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Pouring one out for the end of O’Reilly’s in-person conferences (morningmindmeld.com)
109 points by Oculus 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

Quite frankly I won't miss large, overpriced, junket confs like O'Reilly's.

They were too expensive for most people to justify attending without corporate sponsorship. The expo halls were full of enterprise sales pitches with minimal substance. They also had sponsored keynotes which tended to be sales pitches.

If you go to meet people instead of selling your product go to smaller confs put on by local organizers.

So many conferences are like that, even local ones. I just went to a conference in Richmond, VA (RVATech Summit). The first keynote spent his entire time selling his company, and barely mentioned machine learning. His presentation was called "Building a Company around Machine Learning".

The year before, the head of machine learning at amazon spent his 45 mins talking about the advantages of AWS over Azure. The more money someone manages at these companies, the worse their presentation is going to be, in my experience.

I don't understand why more people don't just get up and leave. Yeah, it can be perceived as being rude, but I view someone bait and switching me to listen to a 45 min sales pitch as rude. If the majority of people did this presenters/conference planners would get the point.

I DO realize that some of these pay the bills so I give them 10 mins tops. If you don't start talking about meat-and-potatoes after that, I'm outta there.

Some people are interested in the sales pitch, especially if they can ask questions directly afterwards.

For me, a lot of times I go to conferences about subjects I already have expertise in, so it’s hit or miss if I can learn anything. So having a talk about someone’s product or personal experience can be better than a lecture over knowledge I already have.

I went to a "DevOps Days" local conference and it was exactly like this as well.

It's tough.

I think some people get sent to conferences for the wrong reasons: the company has some money for some reason so they send them.

Other people should go but they can't get the money.

Many times the companies that get booths and sponsor the conference press a lot of flesh and get a lot of business cards but no sales. Sometimes you will see a conference sponsor smiling afterwards, but often they end up spending the last day doing a seminar on some product to a bunch of tired defense contractors who flew across the country to read stuff on their laptops -- if you get in free as a speaker it is probably worth the airfare to commiserate about it with the head of marketing for the sponsor afterwards in the hotel bar.

A nearby city has been thinking about building a conference center, consultants are telling them that most conference centers don't make a profit. Many cities subsidize them because they hope that it will bring in more traffic to other businesses in the area.

However, with conferences being as expensive as they are, I wonder how it is they don't make a profit? Who does?

Don't confuse the conference center for the conferences inside. The conferences can make money (though they often don't) while the center loses money. Either because they can't book enough, or because there is enough competition that you have to lower prices.

Remember that there are only so many businesses (including non-profits) in town that want to rent the place. When people are coming from out of town what difference does the town make? Thus it is hard to fill your conference center.

It’s the same issue as sports stadiums, once local governments frequently subsidies something it stops being a competitive market with healthy profit margins.

I remember having to justify (if my boss was kidding, he's not good at jokes) a $3k ticket for JavaOne several times.

Both times I came back with a handful of tidbits that would have saved either myself or an entire team weeks of frustrating debugging or research work. So yeah, you got your money's worth.

This is one of the issues I have with conferences--I have to sit through hours of stuff I don't care about to find the nuggets that are useful.

This is NOT confined to software conferences. I have been to semiconductor conferences and injection molding conferences and the phenomenon is the same.

If you’re only there to watch and listen you’re doing it wrong. It’ll be faster, cheaper, and more effective watching videos offline.

Conferences are for networking and interacting with like minded people. It’s for asking questions that are not part of the presentation, learning about something interesting someone is doing that’s not in some slides, or just bouncing off your own crazy ideas on a new audience.

> If you’re only there to watch and listen you’re doing it wrong. It’ll be faster, cheaper, and more effective watching videos offline.

IF they are videoed for offline. Not all conferences are high tech conferences.

> Conferences are for networking and interacting with like minded people.

Sure, but the injection molding conference I went to was a good example of "It really is about the speakers".

One of the speakers was the first one in North America to get one of the new Japanese 3-D metal printers which include a precision 3-D milling head in the envelope so that they can 3-D print injection molds with conformal cooling for prototype runs. So far, so normal--and not terribly useful to an electrical engineer.

However, he had a throwaway line that their previous solution was to use a Form 2, 3-D print an injection mold in the high-temp plastic, put that mold in an aluminum carrier, and inject 25-50 units before the plastic mold breaks down.

THAT got my attention on a LOT of different dimensions:

1) SLA was good enough for real work with a company doing injection molding whose time is money

2) SLA had good enough surface finish to do injection molding.

3) The high-temp resin was robust enough to hold up to a real injection molding machine

That simple throwaway line was THE nugget of the conference. We bought an SLA printer the next week and the thing hasn't been idle since.

> Conferences are for networking and interacting with like minded people.


