“Wanted a good conference in Latvia so badly, that I had to do it myself” — interview with the organizer of RigaDevDays

In 2019 the 5th anniversary of Riga Dev Days will be featured by a conference for backend and devops developers. Around 700 people from Baltic States are going to meet in Riga to discuss tech trends and hands-on practices of software development.

The preparation for the conference has already started, so we had a chance to talk to Dmitry Buzdin — a solution architect with 14 years of experience, the Riga Dev Days organizer.

HOW LATVIAN CONFERENCE WAS BORN IN BELGIUM

Andrejs Vorobjovs, Dmitry Buzdin, Alexey Buzdin

Back then, about 8 years ago I used to work at the company which was considered to be the most progressive in Latvia. They implemented Agile long before it became mainstream and used all modern practices and approaches. One of that practices was to send the best developers to attend international conferences.

That’s how I ended up at Devoxx in Belgium for the first time in my life. It was a Java conference held in a cinema. I was absolutely excited with the venue, people talking to speakers at ease, informal atmosphere, participants learning and having fun together.

Of course, before that I visited conferences in Latvia, where developers were gathering in hotels and universities, suffering and waiting for it to be finished.

“There was a feeling that we couldn’t do innovations in Latvia”

In Belgium I realized that a conference is a chance to talk to professionals directly, to meet authors, whose book you read, and hang out with colleagues in smart informal atmosphere. When I got back to Latvia, I wondered, why we don’t have that. So I started thinking how to organize it in Riga.

COMMUNITY OR WHO IS PAYING FOR THE PARTY

Behind every great idea there are hundreds of little steps. My first step was Latvian Java User Group. It was one of the first developers’ meetups in Riga. We paid for the first event organization out of our own pockets, something about 350 euro. It was a meetup made on pure initiative of those, who were interested.

25 people came to the meetup and got quite confused. Participants couldn’t comprehend the concept of informal talks and were inquiring about who was paying for the party and when the advertisement was to start :)

“They ask very smart questions, it’s a pleasure to give a speech for latvian developers”

That’s how Java get-togethers started to form. At the LatJUG meetups developers got a chance to come and see what people in other IT companies do, what technologies and approaches they use. The goal of that community was to create a space for open communication and to adapt the best practices and technologies from one another. When LatJUG meetups became more popular we organized the first conference — Java Day Riga.

HOW DRINKING BEER CAN BE “HEALTHY”

Oracle User Group Summit became another trigger for the first conference.

Every year Oracle used to organize a meetup with JUG and OUG (Oracle User Group) organizers from different countries (Belgium, Sweden, UK). At this meetup I met Alexander Belokrylov, who was responsible in Oracle for java development in Baltic States (nothing was happening in Riga at that time).

We drank a few beers, talked a bit and agreed that Alexandr would pay for the venue for the first conference out of Oracle marketing budget. So far some expenses were covered, it was a real crime not to start organizing.

Andrejs Vorobjovs

Plus for me it was a surprise how easily JUG and OUG leaders from all over Europe agreed to come to Riga and give talks for the first conference. Networking on that summit (actually on each conference) was absolutely priceless.

And probably the most important things, that happened there was our meeting with Andrejs Vorobjovs — co-organizer of Riga Dev Days.

Thus having all necessary connections from the Summit I organized the first joint Java/Oracle conference in Riga and managed to gather 125 developers.

“If there’s at least one person, who moves to Riga after the conference, I’ll be happy”

Since then the conference has transformed into Riga Dev Days and is going on and growing. The audience is getting wider, the number of topics and tracks are increasing. And we personally are getting more experienced in organizing the conferences.

SIDE EFFECTS

Usually people ask, if there’s any contribution from RigaDevDays to the development of IT industry in Latvia.

In my perspective all international conferences open minds and remove some peoples’ inner limits.

When we got involved in organization of meetups you could witness such kind of a dialogue:
-Hey, let’s use this technology.
-No.
-Why?
-Firstly, the manager won’t let us, secondly we are in Latvia, these technologies haven’t reached us yet.

Back then there was a feeling that we couldn’t do innovations in Latvia. I recall one meetup about cloud technologies. After the talk the speaker asked, how many of participants were using cloud. People started laughing and saying that they would never ever use a cloud, especially in a financial sphere. It was 5 years ago. Now we see some banks actively using cloud technologies in their projects.

Speakers from different countries are coming and spreading a good word about Riga.

Speakers of RDD: Philipp Krenn, Rustam Mehmandarov, Alexandr Belokrylov

We are very proud to state that with each conference we receive very positive feedback from the speakers. For example Juergen Hoeller (Spring framework Co-Founder) visited RDD and since that each year he’s advising someone from his team to come to Riga. Edson Yanaga from Red Hat has visited us and is now helping to find rockstar speakers. Simon Ritter is the champion, he has been in Riga 3 times in a row.

By the way, speakers are complimenting the latvian audience. “They ask very smart questions, it’s a pleasure to give a speech for latvian developers” — a common feedback from the speakers from all around the world: Europe, USA, Australia, Brasil, Hawaii.

Along with the development of the conference we observe how each year more companies open their offices in Latvia and along with big corporations we see small startups. Latvian IT world is getting more and more interesting, even though a bit slow :)

“Simply put, the event which started as a Java conference, was considered the best conference for .NET developers in Baltics in 2018”

Also IT community has changed. Many people left for other countries for bigger projects and salaries, but on the other side salaries in Latvia are also growing and latvian companies in their turn attract developers from the Ukraine, Belarus. But Latvian IT community is still suffering from lack of people.

As far as I know, this year in one of top three universities in Riga there were only 8 students with a degree in Programming. Only 8. Companies launch IT-courses and attract people to get new qualifications, but still the IT sector is experiencing the lack of employees.

RDD 2018 Afterparty

I think the conference as a meeting point for developers has its influence on the situation. Developers from Baltic States, Poland, other European countries keep coming. One of our goals is to attract talented people to Riga, so if there’s at least one person, who moves to Riga after the conference, I’ll be happy.

2 HOURS AFTER WORK DURING A YEAR

The team of organizers are regular developers, we don’t do business on conferences. During a year we devote an hour or two after work for the conference preparation. It’s not much time, so we first focus on the essentials — the content and talks. Thus we try to keep the quality high and avoid big expenses for the organization team.

Plus we are supported by wonderful companies from Latvia. They deal with a large part of the conference, bringing activities, games, presents and making coffee-breaks between talks so interesting. Actually a small organization team and the help from the sponsors are the reasons why prices for RDD are lower than the average ones on the market.

The conference content is getting wide, expanding and involving more and more topics. We are doing our best to stay on the peak of tech trends and reflect them in the content.

For example, last year the RDD team noticed that Java and .NET technologies begin to move towards each other. It was unimaginable 5 years ago, but today we see Pivotal and Microsoft doing a Java tour together around Europe. So we cooperated with Microsoft and launched a long-awaited .NET track, which was really successful. Participants gave us an honored name of “Microsoft Build of Baltics”. Simply put, the event, which started as a Java conference was considered the best conference for .NET developers in Baltics in 2019 :)


Developers and Engineers, see you on 29–31 May in Riga!

Take a view how it was last year >>