How to organize your community conference — Part 1 — The Idea

A couple of months ago, I had the honor to be one of the organizers of the first GDG DevFest Pisa 0.1, a community conference in Pisa (Tuscany 🇮🇹) all about Android, Cloud, Web and Google technologies.

After this experience, I can say that organizing a conference is something that every developer should experience once in their life.

Please note that I’m NOT a professional event organizer. I’m an Android developer, I just enjoy public speaking and building communities. I’ve attended several conferences in my life, either as a speaker, volunteer or as attendee. I never played the role of the organizer before the DevFest Pisa, although I had experience in organizing small meetups and local community events. That’s it, no special powers 😂

Being an organizer was just awesome. First, you get a different point of view on the tech industry you are working with: reading the CFP submissions is not something that you do every day. Furthermore, it was just incredible to see how new human connection were established thanks to your event.

DISCLAIMER: You will probably underestimate the effort needed in organizing a community conference (unless you’re an experienced event organizer). Don’t call me responsible for some sleepless nights. But trust me, is definitely worth it!

Here I just want to share my experience and some tips for the future conference organizer.

History

How we ended up organizing the GDG DevFest Pisa 0.1? And furthermore, who’s “we”?

Organizing a community conference is a community effort. “We” is the community behind the organization, the GDG Pisa (Google Developer Group). We are pretty young (2 years old) with some little experience in event organization.

Our events are mostly seminars/talks/workshops with a single speaker for just one evening. We usually organize our events at the University or at the local co-working space and usually 60/80 attendees shows up.

Our events have always been FREE and OPEN to everyone, we are against any sort of harassment and we built our community around diversity and inclusion. We do our best to make everyone feel part of the community and deliver high-quality contents.

Obviously we had our failure as well: events with really low participation, problems with events location, etc.

But hey, we are doing it for free ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We are not getting a salary out of this. We are organizing those events just because we love to do it. We love to connect people each other. We love to deliver high quality content and we love to make community.

In September 2017 we received an email from our community lead Azzurra. The subject line was:

Your first DevFest
A sneek peek of the original email (in Italian)

This was enough to let us start dreaming.

A DevFest is basically a large community events organized by local GDGs all around the globe. Azzurra was just suggesting us to kick off our first DevFest since she thought we were ready for it. After a couple of months of doubts, fears and impostor syndrome, we finally decided to go for it!

The Idea

Ok so now, what do we do?

The best suggestion I can give here is: learn from others. 
To become a better developer, you need to read other’s code. To become a better conference organizer you need to attend other’s conferences.

Take inspiration from conferences around you, see how they structure their events, how the handle all the details and how they tackle their problems. Unfortunately, this is nothing you can learn from your desk. You need to attend some conferences, you need to feel the conference as an attendee first if you want to organize your own.

Define your theme

First, define the scope your conference. Find a theme that will permeate the whole organization. Don’t be too generic or too specific. Attendees won’t come if your conference isn’t as a good fit for their needs.

You probably want to ask yourself:

  • What’s my audience (devs, designers, PMs, etc.)?
  • Which kind of expertise do I look for (junior/mid/senior devs)?
  • Which kind of know-how do I expect (mobile, cloud, ML, etc.)?
  • Which region do I want to target? (Pisa only, Tuscany, Italy, Europe, etc.)

In our case, the DevFest format is already established with a well defined theme: Google tech. We tried to focus a bit more on Android/Kotlin since we saw a lot of interest in the community but we haven’t restricted our conference to that.

We targeted our conference based on our past event experience: we expected junior/mid developer, several undergraduate and some new-grad attendees. Given that Pisa is pretty central in the country, our target region was the whole Italy.

And yes, we decided to organize a FREE conference to make it accessible to everyone.

Here comes also the language decision. We opted for english because there are several Erasmus student in Pisa that are not proficient with Italian. We assumed a good level of English with our target audience, and we haven’t encountered major problem with the language before and during the conference. Anyway, if you plan to organize a smaller/local conference, doing it in your local language would probably be better.

All about networking

If you attended some conferences, you will probably know that in those events networking plays a fundamental role. Obviously, attendees are search for a good agenda with high-quality talks. But a lot of attendees will come mostly to get in touch with the speakers or with other developers.

To build a successful event, you need to make sure you’re building an healthy environment where attendees can do networking without constraints and limitation.

To achieve this you need two major ingredients: a good environment (like a venue, a website, food, etc.) and the right people (interested attendees, good speakers, etc.). Let’s look at them in a turn.