The Conference Circus

I want to quote this entire article by Pedro Piñera, but I’ll just highlight my favorite part.

By tagging the elite as “experts” in different areas we put them under pressure. Pressure to keep that label and keep being active. I have to be at more conferences, I have to keep proposing more talks, I have to check Twitter or post that I opened a radar about a crash in the last Xcode version that is still beta. As you might guess some people can’t handle that and it leads them to burnout. I’ve heard it from a few developers. I had to stop attending conferences because I got burnout. Moreover, some can’t control the ego. Being part of the elite sets them levels above you. No matter how you approach them, the way they get back to you depends on the levels you are far from them. That’s very bad.

I spent a good chunk of 2010 to 2014 on the Conference Circuit accepting speaking gigs as exciting as a theatre in Australia to a Holiday Inn in the Chicago suburbs. I noticed pretty much the same things as Pedro. You had a pretty good mix of:

  1. Person who does nothing but conference talks year round. They talk about writing software more than actually writing software.
  2. Person who is incredibly unprepared and will just eat shit in front of their audience. This is the worst person of all.
  3. Person who is speaking for the first-ish time and has new and interesting ideas to share.

I’d much rather attend a conference with the third person than the first two. I want to learn from people in the trenches, not someone who makes their living collection frequent flyer miles going from conference to conference. When I stopped doing the conference circuit, I was worried I was spending way too much time becoming #1.

Now, I do one conference a year: 360iDev. Moreover, I will only do 360 if I have something new to share. I did three separate years worth of Auto Layout talks, each with a unique set of content for anyone that came annually. This last year I instead opted to do a talk on application architecture, because I had spent so much of the summer of 2016 digging into the guts of the application I work on most of the day and trying to imagine how to rearchitect it for its next 5 years of growth. Instead of just trying to sell more copies of the Auto Layout book by rehashing an old Auto Layout talk, I opted to take my newest learnings and share them with the audience. It takes me a week to prepare my presentation, but I hope everyone that leaves my room learns something and doesn’t feel like their time was wasted.


By Justin Williams

This is a two sentence bio. There are many like it, but this one is mine.