Posted by anton
on Thursday, December 03, 2009

it was my first time at qcon, and i found myself quite conflicted before the conference – i kept asking, what was the main reason for me to attend?

i already know roughly 75% of the speakers – i’ve read their books, i have been following their blogs and twitter feeds, i even saw their presentations online. i know for the most part what they would be telling the masses, thus i could not expect a blow-your-mind experience, the ultimate conference “catch” i am sure everyone is after. perhaps this is the curse and the blessing of the ultimate transparency.

if i am interested in this stuff, i have already taken all the easier steps to get up to speed; attending a conference comes next for me – not before, not instead.

as it turns out, once you get a dozen or so people that roughly have the same level of expertise and the same interests, and that do not expect to be spoonfed as they doze off, something else emerges – a conversation. this is the main attraction for me – conversations around the speakers – whether they are happening during their sessions (best case scenario) or in-between.

i do not arrive there to be re-told the ideas i have already heard, i would like to use them as a basis to explore further.

these days conferences where i know most of the topics and the speakers are definitely about conversations. this probably does not apply to a lot more focused/specialized conferences or those where i am not as familiar with the speakers. but here’s the paradox – i need to know the speakers well enough before i decide to go, at which point it seems like there is no reason to go anymore.

i am after passionate, articulate experts in their respective fields leading and participating in a conversation where most of the people are already familiar with each others’ backgrounds, arguments, works, and build on top of that.

which leads to a few conclusions, stemming from the need to create and nurture conversations. the whole idea of a keynote for a large audience is useless to me, since anything over a 15-minute intro is something i have probably seen/read already; any audience that is more than 20 people is too large; any audience that is not “up to speed” on the topics discussed will drag the conversation down.

the requirements above are probably a bit idealistic, but good user groups, and self-selecting gatherings (like hacker b&b at Stu Halloway’s i was fortunate enough to have been invited to this summer) prove that it is possible. another example is speakerconf, although its selection bias might turn it into an echo chamber.

so given all this, how did qcon fare? each day had something good, and i will try to write these highlights down in the next post.

would i attend again? it all depends on the speakers, and, even more importantly, whether i would be able to get to know more people beforehand and thus have good conversations outside of conference sessions.