Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Euruko 2011 Thoughts

Back from the European Ruby Conference. Great people, good talks overall. Here are my quick thoughts on what was good, and what could be improved.

(But first, a message to the people who praised my speech: I'd have to spam Twitter to thank each one of you, so please accept one big collective "thank you". I was stoked by your feedback.)

Why Euruko Was Brilliant

Flawless organization. I don't mean to reinforce cultural stereotypes ("The Germans are well-organized"), but this was one of the smoothest conference experiences I've ever been through. The volunteer organizers did a better job than most people who do this for a living. I heard there were a few people lost in the bushes or eaten by wild animals while hunting for the Saturday night party, but you can argue that was part of the fun. ;)

In particular, the location was great. Berlin is already one of my favourite cities, but this topped my best expectations: Karl-Marx Allee, near Alexanderplatz, one of the most reachable landmarks in town. That, and the most impressive conference screen I've seen so far.

Internet connection is usually a sore spot at conferences, but these guys astounded everyone by installing a parabolic dish on a nearby building just to provide us with perfect wireless connections. There were a few minor hiccups on the fist day, but they were quickly fixed. I was as impressed as everyone else. Standing ovation!

Oh, and most conferences should get a clue from these people when it comes to classy, non-dorky-looking t-shirts.

Why Euruko Should Get Bigger

I've read comments that the conference was too big, and previous Eurukos felt cozier. I do agree that small conferences make it easier to socialize. Nonetheless, I think that Euruko should be bigger, not smaller.

Matter of fact, only a selected lucky few made it to the conference. I'm talking out of experience here: if I hadn't been a speaker, I would also have been left out. Getting a ticket proved impossible. Like so many other people, I was hitting "Refresh" constantly, and tickets went straight from "Not yet available" to "Sold out" in the space of one HTTP call. Some of the people who were left out organized their own parallel conference. Most likely, hundreds more people just gave up and stayed home.

The organizers told me that they were taken by storm by the number of requests, and I understand that. Still, it's frustrating to think that next year I might have to either submit a speech or snipe the tickets if I hope to enter the conference (especially since next year's Euruko will be in Amsterdam, my other favourite northern city).

Apparently, only a small fraction of the submitted speeches made the cut. I gather that the organizers intentionally kept the conference single-track, to keep people closer together - but I think the idea backfired. I'm more likely to socialize if I have multiple tracks, smaller rooms, and plenty of corridors to hang around. Many talks received lukewarm feedback, and I think that was because most talks were very specific, so they couldn't possibly appeal to everyone. I'd rather let people select the talks that they find interesting across multiple separate tracks, than have the organizers do the selection for them.

One of the organizers told me that he thinks the European conference should strive to stay small and single-track. Apparently there is this meme that small conferences are more about people, and big conferences are more about money and business. I guess this fits with Berlin's young-and-smart, community-oriented, mildly anarchist mindset. Again, I sympathize with those feelings, but I disagree with the conclusions. Small conferences may be more about the people, but matter of fact, most of that people are being left out in the cold now. If it's small conferences we want, we already get plenty. Ruby is growing big in Europe, and the main European conference should be as big as the number of attendees - not the other way round.

So, to the folks organizing next year's Euruko: maybe it's time to go bigger?