When a Conference Isn’t a Conference

As most people will tell you, I go to a lot of conferences. Like, a lot. This year alone I spoke at 29 events, attended 32, and that doesn’t include podcasts, interviews, guest appearances and local events. I see many different things at different conferences but there’s one thing I’ve noticed more than ever this year.

Most conferences aren’t pushing anything forward.

Not all events give badges, but my collection grows this year.

It came to me slowly. In my position I’m lucky to see a large number of talks, ranging from the theoretical and philosophical to the how-to on new technologies. It seems many talks ranged from introducing new ideas to the hard core, deep under the hood look at existing technology.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Too many times over the past year it seems the talks are either so basic only a purely new person who has never touched a computer might benefit, but even Junior practitioners are gaining no benefit.

As far as deep technical talks, those are nearly non-existent. Or saved for back circles where everyone is on the core team or central circuit. These talks aren’t reaching the intermediate, mid-level folks who need to benefit from them.

Now, clearly, this isn’t universal. But there is a trend. And part of it, for lack of a better term, is because of the dogfoody nature of tech conferences in general.

Perspective is important in the game of tech culture. If all you focus on is a single technology or idea or philosophy, chances are you will reach a ceiling. In order to get passed that ceiling, one needs to look at things outside the circle.

People are the key here. And the leaders of our tech circles are aware of that. If we just continue going to the same events over and over, we keep getting told how great TechThingX is, so why look elsewhere?

A little while ago, I was at a conference where it became clear this was the case. The talks i saw scheduled were all pats on the back of the technology and the people behind it. No where did I see “Security Issues You Need to Watch For” or “How To Get Around Issue Z”. Seemingly, it was the perfect technology.

Walking around the vendor booths, the technology was mentioned on almost every banner and stretch screen. Clearly, using the buzzword was the concept of all the marketing teams (save a few who were probably smart enough to realize reusability of booth ads is important). It seemed everyone was patting each other on the back for a job well done. Perhaps this is what stuck in my proverbial craw.

We are never done.

No application I’ve been a part of building is ever “100% complete”. No tech philosophy or theory I’ve ever read or signed off on has been “The Final Word”. When did we all decide we were finished? Why are we not focused on innovating?

We need to start pushing things forward again. If we see conference speakers and tech leaders rehashing old victories and raising their hands in triumph, alarm bells should ring. Ideas need to be challenged.

Will we see that challenge in 2019? Who can tell. But, I have hope. Let’s work harder to keep things moving forward. Let’s gain new perspectives and step outside our comfort zones to learn new things. Let’s work smarter.