Tech conference

Creating my dream tech conference

About 3 months ago I was feeling really frustrated. Yet another Scala conference had taken place and I couldn’t even understand the talk titles on the conference schedule, let alone the talks themselves. I thought to myself:

If only there was a Scala conference for beginners. A place where I could feel the excitement of learning new things. A place where I could feel at home.

I’m really proud to say that yesterday, my dream conference took place! Scalabase, the conference for new developers in the early stages of their journey with Scala.

That day 3 months ago I decided that I wanted to create the conference I was dreaming of. There were lots of reasons for this.

Why create a new conference?

I had been writing Scala for a year, but had not found a conference where I belonged. This was completely the opposite of my experience learning Ruby where I spoke at several Ruby conferences even before I got my first engineering job.

I was frustrated by the huge gap between my knowledge of Scala and the knowledge required to understand the talks I heard at existing conferences. I wanted to listen to talks, which I could connect to, which were not worlds away from the Scala I wrote at work.

I also wanted to feel the excitement of being in a space with people passionate about engineering who were also writing Scala, but in business contexts different to mine.

How did you get started?

After feeling this frustration, I started talking to people I knew in the Scala community to see if this was indeed a problem that others felt was worth solving. Everyone I spoke to agreed.

I then managed to secure a dream team of five people including myself to work on the conference. I had not worked with any of them before, but I either had a first hand positive experience of interacting with them myself or someone else had given me positive feedback.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but creating the team was essentially half of the job done to create the conference.

My team were amazing. I was able to brainstorm with them, they all came up with ideas that I would never have thought of and they executed work to a high standard. My team were amazing and I have learnt that with great people by your side, you can achieve more than you would ever have expected.

The other half of the puzzle was getting an operational partner. This was not something that I had planned, rather it came about as I was pitching my idea to a colleague who then introduced me to a friend who introduced me to 47 Degrees, one of the Scalacon partners – I know, what a long chain of connections! But I guess that’s the power of networks.

Again, I didn’t realise it at the time, but the synergy that was created in this partnership between my team and 47 Degrees was really the catalyst for the conference being created so quickly.

My team brought first hand knowledge of being a new Scala developer, we found the conference speakers and my team member, Maria, led the mentoring programme to support speakers. Frankie made our logo and created the repo that would later form our website, Noel used his phenomenal network to get the word out and Sabina helped us find speakers, created our registration page and led our team of moderators.

The 47 Degrees team brought heaps of knowledge about running conferences, they made our website, organised all of the marketing materials and the vimeo platform which scalabase was aired on.

Not only was there a wonderful fit between our two teams, but the energy we created was so positive. I think this was because we share the same core values and we all had skin in the game and were motivated to give our all.

When I look back I think the universe must have been on our side, because everything fell into place once the team and this amazing partnership was created.

What went particularly well?

I’m so proud of not just the conference and all the amazing speakers and mentors that created it, but also the process that we took to create it.

I’m proud of each of my team members and I feel so happy that now I share this special connection with each of them for having been through this shared process.

I also made some really special new friends in our partner 47 Degrees. It was so amazing to do video calls with them and feel the excitement of working with a new team that I don’t normally get to interface with at work.

What would you do differently next time?

To be honest, not much. The only things I would do differently is fix some small technical bugs that we had. Having said that, our amazing attendees helped themselves and answered each others questions if they were struggling with something technical. It was so phenomenal to see this beautiful community being birthed of people who look out for one another and help each other.

What surprised you?

I was really surprised by the quality of the talks. I never expected such a high quality, but each of our speakers did such an exceptional job. I found all of them to have this wonderful teacher-like quality, the ability to explain complex things in simple ways.

I was incredibly taken aback by the number of people who signed up. Registrations were open only 2 weeks before the conference and the number of sign-ups surpassed all my expectations. This really proves that there is demand for beginner type functional programming conferences.

I learnt that I can achieve anything, with the right team. Whilst there were some hard moments trying to pull this off in such a short time, whilst also working full-time, it was nevertheless relatively easy.

With the right team, anything can be achieved.

It’s actually got me really excited about what else I can achieve and who I can work with to create the next thing.

What were the conference talks like?

I really enjoyed the scalabase conference talks! Most of them were new topics for me and even the topics I’ve come across, like recursion, I still learnt something new from Frankie and Marjan!

I really enjoyed Asjad’s talk on Variance, because I found the theory so fascinating. This is something I would really like to study in the future. I really enjoyed Asjad’s animal analogies!

I also found Emily’s talk on encoding fascinating. It was just awesome to see Emily live coding the solution to an unreliable API response.

Daniel’s talk on Scalameta was so well set out and clearly described. I really enjoyed listening to his talk and will use it as a template for when I come to write my own first technical talk!

We were really lucky to have Daniela and Noel, stalwarts of the Scala community presenting overviews of functional programming. I’m really excited to read Daniela’s book, Get Programming with Scala, which she kindly gave a 30% discount for – watch the video to get it!

What was the vibe like amongst attendees?

We used Discord for scalabase, which was Noel’s amazing idea. It was such a success, because lots of the attendees watching live got involved by introducing themselves, asking questions and being supportive of all the speakers. It was fascinating to see the variety of engineers who came along.

The Guardian kindly provided moderators, so that we could make sure the Discord chat was kept as a safe space. This was led by Sabina, who did such an excellent job. I would really recommend Discord to other online conferences and communities in general.

The scalabase Discord will remain open until at least November, so get in touch with @scala_base to receive an invite.

What’s next?

There will be another Scalabase in November. A much bigger one. I hope to hand it over to 47 Degrees so that it can have a home with them. Creating a conference and working a day job is not easy, so I’m happy that Scalabase can have a permanent home.

I’m thinking about ideas for what to create next. Watch this space!❤️