This week I didn’t work on my book. Instead I did some voluntary work, went to a conference and participated in a couple of training sessions. It was a nice experience, and it sort of fits into the overall theme of this blog, so I thought I would tell you a bit about it.
The GOTO conferences are enterprise software development conferences designed for developers, team leads, architects, and project managers. They have been run by the Danish company Trifork since 1996 (originally under the name JAOO). Currently, annual GOTO conferences are held in Aarhus, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam and Chicago.
I have been to GOTO before. The first time was about 5 years ago, when I had convinced my Norwegian employer that he should pay for me to go there. I learned a lot, so I decided to come back if possible. Since then I have signed up as a crew member a couple of times. That is what I did this year as well.
Although these jobs are in principle reserved for students, the organizers often have a hard time finding enough volunteers, and so people like me are offered a spot. Good for me – too bad for the students who don’t seem to realize what they are missing out on. At the risk of ruining my chances of becoming a crew member again next year, let me explain:
As a crew member, you spend about 8-10 hours of the conference time working. When you are not working, you may participate like any other guest. Except that you don’t have to empty you bank account to do so. Plus you get certain perks from the fact that you get to experience much of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’.
This year the regular fee for someone to participate in the two days of conference was around 7500 kroner. Do the maths.
The work itself is easy, and the atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. You help fill bags with info materials for the conference participants, set up tables and posters, serve lunch, count the people entering the lecture halls, guard the wardrobe, etc.
On your free time you get to sit down and listen to world-class speakers from all around the world, lecturing on topics ranging from “The Future of C#” to “A Retake on the Agile Manifesto” or “How the Bitcoin Protocol Actually Works.” The general level of these talks is very high. All of the speakers have been carefully selected on the basis of their expertise, communication skills and ability to inspire their audience. If you are enthusiastic about software development, and if you are the kind of person who just loves the TED initiative, then you will probably enjoy GOTO as well.
But there is more to the conference than attending lectures. Each day there will be a big lunch buffet. Fruit and cake is available during breaks. Furthermore, you are invited to participate in a big conference party, including dinner and drinks. Everything is paid for. You are treated like someone important. – Because you are important. Think about it. Feel it in your heart. Then go prove me right…
If you are feeling up to it, you can take the opportunity to speak to representatives of a number of large companies such as IBM, Atlassian and Elasticsearch, who use the conference as an exhibition ground. They will hand out t-shirts and Rubik’s cubes or invite you to try out their custom made pinball machine or participate in a competition that requires you to write some code to control a robot… All in an effort to get a chance to tell you about their company, and constantly looking out for potential customers, partners and future employees.
One of the perks to being a crew member is that you may actually get to meet some of the speakers behind the scenes, as it is customary for speakers and crew to go out for a beer together in the evening. Now, remember: The speakers are some of the top names in the industry. Thought leaders. You may very well find yourself seated next to the inventor of your favorite programming language, the author of a couple of your university text books and some high ranking employee from Google.
Most importantly, though, you get to experience the atmosphere at the conference and meet other participants. Some 7-800 of them.
Sitting in the great dining hall during the conference party, listening to the intense chatter between the other participants, you may rediscover old feelings of passion and pride. They just pop up, seemingly out of nowhere.
And – lo and behold – right there, along with them, comes traipsing your curiosity, your thirst for knowledge and your sense of really, truly caring about stuff. They may look a bit battered and worn, but they are all there. Your long lost friends.
It is not as if you have suddenly forgotten the pathologies of the industry: Long hours. Disappointments. Unreasonable demands and deadlines. Keeping up appearances. Watching good colleagues grow increasingly stressed and depressed and apathetic. Trying to make things work when you know that they can’t possibly…
But sitting there, in the dining hall, you may suddenly remember that those things make up only part of the picture. There was a reason why you went into this line of work in the first place. You loved it.
You wanted to know more, learn more. You wanted to be better than most, and you wanted to work with the kind of people who would help you grow professionally and personally. You wanted to be part of that community.
Sitting there, listening to your peers – the kind of people who would come to a conference to learn more and get better at what they do – you may very well realize that you still want all of that. And that it is not just some impossible dream.
You are not alone. They exist. They really do. The geeks. The nerds. The idealists.
They are out there, and in their heart of hearts they believe that it is still possible to create amazing products, working with enthusiastic colleagues in supporting work environments.
Probably I shouldn’t doubt any of this. But sometimes I do. And it feels so good to be contradicted by people who are by no means blind to the problems of the industry, but insist that it is possible to overcome them. Even if it may take quite a lot of ingenuity, resilience and willingness to change your path once you realize that the one you are on is not taking you to where you want to go.