But my ability to effectively network is severely ablated when I've been de-energised by being bored out of my skull by crappy content.

Great content energises and sparks conversation. Bad content does the absolute opposite: it's exhausting and mindnumbing. It puts me in a mindset where what I want to do is not talk to people, but get away and get some fresh air.

> I have to sit through hours of stuff I don't care about to find the nuggets that are useful.

> This is NOT confined to software conferences.

It's not confined to anything. This is a problem any time you want knowledge of any kind. Nobody in the past wrote a book thinking of you specifically having whatever problem in the future.

Consider Ben Waggoner's answer here: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-equivalent-of-the-names-of...

Imagine the question is "what were the Norse constellations?" (It's not the question originally asked, but it is the question being answered.) This is the type of thing that might have been formally documented. But if it was, all such documentation was lost. Instead, the knowledge is distributed through every cultural artifact ever produced by the Norse:

> Here's the thing. We do have some astronomical manuscripts written in Iceland, in Old Icelandic. However, they're translations of Greek or Latin works

> Most of these are found in Icelandic treatises on computus, the medieval art of reckoning the calendar and determining the dates of Christian holy days; these also contain some astronomical lore. But they're not useful guides to what the pre-Christian, pre-book culture Norse would have thought about the stars.

> Most of the constellation names are direct translations of the Latin names. Aquarius is Vatnkarl (“water-man”), Pisces is Fiskarnir (“the fish”)

> Some of the texts refer to constellations that I don't think are even visible from Iceland, such as Centaurus and Ara, so clearly they're not "native Norse" texts.

> And yet. . . every so often, one of these translations will slip something in that's not in the original.

>> Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus, wife of Perseus, sits in the Milk Ring [Milky Way], there where we say "wolf's jaws", in between Pisces and Cassiopeia and Aries

> And boom, there's a constellation name that has nothing to do with Greek mythology: in normalized spelling, úlfs kjöptr, "wolf's mouth" or "wolf's jaws."

If you want to answer this simple question ("What were the Norse constellations?"), you need to read... everything. We got lucky in this astronomical treatise -- it included information that wasn't supposed to be there. Epic poetry isn't unlikely to make some kind of reference to the stars. Maybe we could tease something out of a folk song. Maybe there's a picture somewhere with a caption on it. Maybe there's an ancient anthropological study of the Norse by some other culture, that happens to mention a constellation of theirs.

Everything is like this. Try studying any language independently and then sitting in on a class. It will either be mostly stuff you already knew, with stuff you didn't know scattered randomly through, or it will be mostly stuff you didn't know, with stuff you learned long ago scattered randomly through, presented as new and challenging. It probably is new and challenging -- to the students in the class, who have been through a curriculum designed to lead them to this one.

There is no way to make the world give you only information that you think is relevant, because "information you think is relevant" is a concept that only exists in your mind.

A presentation delivered live doesn't convey information faster than a YouTube video - that's just inherent in the message.

Dreamforce hit this tipping point around 2015 where it just became too big for any practical purposes.

Most people are there for the free swag, parties, and booze.

The sessions have increasingly sensationalized titles with hollow delivery.

The local hotels charge $500 night. Uber and Lyft drivers converge on Moscone center like bees to honey.

Local traffic in SF comes to a halt.

Sounds fun. Right?

Sounds like websummit to me.

Having been to WebSummit and Dreamforce (2014, admittedly, but I doubt it’s changed that much), I’d have to disagree. Dreamforce is huge and likely too big to be useful, but at least it’s a conference that pretends to have technical content and not a multi-level marketing scam like WebSummit and it’s “thought leaders” is.

There's a weird sort of what I feel like is sort of skewed psudo world of conferences that don't fit right in line with ... what I do even if the topic of the conference is right on target.

Conference speakers have some patterns of topics and they're useful and I appreciate them, but they often touch on some topics / have their own way of looking at things.

Other speakers seem to be all about spelling out a laundry list of platitudes topics that are even more disconnected ... I appreciate those less.

Sales pitches ... not interested.

Not to say they're useless but there are a huge variety of workplaces, developers, and all sorts of things that work differently, and conferences tend to be very focused on their general POV about how things work and are done.

I'm not sure I worded anything right but the conference culture always seems a bit 'off' for me.

Local events won't pull in luminaries from around the continent/world spending serious time preparing their presentation, though...

Is that really worth an in-person ticket and hassle? It's not like they mingle anyway.

I think it depends on the culture of the group. If the group isn't cohesive enough to have a culture, you're doomed. I've been to conferences where if you didn't know someone important, you were just another mark.

My experience at YAPC, now "The Perl Conference" has been different. The culture there is very open. I made it one time, I'm no luminary in the Perl community, but Larry Wall invited me to lunch. The other speakers were also very open and approachable.

