What is wrong with tech conferences?

What is wrong with tech conferences?

I attended dozens of conferences. Most of them as an attendee, a few as a speaker. I liked only one or two of them. Many conferences are boring. Almost all of them are ridiculously overpriced. It did not use to be like this, so what happened to tech conferences?

Are they boring because I have learned the topics on my own, way before the conference? Maybe. Perhaps the speakers keep repeating the things I already know.

I noticed that there are almost no advanced topics. Sure, it is way easier to give an introductory talk, and more people are going to attend such a presentation.

The second problem is the lack of “case study” talks. It is uncommon to talk about the things you have learned while working on a project. I would like to see more presentations like that:

This is a talk presented by my colleague from HolidayCheck who talked about migration from Mesos/Marathon to Kubernetes.
I want more talks like that one. There are no needless buzzwords. He is not talking about something you can easily find in a tutorial. Please notice that he is not trying to sell you anything either.

Those things are interesting. Those things show real problems. Real problems that someone managed to solve. I want that instead of talks filled with buzzwords and self-promotion of the sponsors. I want that instead of product demos, tutorials and live coding sessions. Seriously, there is nothing worse than a presentation that can be replaced with a text-to-speech app reading the speaker’s website.

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Why do we attend conferences?

We don’t hear such good talks very often, so why do we keep attending conferences? It feels good, doesn’t it? How many times have we heard that “by attending a conference you put yourself in the top 10/5/1% of programmers?” We feel great when they tell us that, don’t we?

Is that even true? To some extent yes, a person who attends a conference wants to learn something new and invest their personal time doing it. That for sure puts you on the top. But is there any difference between reading books, watching videos or attending conferences?

I don’t want to attend such conferences anymore. What can I do?
I can participate in more meetups because that will give me an opportunity to listen to real developers, not only salespeople in disguise.
I can refrain from buying tickets before the organizers announce a list of speakers.
I can spend my conference budget on good workshops.
Maybe, I can even decide to attend conferences only as a speaker. That has an additional benefit of taking the networking pressure off me.

Being a speaker

One more thing. If you are a conference speaker, invest some time in learning how to give a good talk, please.

Your presentation may be your “once in a lifetime” opportunity to share your ideas, but it does not mean that you must try to share them all in a 30-minute long talk. Please choose one topic and tell us an exciting story.

If you don’t know how to do it, start with watching this presentation:


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Bartosz Mikulski
Bartosz Mikulski * data scientist / software/data engineer * conference speaker * organizer of School of A.I. meetups in Poznań * co-founder of Software Craftsmanship Poznan & Poznan Scala User Group