Conferences are not dead

I read Chris Adamson’s post on conferences last week. A few hours later, I also found Marco Arment’s reply. And Friday afternoon, Dave Verwer also wrote about this in his newsletter, which drew even more attention to this topic.

While all three make some great points, there’s one thing which I completely disagree with: conferences are not a thing of the past.

I’ve been helping Luis maintain this list of conferences for almost 2 years, and I’ve been keeping my eyes on all iOS-related conferences out there for at least double than that time. I’ve participated in one conference every year since 2015 and I’ve watched lots of videos and followed a lot of the buzz around them on Twitter. I don’t think it’s the end of the conference era. Sure, lots of conferences have ceased to exist. But new ones appeared.

When I started looking into iOS development, NSConference was one of the biggest and best conferences out there. NSConf had its last edition in 2015. But other great conferences appeared, like NSSpain, or Mobile Era, or ADDC, or AppBuilders or The Swift Alps. You may notice that all those are in Europe. That’s probably because I know more about the conferences in Europe than the ones in the US or elsewhere. Or because there are actually more conferences in Europe than in the US (which the 2 other blog posts seem to be focused on).

Also, counting the conferences that are already announced for 2018, we have 28 iOS-only conferences and 16 mobile-related conferences, and there are many others which will take place but haven’t yet been announced for 2018 (Looking at you, NSSpain, Pragma Conf, Swift Alps, try! Swift India, try! Swift NYC, AltConf and others). I don’t think that’s few. Sure, CocoaConf stopping is a big loss for the US conference scene, but overall, I think there are still a lot of good events all over the world.

Years ago people went to conferences to hear the talks. Now almost all the presentations are recorded and you can watch them from home. The main advantage of going to conferences nowadays is talking to face to face to other people in your line of work. There are lots of opportunities. New collaborations can start, which lead to great books being published.

You make new friends at a conference.

I know people who got new jobs after attending conferences. I know people who got new contracts, new clients after conferences. Conferences are nice :).

But yes, they’re not perfect. There are problems. They’re expensive, they usually lack diversity (both in speakers and in participants), most of them have the same speakers, some even giving the same talk to multiple conferences. Some people say that due to the speakers being mostly the same at all conferences, some kind of “elite” is created, which does not help the community.

On the other hand, try to see the things from the perspective of the organizers. I’ve organized summer schools for around 70 student attendees in Romania, and I’m trying to organize CocoaHeads Bucharest. It’s hard. You don’t find people who want to give talks that easily. And it’s a lot of effort and you need to spend a lot of time to make an event. Now try to think of the scale of a conference. There’s a lot of work involved in making a conference. And let’s say you want to start a new one. If you bring all new speakers, people will be reluctant to attend because they haven’t heard of any of the ones giving the talks. If you bring speakers who already have a reputation, you can be criticised for lacking diversity. All those critiques have a high impact on your morale, which again won’t help with the organization of the event. And imagine doing this for years and years in a row. There’s no wonder some conferences stop having new editions.

But with all this effort required to make a conference, the number of events (at least in Europe) is growing. So hats off to you 🙇, conference organizers everywhere! Thank you for giving us opportunities to meet each other and learn together.

I’ve heard developers saying they go to conferences mostly for the people and the experience, and not for the talks. Many seem to agree that the “hallway track” is at least as important as the actual talks. So it’s clear that at least in this direction, conferences need to improve. It’s hard to say how, but some of them are trying. The Swift Alps is a different kind of conference, with a unique concept. I didn’t get to participate yet, but I’d like to, and I’ve heard good things about it. I don’t know if it’s the way to “fix” conferences, but I think it’s a step forward.

Quick summary:

  • I don’t think conferences are dead. There are more now than before. Here’s a list to inspire you:
  • Making a conference is hard and expensive. Which explains why some of them stop. And why we should be more appreciative of their organizers.
  • There are many things at conferences that can be improved, and it’s hard to know how. But some conferences are already trying (The Swift Alps, Swift Aveiro).

Posted on January 22, 2018