I never really went to conferences all that much. Sometimes the employer would send me to something. I won a competition at my school and went to Game Developers Conference in San Francisco once, and at Austin numerous times.
Overall, while I really enjoyed them, a few things stood out.
- It is a big-time commitment. At the last conference I went to, I had to take vacation days to attend. And I ignored my email and slack, which is something I don’t get to do too often, as I am always on-call.
- They cost a lot. The few times I paid my own way, it was pretty expensive. Sometimes most of a paycheck for fewer days. But typically worth it because I was picky about the conferences I choose. Like Artifact Conf, always amazing.
- Travel sucks when it’s during a rush. Any conference that is large, draws a crowd. This can eat up the hotel rooms and other resources, making it even harder to get access to.
Now I have been fortunate, I have this access if I wanted it. I typically do not use it. But many do not. Conferences of note typically focus on larger cities and more 1st world countries. This really impacts access. From rural learners to entrepreneurs in the developing world, it just isn’t exclusive.
Now online conferences are not new. But this pandemic has made them the norm. For example, Next.js held a conference recently. And while they have allowed remote viewing in the past, they had a small audience in comparison to this year and fewer speakers. This year it was huge, requiring four stages. And it was awesome.
There were 46 sessions created overall, including the keynote. I have watched 26 of them. And it has been wonderful to watch, while I work. I don’t need to give my full attention, as It is fairly easy to identify when something unique or profound is happening. And this gives me exposure to less manicured speakers and lesser items.
Overall I really enjoy this approach. After all, I don’t really care to network. I just don’t need to visit sponsor booths or look for a job. I don’t need more swag, I have a collection of t-shirts going back 10+ years, many I won’t wear.
What I want, is to learn. I want to see something profound. I want good ideas and debates to happen. I want to see the world move forward and I want to make sure I am moving with it. Clearly, this works for me. But someone younger, newer to the industry, it may not be.
I am curious, if and when the world gets back to “Normal” if we see these free online conferences go away. I think it would be a mistake. But people do want experiences.