The “much betta” of doing conferences

Ok so.

Recently I went to my first international software engineering conference outside of Poland. Brought by QCon Conferences, this one was QCon London, held in the very heart of the city, in The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Right next to all those sightseeing landmarks you’d like to see such as Big Ben or Westminster Palace.

Lemme just tell you that in terms of IT experience I’m an angsty teenager. A junior. An angsty junior. I’ve learned quite a bit now, but attending big conferences and networking is still a frontier waiting to be discovered. Biggest Polish conferences I’ve been to were InfoShare in Gdańsk and DevConf in Kraków, and while those two have their pros and cons, none had such oomph as QCon. I do realise large part of the experience lies in the hands of the sponsors and ticket pricing. And boy oh boy, the price of the tickets was no small feat, easily reaching 1,700 pounds for three days of conference; going beyond that if you wanted to participate in two days more of workshops.

But how did I manage to attend such expensive, international event? I’m nothing but a junior programmer from developing country. Turns out I’m also one of the minorities in this line of work. Because even though there are more and more women in IT, we’re still not the equal numbers with the rest of the guys here. And that’s when the diversity scholarship gets into play, helping minorities to get to QCon. I had my ticket, now I had to handle flights and accommodation, and fortunately company I work for — AirHelp — helped me out with that.

So the day came and I arrived to the spot. Mind you, the coronavirus was already dancing around in Europe, spoiling people’s skiing plans and freaking conspiracy theorists out of their minds. First thing I was encouraged to do was to sanitise my hands. Those no-touch sanitisers were all around the compound, free for everyone to use. Truly, kudos for the effort.

The building itself was massive. Very high-end, with amazing stages, rooms folding like origami, clear sound, all that jazz. You know, like how it’s supposed to be, but bigger. I rarely see people in such numbers in one building but QCon amazed me in this manner. My rough guess would be that there were almost two thousand people there (don’t hold me accountable for that number if I’m bit off though, I have issues with estimating user stories in Fibonacci scale).

The sponsor stands surprised me as well. From what I knew before, this always had a vibe of Oooh a new soul, come, come, check us out, leave a resume, whereas international crowd rocks toward more relaxed fashion of asking around what your company does, what do you do there, what are your technical challenges and could their product maybe help out with that. “We have an amazing service right here, let us help you”. For a contract most of the time, but hey, let’s keep resolving each other’s problems. I’d take a free demo over another enthusiastic recruiter mishearing my name anytime. I really enjoyed talking with people on those stands, because not only they had great knowledge about their products, there were amazing at fishing people out of the crowd and inviting them to listen. Probably the most random thing that happened to me was being invited to Oracle stand while I was picking up some salad during lunch and getting a free account with some actual credits to burn. Both developers and sales people made me care and really enticed me to check out their stuff. Although shame on Auth0 for giving me a rubik’s cube. I’m shit at it, but I cannot put it down. It’s like 2048 all over again, me obsessing about it until I succeed and then forgetting it forever.

To the point, woman, how much of that should I read before you say what is so great about this conference? Well, there are three great things about the talks part — tracks, conference day introductions and badges. And let me start from the badges, because there are no ordinary pieces of plastic you hang around your neck for two to three days. The amount of thought that went into those made my jaw drop. Whole UX design was crafted so that people wouldn’t squint nervously or bend over to read your name scribbled in font 10 somewhere below your boobs. Names were visible from ten meters away, which really helped meeting new people quite pain free, and later add them on LinkedIn. Fun, profit! Another amazing thing about the badges was that they had NFC sticker inside, which enabled the attendees to vote how they liked certain talk. Volunteers had their voting thingy, I used the badge to vote and bam! Done. Before that I was familiar with coloured pieces of paper tossed in correct jar after someone’s speech. The amount of human labour put into counting those made me shiver. And here, there we go, automation! Just brilliant.

Not getting into much detail but the mobile app for the conference also blew my mind. Thought out, well crafted, responsive. Remarkable effort, I cannot event stress how this thing helped me out on this conference (especially during the fire alarm mid day one).

The other thing guiding me through the maze of such rich schedule was morning conference day introductions, held by tracks hosts, giving brief insights what their track is all about, who’s speaking there and why it’s worth to check that out. It gave me more human input into this table I’ve been meticulously examining for whole previous week.

And yeah — tracks. One track was like a conference on its own. Microservices architecture, JavaScript, security, APIs, building high performing teams and many more. It was a challenge to pick just one talk, and that’s why I have a list of those I need to get back to in my spare time. Each track was filled with specialists from their respective fields, hand picked and (if needed) prepared by the InfoQ staff.

First slide I saw entering the morning keynote summarises the speakers quite well:

That really struck me. It made so much sense! So much in fact that when I posted a picture of this quote to my former manager he jokingly asked for a
t-shirt with it. (Joke or not, I got you, Seba). And man, it really showed! Majority of the talks I attended were damn brilliant, and some touched my black lil’ heart with their undeniable hilariousness. Even though the videos will probably be posted in three months or so, here are my top picks in chronological order (some of my favs unfortunately were not recorded due to lack author’s permission):

Huge congrats to all the organizers, speakers, sponsors and volunteers. For now I can say that this has been the most awesome conference I have ever got the chance to go to.

And here’s some of the swag!

I wouldn’t ever thought about owning a tech book with authors’ autographs and yet — it happened!

Shoutout to Datadog’s t-shirts here, one I got is so damn comfortable I’m wearing it 5 days straight now. There, I said it.

Journalism graduate, currently a Junior Devops at Makeitright. Happy for not being fired for all the nsfw jokes.

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