Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is a Community Conference?

I know I post a lot about community conferences, but I never really talked about what a community conference is.  Like with a lot of things, there may be many definitions out there, but this is how I think about them.

For me, a community conference is community-driven.  It's grass-roots.  A few people in a certain geographic area, passionate about a particular thing, get together and decide that there have to be other people like them.  People that want to get together and talk about things.  People who want to learn and teach and communicate and network.

Probably some of those people already do this stuff at industry conferences.  Conferences like Build and DevConnections and TechEd for the Microsofties out there are a big deal.  Except not everyone can attend those conferences.  The price tag on them is simply too high.  At a couple grand for a ticket, maybe another grand for the hotel room, air fare, transportation, per diem for food?  It all adds up to a fairly expensive prospect for small to midsize companies when it comes to training.

And what do you get for that?  Sure you get the national platform, and some of them give out pretty nice goodie-bags with expensive tech-gifts in them (which is basically a way for you to get your company to buy you something you wouldn't buy for yourself), but you also generally get only the broadest of pictures.  In the case of Tech Ed, you get broad strokes and marketing spiels.  Many people who are there were sent, and may not be all that into it.  You have lots of managers and senior folks there who may not be getting much out of it, but are there as a perk for their job.

In contrast, a community conference is organic and attended by people who really want to be there. It is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.  The conference is set up as a not-for-profit, so the ticket cost can be as low as possible.  This allows just about anyone to attend, even if they have to do it on their own dime.

Because anyone can afford to attend, it truly means that anyone with a passion for the conference material can be there, and those are the people you want to be there, both as attendees and speakers. People who are enthusiastic about the subject matter and won't wander off mid-conference to play golf.

Because it's not-for-profit, community conferences tend to be run by organizers in their spare time.  In my experience, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that things are thrown together or that there's no attention to detail, but I think you do lose some of the polish you'd get if you were paying people an annual salary to set up a conference.

In a lot of ways, however, that's part of the fun, knowing that the conference is as good as the community wants it to be, because they have to pitch in to make it special.  It's the difference between consuming and making.  It's possible to consume an industry conference, but you get to make your community conference. You don't get the high-priced goodie bags, but you get a very professional conference, with solid information, delivered by some of the most outgoing technologists you're likely to meet.

Of course I've said that community conferences changed my life, and I truly mean that.  Codemash is particularly well run, but it's pretty far away for me.  That's why I work to run That Conference. If I can help make that change in other people that happened in me, every second I volunteer to putting on a great conference is worth it. In case you didn't know, That Conference is a polyglot (any platform, any language) technology conference held in late summer at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.  Check it out!

That Conference embraces all folks with a love of technology with open arms.  Hardware?  Software? InfoSec?  Data?  We have sessions on all things tech.  With a ticket price of around $400, it's way cheaper than the big conferences, and for those of you in the Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota areas, it's only a short drive away.  And if you stay at the hotel, bring your family and they can enjoy the waterpark as part of the room deal.  Better still, pick up a family ticket and teach the little ones your love of technology.

I would love to see you there.  If you do manage to make it out, come find me!  I'd love to meet more folks in this area that share a passion for technology.