Community Event Success Lies with, Well, Community

The origin of DevConf is a lot like how many open source applications get started: something that starts as something one or a few people might find useful, but then growing into something much larger and widely known. But its humble origins belie the impact of the DevConf event: with three national-level events in the U.S, India, and original Czech Republic that thousands of participants from around the world attend every year.

Not bad for a conference that got started as an internal meeting. You know the kind: the semi-regular get-together where you sit through presentations on what everyone else in the office is doing at that moment. In 2008, the Red Hat Czech offices had about 25 developers who did not have a clear picture of what everyone else was working on. Except rather than being a mind-numbing exercise of status reports, the one-day event was a constructive enterprise of collaboration and cross-pollination across different projects.

This was the beginning, though, and as Sr. Manager Radek Vokal relates, the internal event that was co-located with FUDCon 2008 in Brno was such a success that the following year the Brno developers decided to open up the Developer Conference to the general public and host it at the Faculty of Informatics at Masaryk University–the original home of the event.

The first official Developer Conference was expanded to two days, with the first day a “team-building social day” and the second day a highly technical conference. Aligning with the university made a lot of sense, Vokal explained, since the subject matter of the talks were very technical and thus a huge learning opportunity for students.

The conference certainly evolved over the next decade: the name, for one, was shortened to DevConf, and–when it became clear that the model for DevConf could be used for other events–later to DevConf.CZ. The event has outgrown its first academic home, too, now hosted at the Brno Institute of Technology. The next event on January 24-26, 2020 will certainly fill this venue again.

Ask Vokal about the secrets to DevConf.CZ’s success, he will quickly point to three aspects of the event that make it unique.

First, the content level of the talks at DevConf.CZ tends to be fairly technical and deep. Attendees are assumed to have some prior knowledge of the broad technology strokes, and so are the speakers. High-level product pitches are actively discouraged.

Second, the nature of the conference’s organization, which is driven by mostly volunteers, gives the show an organic feel and a higher level of energy than one would find at a more professionally organized conference. Indeed, this is the consensus of many who attend any of the DevConf events: the energy and sense of community is very strong, only seen in few conferences, like FOSDEM or SCaLE.

The third element of DevConf.CZ’s success is something that was present at the beginning: the opportunity for the conference to be a training ground for developers who are less experienced to gain experience in public speaking. Initially, DevConf was meant to have a balance between experienced and first-time speakers, with the motivation of getting the newer speakers opportunities to hone their craft and then speak more confidently at other conferences.

As DevConf.CZ has scaled up, the emphasis on this kind of experience diversity has been softened. Looking forward, the return of a more collaborative conference would be welcome to Vokal. “I’d like to see a conference where the attendees are the speakers,” he explained. Or a return to the the inclusion of less-experienced speakers to the program. For Vokal, the educational aspects of DevConf.CZ will always be important.

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About Brian Proffitt

Brian is a Senior Principal Community Architect for the Red Hat Open Source Program Office, responsible for community content, onboarding, and open source consulting. Brian also serves on the governing board for Project CHAOSS, a metrics-oriented approach to ascertaining community health. A former technology journalist, Brian is also a graduate lecturer at the University of Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @TheTechScribe.

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