The best developer conference? Your own.
If you’re a technology company committed to continually educating your engineers then the best conference you can send them to might be one that you run yourself.
Klarna started running the KonferenSE, an annual internal engineering conference, a little over two years ago. The feedback from our engineers has been fantastic and there have been all sorts of advantages that we hadn’t expected. I was lucky enough to be on the organising team from the start, so I decided to put together a short series of blog posts detailing how and why to run your own.
This article will discuss why you should be by running a conference for your developers, and some of the unexpected benefits. It’s followed by a post on how to help your speakers prepare for a conference (either internal or external) and a toolkit to help you run your own event (choosing the talks, budget, signing people up, swag etc).
Klarna’s entire Engineering and Product departments were invited to the KonferenSE, which meant that we had over 350 participants from around the world. These articles will reflect that, focussing on running events for 100+ participants. If you’re in a smaller organisation then Oren Ellenbogen’s SelfConf format might be more appropriate.
Like any technology conference, an internal conference gives developers a chance to take a step back from their everyday work and learn about new tools and techniques. Hearing about the approaches other teams have used to solve problems can help you think differently about the challenges you are facing. Learning about how others ensure quality, for instance with different approaches to security, testing, monitoring or deployment, can inspire you to step up your own game. As an extra bonus, at an internal conference, these solutions are more likely to make sense in the context (infrastructure, regulation, culture) in which your organisation operates.
When I attend software engineering conferences I often find myself a little envious of the interesting problems that developers at other companies get to work on, or the tools and toys they get to play with. The grass always looks greener wherever the presenters are working. It takes a little perspective to realise that the speakers are from the lucky few at their company that worked on the cutting edge project with the amazing success story, and it takes a drink or two with the speaker to realise that the reality isn’t as rosy as their presentation implied.
Internal conferences have a similar effect, but instead of getting your engineers excited about all the other places they could be working, they remind them about all the fascinating things being done in their own organisation. They’re in a position to adopt the shiny tools, or get reassigned to work on the exciting problems that they hear discussed.
At Klarna I’ve found the relationships formed at the KonferenSE valuable throughout the year. Chatting to people between sessions and listening to speakers helps me discover ‘local experts’ who I can approach for help or advice in their areas of expertise long after the event is over. When I go into a meeting about collaboration or integration with a new team the atmosphere is much more friendly (and effective) if I’ve already had a friendly chat with them at the KonferenSE.
Networking is beneficial at any conference, but so much more powerful at internal conferences. This is especially true if engineering team is spread across multiple sites; I’m based in Tel Aviv, and it is always great to meet my colleagues from Stockholm, Linden, Uppsala and Columbus.
Helping Speakers Grow
Giving talks or running workshops is great for presenters too. It forces them to reflect on the subject that they are presenting, and fill in the gaps in their knowledge that they keep meaning to investigate. It helps them feel good about what they achieved, and provides invaluable practice speaking in front of an audience.
One of the most important areas to focus on when putting together your conference is helping the speakers prepare, and that’ll be the focus of my next post. The training you give your speakers will be a useful tool throughout their career. If you provide them with a portrait and publish a video of their talk online, this can also help them boost their profile (and your organisation’s profile) online.
As a bonus, people who are initially reluctant about submitting a talk to an external conference might be willing to once they’ve given the talk to a ‘friendly’ internal audience. Having experienced speakers talk at external conferences is a great recruitment tool.
I hope I’ve convinced you that running your own conference is a great tool to help your engineers grow, keep them happy and inspired, and develop relationships that will make your organisation more effective.
About the Author
Ben Maraney is a Software Engineer at Klarna. Klarna’s internal conference grew out of a conversation between him and Case Taintor that quickly spiralled out of control. He has been on the KonferenSE organising team from the start.