Hey all! We’re starting work on next year’s DevOpsDays Austin – our seventh here in the ATX. Many of you have come out to the event (or another of the great DevOpsDays around the world). Well, we have some changes in store this year!
Last year’s DevOpsDays Austin, “Monsters of DevOps” was bigger than ever and had a stadium rock theme – we had a huge venue, all the DevOps VIPs we could pull down (including the first time all 4 authors of the DevOps Handbook managed to get together at an event), multiple content tracks, killer swag, great food, a hackathon, the best Happy Hour I’ve attended at a conference, we invited in and comped local user groups to give talks… Part of our continuing trajectory to make DoDA more all encompassing and awesome.
But – every year we sit down and discuss vision before we launch into the conference. What do we want to accomplish and why? Who are we serving and why? Why are we, personally, putting in huge amounts of unpaid work to serve the community? “Because it’s there and we did it last year” isn’t a good answer, so we like to really put some thought into it.
This time when we talked about it, first in our core group and then with the rest of the 2017 organizers, we realized that we’ve been concentrating on “bigger” but we’ve been putting more and more money and effort into the parts of the event that aren’t really of high DevOps value. Here in Texas, it’s easy to conflate bigger with better, since we’re both the biggest and the best! But we’re not sure that’s right. Many of the more expert people we know here in Austin don’t really come out to the event any more, unless they are giving a talk or recruiting for their current gig. Talks and openspaces have kept focused on introducing new people to DevOps, enterprise folks, “horses and donkeys,” and so on.
And as we talked, we said “Well – what do we personally get out of the conference nowadays as attendees?” The answer was “not much.” Openspaces are huge and end up being a couple people talking. Talks are either pretty familiar from the conference circuit or also designed for new folks. We have more content but it’s more passive content, sit and watch. It’s good for the newbies but not as much for the experienced folks.
We contrasted this to the first couple DevOpsDays we went to in Silicon Valley. The first couple were just in a big auditorium at LinkedIn. There weren’t any sponsor booths. More of the event was focused on the openspaces and interaction between the highly driven participants. We ate box lunches wherever we could perch in the parking lot outside – and swag was just a t-shirt. Heck, the third one was in a weird abandoned building Dave Nielsen had access to, we had to carry our own chairs around to talks and the food and stuff was in a concrete-and-cage loading dock. But it’s those events we got the most out of.
Therefore, this year DevOpsDays Austin is going to go to what we call a “Summit” format. We’re reducing the size of the event, and focusing more on local, motivated practitioners. What does this mean?
- No sponsor tables. We’d love sponsors to participate, but in recent years we’ve gotten more folks who have either just sent aggressive marketers, or sent people we enjoy and then locked then down behind tables. So we’ve come up with a sponsorship package that gets them exposure and value but lets them actually participate in the event. Folks that just want to churn leads will self-select out. The sponsorships are less expensive, and we’ll just have venue food etc. instead of premium.
- No preselected talks. Well, OK, maybe we’ll have one keynote a day. But I went to a ProductCamp here in Austin and they did something brilliant – they had a RFC but don’t do a final selection – finalists show up and the audience votes on what talks they want to hear (kinda like openspaces but more prepared). This means people who say ‘well… I’ll come to your event if I can talk (or sponsor if I can talk, or…)’ will self-select out. You come because you want to be here, and you can give a talk!
- Smaller headcount. We’re lowering the cap (including sponsors and organizers and volunteers) to 400. We’re going to get openspaces to be the kind of highly engaged discussions that make the so valuable. We’re going to be up front with people that attendees are expected to engage. DoD used to be the only thing around to learn from. But now, if you’re an enterprise person that wants to have some DevOps talked at them – you have variety of options now, like you can go to DevOps Enterprise Summit (also a great event), or to another DevOpsDays like the one in Dallas using the conference format, or one of a dozen events either completely DevOps or DevOps-tracked. But for here in Austin this year, we need something where the unicorns can also have an event meaningful to them, so they can gather and refresh on what’s going on. Not to say only “unicorns” are welcome, but frankly we’d prefer people only come out if they intend to discuss, share, and engage; this will not be a passive-learning friendly event.
- No streaming. Every year we put a lot of work and money into live-streaming and/or recording the event. But it’s often problematic, and doesn’t get viewed a lot – there’s so much content out there now. But even worse, we end up having to degrade the experience of real attendees around the requirements of broadcast – space, money, schedule, the presenter has to stay in a little box… So we’re not going to do it. You want to participate – come out and participate.
But How Can This Work???
That was everyone’s initial reaction to this plan. But that’s silly – it has worked. We’re just doing things that DevOpsDays has already done, that ProductCamp has already done, and so on. It’s just not what’s become customary. After the organizers had a little time for it to sink in, they all rallied behind it with a vengeance.
We’ve run the numbers and just the basic $200/head attendee fees can pay for the venue, basic food, and a shirt, even if we get zero sponsors. (We won’t have zero sponsors, we just put our sponsor page up and someone bought in the first hour it was live.) As we get more funding we’ll pump up the event, but deliberately focus on the core experience of highly skilled techies learning from each other, instead of adding distractions.
How Dare You Dis My Format???
This is the format we’d like to try this year. Other events will use other formats and that’s fine. Here at DoDA we try something different every year! We were the first to have multiple content tracks (over the complaints of some purists). We added a hackathon, we added a local user group track… Last year we went big with a vengeance, and it was cool. Now we’re going to do more small and exclusive, and that’ll be cool. Next year, it’ll be different. Whatever your event is doing, more power to you, don’t confuse us having a vision we believe in with us thinking you’re “wrong.”
Come on down!
We’d love to see everyone out at DevOpsDays Austin 2018! Come ready to interact and share. Come ready to give a talk, with the risk it won’t make. Come sponsor your company, just you won’t have a table to lounge at. This change has gotten us excited about running our seventh DevOpsDays, and we bet you’ll love it!