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An Architect's View

How current are conferences?

June 15, 2009 ·

As I've been working on my Living in the Cloud talk for CFUnited (since I didn't have to complete it for Scotch on the Rocks), it occurred to me that this is a topic covering stuff I worked on in the middle of 2008 (Broadchoice Workspace, built for Amazon EC2 and S3) and the end of 2008 (migrating Broadchoice Workshop to Amazon EC2). Conferences usually want topics submitted a long way in advance of the conference, even tho' drafts and the final version of the talk can be delivered just before the conference. CFUnited 2009's deadline for topic submissions was December 1st, 2008, eight months ahead of the conference. MAX 2009 opened its call for speakers on March 3rd 2009 and closed it in late April, six months ahead of the conference. Conferences set deadlines far in advance so that they can offer a good roster of speakers and talks because that's what attracts attendees. I've been on the advisory for a number of conferences and getting a schedule out early is key in the battle to boost registration. Our industry moves very fast. Something that's hot in the Fall may not be on anyone's radar today. Something that's hot today may be old, old news by the Fall. Conference committees have to guess what will be attractive, many months in advance - which is extremely hard! And yet, one of the biggest complaints we hear about conferences is when they have the same topics every year - which is a natural consequence of trying to fill the schedule so early: how many brand new topics can you think of off the top of your head? How do you feel about conference schedules? Do you feel they manage to stay ahead of the curve? Do you think there's too much "safe" content? Do you have suggestions for how conference committees can balance the need to publish a schedule so folks will buy tickets against the desire to feature bleeding edge topics? Do you think I'm too concerned about this - and that maybe there's no real issue here?

Tags: adobemax09 · cfobjective · cfunited09 · coldfusion

10 responses

  • 1 Joshua Cyr // Jun 15, 2009 at 5:35 AM

    I am keenly interested in this topic too, so I am just subscribing to the thread.
  • 2 Dan Wilson // Jun 15, 2009 at 5:45 AM

    I've definitely felt the same way, that changes in the industry seem to happen in fits and spurts and often a paradigm or school of thought changes in 6 months time.

    This first occurred to me at CFUnited 06 when I sat through an Ajax Framework presentation that was probably state of the art 6 months before, but when the talk was given, the current accepted best practices had changed significantly.

    I don't know of a suitable alternative however, since the conference must be promoted on the strength of the accepted speakers and talks. Having too many "To Be Announced When We Figure It Out" would be a turn off. Not to mention, many speakers aren't disciplined enough for such wide, grey areas.

    I'm going to the O'Reilly Velocity conference in a couple of weeks and we'll hear all about the Mega-High performance architectures of Facebook, Twitter, AOL and others. I'm sure the information I get there will be very timely and useful, and I'm sure it won't represent an Up To The Second thinking on the topic. No worries, I trust the speakers to maintain relevance and at least make mention of shifts in thinking.

  • 3 Rick Mason // Jun 15, 2009 at 5:50 AM

    I think conferences shy away from bleeding edge stuff. However once in a while in an eight month period something jumps from bleeding edge to cutting edge.
  • 4 andy matthews // Jun 15, 2009 at 6:17 AM

    I think that most people who go to industry conferences aren't as on the cutting edge as people who present at those conferences. So it's likely that by the time the presentation occurs, the attendees will be just hearing about the topic and want more information about it.
  • 5 Matt Williams // Jun 15, 2009 at 6:18 AM

    One man's old information is another man's frontier. Keep in mind that what you did last summer may be the next step in somebody else's project.

    It is a challenge to know what will be hot months from now. I worked for a scientific conference company that had to pick topics about 2 years in advance. They have a committee that has pretty good knowledge of the pulse of that community, but sometimes a topic just didn't pan out and it was ultimately cancelled. That organization also struggled with sometimes having the same speakers with the same topics being repeated.

    As for solutions? Maybe have some open to the public voting and/or comments on questionable topics to judge interest.
  • 6 Mike Sothnel // Jun 15, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    I think I've been to all of the conferences you cite, several times over, and don't see that any advance planning results in better prepared speakers. I can count on one hand the number of speakers who have actually posted their slides and code to their blog before or even on the day of their session. Don't get me wrong: most are usually still worth listening to. But it's interesting how many are still being written at the 11th hour, regardless of what they sent the conference organizers six months earlier.
  • 7 Sean Corfield // Jun 15, 2009 at 1:05 PM

    @Mike, a lot of conferences don't want material posted in advance - it reduces session attendance and also leads to attendees paying less attention in sessions (they're too busy reading ahead in the slide deck).

    Also, a lot of speakers have decks that make no sense outside the context of their talk: either the deck is just visible fluff to accompany a great talk (e.g., Hal Helms is a great speaker but his slide decks are no indication of his actual content) or the talk is heavily demo-driven (something a lot of attendees prefer anyway).

    @All, interesting to hear everyone's opinions. It's a difficult area and, as an advisory board member - and frequent speaker, something I have a vested interest in...
  • 8 Steve Bryant // Jun 15, 2009 at 9:01 PM

    When I am looking at topics and deciding whether or not to attend a particular conference, the degree to which a topic is cutting edge doesn't really impact me.

    For example, I am really excited to see the presentation on SQL Server Reporting at CFUnited. This isn't exactly bleeding edge as even SQL Server 2008 wasn't released in the last few months, but it is a topic I know little about and could potentially use to help my clients.

    I'm interested in learning more about jQuery in part because, while somewhat new, it has been around long enough that it seems to have been tested.

    My favorite topic at my first CFObjective was Test Driven Development. It wasn't cutting edge stuff, but I had never done it until I attended that presentation (nothing I read on line made it "click" for me).

    Sorry for all of the examples, but it seemed the best way to share my perspective as someone who carefully weighs the decisions of which conferences to attend.
  • 9 Nolan Erck // Jun 22, 2009 at 11:54 AM

    Sean, we've talked about when I gave my "Intro to CFCs" talk at BACCFUG and how the attendance at that meeting was a set of new faces, people that don't typically come to the more cutting edge presentations. I think the same thing is true at conferences -- some folks want bleeding edge, and others want slightly older but still useful information.

    For every developer looking for info in the realm of "what can we do with the upcoming technologies?", there are just as many people looking to maximize their current technology stack (as in: -not- the upcoming Beta builds). Smaller offices may be expecting developers to come back from the conference with new techniques that can be applied right away. If the only info his team comes back with is "we can do lots of neat stuff, but only AFTER we spend another 10K to upgrade"...that's going to deter people from attending conferences in the future (I was kind of put off by this at MAX 2008 -- the "flex 4 beta" talks were not clearly labeled as such).

    I see no reason why conferences can't announce the exact titles of the "safe" talks ("Intro to Flex" is not likely to change), while also listing place holders for the tentative bleeding edge talks, at least until they're confirmed (e.g. "TENTATIVE: Model-Glue 5 preview"...then change it to "CONFIRMED: Model-Glue 5 preview" when things get more solidified).

  • 10 Joshua Cyr // Jun 22, 2009 at 1:04 PM

    This post is timely for me as I am planning a conference/cruise for December ( Ultimately one of the issues I am trying to solve is the timeliness of sessions and original material. The issue with this is some people want to know all sessions before they purchase. A good catch 22.