The following post is the first in a series documenting our ongoing planning and production of the Stack Overflow DevDays 2011 conference series.
Upon joining the Stack Exchange team in April 2011, one of the first meetings I went to was a sit down to discuss the plans for our DevDays 2011 conference. Most conferences start their planning at least a year out, so we were already a bit under the gun given that we were targeting a September start for the conferences.
The first question was about the scale of the conferences. Our only previous comparison was to the 2009 DevDays: a one-day stop in ten cities around the world, each priced very affordably. While the one-day conference, range of cities and low price point made it easy for people to attend, there were substantial shortcomings. First, with only 7 hours of total time for content, we didn’t have time to cover all of the topics that we wanted. Second, there wasn’t time for people to network or socialize outside of the conference session. And third, because of the low price point, we couldn’t afford to put on a quality conference: food was lacking, internet access was intermittent to non-existent, and the missed microphone and video cues were a-plenty.
In order to improve the events for 2011, took a serious look at the feedback; We found that a low quality conference just wasn’t an option for us and we needed to “bulk them up” – hence we decided to hold a two-day conference in four cities priced at $499 each. We structured it such that conferences would still be highly accessible to the community, but would allow us to fix almost all of the issues with the 2009 conference. In addition to doubling the amount of time we have for content, a two day format allows attendees to spend with each other at evening networking parties and mid-day breaks.
The next decision was where to host them. We knew this would be a hot topic once announced (one only needs to look at the multitude of “Why not in city X” comments that are left on any post discussing locations), so we wanted to make sure that we thought through it well. It was immediately clear that we needed to do events in the Western US, Eastern US, Europe – we also figured on choosing one more “wildcard city”.
This was actually the hardest locale to decide on given just how many cities and options there were. Given the distribution of developers, it was clear that we were going to stick to the coast, which left us with four major options: Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. After reviewing demographic data and stats from the 2009 conference, Seattle and SF jumped out to early leads so we dug in and started searching for venues in those cities. Given the size of the conference (and other tech requirements, which we’ll go into all the technical details in a later post), there weren’t that many options for venues, especially in Seattle. After we decided to co-locate the Server Fault Scalability conference with the West Coast DevDays, the decision was locked: we needed to be in the Bay Area. From there we looked long and hard between both San Francisco and San Jose – both had their respective advantages, but ultimately the date patterns and pricing were better in SF. Plus Jeff lives right across the bay and we wanted to be nice and give him a short drive.
There were just as many choices for cities on the East Coast as on the west, but thanks to a couple key criteria, it was much easier to make a decision. First, we wanted to stick to a metro area with a major developer community: that narrowed it down to NYC, Washington DC and, Boston. New York was out fairly quickly due to the incredibly high cost of doing anything. DC has a larger community than Boston and is more centrally/conveniently located for others coming from places outside the northeast. We also really wanted to do a community based hack day and DC had the best setup and date pattern to accommodate it.
Another case of a pretty easy decision, as London jumped out to an early lead. We have a huge community in the UK, two of our biggest 2009 DevDays were London and Cambridge, its fairly easy for anyone in Europe to get to, and there are tons of venues to choose from. The UK is also an English speaking country, which makes traveling in much easier for anyone coming in from abroad (given that all of our content is in English, we felt fairly confident assuming that all attendees speak it). Oh yeah, we also have a remote developer who lives in the UK.
There were lots of options for the fourth conference: we could have done another stop somewhere in the US or Europe, tried a conference in Asia, or even just gone to Hawaii and relaxed for a week. As we thought about it though, Sydney emerged as a clear favorite: it’s placed apart from the other conferences so we wouldn’t be overlapping too much, Australia has a strong developer community (not to mention they’ve been bugging us for a while to come down under), it’s convenient to Asia, and once again, it’s an English speaking country. Also, in what has become a common theme, one of our developers is based there.
Well there you go, the background into how we picked our format and cities for Stack Overflow DevDays 2011. If you haven’t already registered for your city of choice, make sure to head over to Eventbrite (and use discount code "blog" to save $100) and get signed up!