for them, in order to review the content and the presentations that they are creating, to see if they can improve something for future opportunities. One place where I saw this implemented in a great way was Kansas City Developer Conference: There was a form that the attendees were able to fill with feedback about each one of the talks they attended. At the end of the conference, they did a raffle with super cool prizes between all the people that share feedback.
The pandemic forced the conference organizers to re-invent themselves and, as a side-effect, to open new gates. Making the events “hybrid”, doing a live-stream of the talks, allows people from different parts of the world to join and experience, in a different way, the conference. Hybrid events can go from doing a live-stream of what is happening at the conference venue, to set up a platform in order to provide a place to allow the online attendees to engage between themselves.
During the events
Event organizers try to offer the attendees and speakers the best experience possible. That takes a lot of effort, time, and energy. Even more, several in-person conferences are community-driven events, which means that people put everything in place without getting any money, just for the love of doing the event and seeing the people enjoy it. For all of that, I really respect and thank all the people involved in the organization of the conferences. Sometimes people walk through the conference venues, drinking coffee and eating snacks, going from one room to the other, or getting headphones to listen to a real-time translation of a talk, and they don’t stop on the fact that all of that is available because a group of people spent a lot of energy doing it.
During the event, it’s all about enjoying. You should consider planning your days based on the schedule and details shared by the organizers. Pick which talks you want to see and create your own schedule, especially if there are multiple tracks/stages. It’s also a good idea to leave some time to walk around the sponsor booths to know more about them and the products and services they offer and ask for career opportunities in case you are interested. And also, to grab some swag!
After parties and other events
Besides the conference itself, the event staff normally organize pre and post-events in order to have fun and do networking with other attendees and speakers. These events, from my point of view, are really valuable. Chatting while having fun, drinking, and eating is a comfortable scenario to know more about others, meet new people and make friends. You can also start interesting discussions about tech topics that can end up generating exciting ideas for you to bring home.
Some cool events I remember from the conferences I attended this year:
- React Miami organized a party in a cool place with drinks and live music.
- Jamstack Conf had an after-party with beer, live coding, and games in the same venue as the conference. There were also puppies that you could adopt and take home with you.
- Remix Conf had a karaoke and board games night.
- After Next.js Conf, attendees went to a local club to enjoy a DJ playing music while playing “foosball”, ping-pong, and other games.
- Kansas City Developer Conference co-organized a tech impro/stand-up night, with fun geek and nerd jokes.
- Render ATL went one step forward: Every night from the conference there were multiple events to attend. From sushi night to a music club, attendees were able to pick which type of event they wanted to go to.
- React Alicante organized a post-event party where attendees needed to take a ship to get to the place.
If you are planning to attend a conference, don’t miss the “satellite events”.
As I said, I love in-person events. They are amazing experiences where you can learn new cool things and spend time with awesome people. I’m already starting to plan my 2023. Hope it is as great as the year that is ending. See you in any place in the world!