I'm currently attending CascadiaJS in Seattle, WA (Nov 7 & 8).
It's been a pretty cool experience. Great speakers. Amazing lightning talks. A real community.
I'm so incredibly impressed with how much forethought and thinking went into making CascadiaJS an incredible experience. And this is only day 1!
I'm excited to share my experience in list format!
A bit about my background: I shift careers a few times and thus I shifted conference types I attend. I've been to many - ranging from education to game development, to business, to coding. Some were $50 and had speakers like a famous dev. Others were $1000+ and featured the likes of Oprah. I've done tabling, working at conferences, and creating conferences. I'm not a conference-a-holic at all (maybe 2-3 a year?) But I've been to enough both behind the scenes and in front to know what I like.
#1 Black/Red lanyards: This is so brilliant. Attendees can choose either a black lanyard if they're okay with getting their photo taken, or a red lanyard if they are NOT okay with it.
I shared this idea with my friends.
#2 Daycare access: CascadiaJS's goal is to provide access to the conference. Not everyone can afford to attend when they have children to keep an eye on.
#3 Mentorship Mixer: I LOVED the Mentorship Mixer concept. Each table had a 'mentor'. Every 7-10 minutes, mentees would shuffle around as the host gave the mentor a new prompt to answer. In that time, I connected with like 20 people. AS A SHY INTROVERT. It was amazing.
#4 Tables with topics: CascadiaJS puts little signs on tables about a specific topic - which is such low-hanging fruit. One of the most unoptimized elements of a conference is the small talk. "What brings you here? What's your title? Why?" That introduction takes about 5 minutes. But sit at a table with signage like 'ethical code' and BOOM! You and any others can sit and talk with a goal in mind.
#5 Coffee breaks: Cascadia provided coffee breaks after EVERY SESSION. JUST LOOK AT THEIR SCHEDULE!
I can't explain how much I appreciate this. No need to buy a giant coffee so you don't have to sneak out and run to Starbucks during a talk.
#6 Schedule pacing: I've attended some conferences that added relax stations and Quiet zones for introverts. My opinion - they don't work. What does work? Not trying to cram programming so densely. CascadiaJS did a glorious job spacing out the talks - giving you 15+ minutes to refill on coffee, chat, get some fresh air.
Conferences Organizers - take note. Stop trying to pack your conferences with hundreds of talks. SERIOUSLY. Give the speaker an allotted time to present, plus a chunk of time so attendees can mingle right after to talk to each other about what they just experienced. Then repeat.
#7 Preferred Gender pronouns: After getting your name badge, you can put a [He/Him], [She/Her], [They/Them], [etc] sticker so people know how to address you. For years, I was on the fence this -- I thought it was silly. But in Sept, Bee Love Slater, was the 18th transgender person known (to have been killed)[https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/14/us/black-transgender-woman-bee-love-slater.html] in the United States this year by being SET ON FIRE -- just... sigh.
Regardless - this sticker is such a TINY thing (literally a sticker!) that can offer attendees to help establish a safe, positive environment. So really, why wouldn't you do it?
#8 Live Streaming: CascadiaJS has been live streaming all of the Main Conference talks here. Many tech conferences do it, as more and more are recognizing that the Talks are just a fraction of why attendees buy tickets to attend.
#9 Swag bag: CascadiaJS gave everyone free Macbooks! Just kidding.
CascadiaJS gave out hoodies (which nerds love) and stickers (also love). Very eco-friendly.
The last conference I attended gave us 2 giant booklets, a pamphlet, a map, a bunch of pencils/pens/notebooks, a box of bees and stupid trinkets. Guess what? Most of it ended up on the GROUND.
BECAUSE ITS GARBAGE.
Make swag optional.
1 Twilio chatbot:I think this was a last-second idea to incorporate. The chatbot was built by one of the sponsors, and it's a awesome proof-of-concept on one of Twilio's tools. But, there was not enough push to adopt and I'm uncertain how to use it. Additionally - I forgot I had access to it!
2 A mechanism to stay in touch: One of the challenges of any conference is how attendees can connect. CascadiaJS rolled out a tool called FizBuz.com. It's functional and very impressive as tool. But it's still very new.
Adoption will take time, and I hope future conferences adopt this.
A really neat feature was the API to do things like showcasing the list of attendees on the main website. So cool.
The talk about Diversity: Ginger Chien's "How to Succeed with Inclusion Initiatives"
The talk from the folks at #VetswhoCode: Jerome Hardaway's "Making Newbie Friendly Codebases"
The talk about building tech for low-end devices/platforms: Aaron Turner's "Building for Budgets"
The general friendliness of everyone: Seriously.
I'm getting too old for terrible conference experiences. More conferences adopt CascadiaJS's approach.
Most people want to make things perfect. Sometimes we evaluate the complexity of an upcoming goal or a problem. So, the fear to not complete it perfectly or "wrong" (Yeah, who are judges? 🤔) stops us even from trying.