You can watch videos of these people online for free. And yes, many of them do speak at smaller events, especially in the Bay Area.

Every word you said is true. Yet you entirely missed the point of O'Reilly conferences.

> Quite frankly I won't miss large, overpriced, junket confs like O'Reilly's.

It's not all about you, and you're not the center of the universe.

This isn't commonly known, but the O'Reilly Open Source Conference was specifically glitzy so the global press had a good experience broadcasting it, and promoting Open Source, since around 2000. They also had about 10 simultaneous tracks, which requires a large venue. That costs real money.

> They were too expensive for most people to justify attending without corporate sponsorship.

Their prices are clearly posted on their registration pages, and they offer generous alumni discounts. And most IT people work for ... wait for it ... corporations.

> The expo halls were full of enterprise sales pitches with minimal substance.

Companies pay for those booths. If you don't like their pitch, you can ask for a technical contact to followup. Or not visit them.

Personally, I walked around to each booth and ask for an overview of their products and asked detailed questions, then blogged about it for others who couldn't make it to the conference.

So they are valuable, if you're in the right frame of mind.

> They also had sponsored keynotes which tended to be sales pitches.

The larger sponsors have the chance to do a keynote. That's how it works. A small percentage of keynotes at O'Reilly conferences are outright sales pitches. The rest aren't. The most valuable ones I saw were the 451 Group market analyses of upcoming trends, which I wasn't expecting to be valuable initially.

Ironically, I heard the most complaints about a keynote delivered by a world expert on HA from VMware - the problem wasn't the talk, the problem was he was a decade ahead of most of the attendees. lol.

The Percona Conference does it right: they have a track with a dedicated room for vendor-sponsored talks. So everybody knows what to expect before sitting down. Yet they still get plenty of attendees.

> If you go to meet people instead of selling your product go to smaller confs put on by local organizers.

Or, you know, you could just go to a bar. But I'm sure you would gripe about the wallpaper color they chose, right?

> If you go to meet people instead of selling your product go to smaller confs put on by local organizers.

An added bonus to strictly attending local conferences is less harmful emissions from frivolous air travel.

>They were too expensive for most people to justify attending without corporate sponsorship.

I think that's mostly their point. It's a getaway "perk" for office drones.

Conferences are fun to attend once a year, but personally I never did much "business" at them. It was a work vacation. YMMV.

I've been going to large conferences since I started my career 20 years ago. When I was a junior engineer I found the sessions very informative, but as I developed more experience, I always got the most value hanging out in the hallway after sessions or the hotel bar at the end of the day.

I've tried "going to" a few virtual conferences and they're basically useless. Losing these physical spaces to gather and discuss will be a huge blow to learning and collaboration.

As a bit of a n00b (working in a small shop without a lot of exposure to other processes and etc) going to meetups I find those are super handy conversations / the most valuable.

Even stuff like "I was trying to solve this problem but I saw this really popular pattern and folks seemed to like it but damn it looks like it would just blow up if you ever did X." And someone tells me "yeah that blew up for me and here is how". So helpful!

I want a conference where folks get into small groups and everyone goes around and says:

Here is what I'm doing, challenges we faced, how we overcame them, lessons learned.

Even basic day to day stuff that someone talks about can be handy. The minuta and stuff sometimes is the key it seems. And sometimes just sharing similar stories / problems that don't have solutions for me inspires a lot of confidence and that can lead to real results.

That's often how unconference formats work for at least part of the day. Unconferences seem to have fallen a bit out of fashion although AFAIK DevOps Days typically combine some curated main stage talks with smaller unconference facilitated discussions. I haven't been to one for a while though.

I've been to the last couple of London DevOpsDays and find the presentations often interesting, but the ad hoc sessions in the afternoon can be some of the best parts.

This is somewhat off-topic, but has anyone else been disappointed by O'Reilly's website these days?

I was disappointed to learn about them discontinuing the sale of individual ebooks, but sort of rolled with it by just buying them from another vendor.

Now it seems I can only sign up for online learning. What is that? Yes, I can start a free trial, but wouldn't it be nice to know what I might want to spend $500 USD per year on? What does O'Reilly actually have these days?

I'd prefer to save my free trial for when I'm moderately sure I'll want to stick with the service. If I don't even have an index of what's being offered, that really turns me away.

Get an ACM membership. It includes full access to oreilly books.

You mean over Safari or as pdf?


Content quality has also fallen off a cliff somewhere along the way (is Mt. Everest a cliff? I'm going to say yes). Tons of shovelware-equivalents filled with flaws and never being corrected even with years of errata submissions (I do however love that this is possible). And the video courses, oh boy those video courses...

In ye olden days they were a relatively reliable publisher. Now I won't even consider touching them unless I can find many reviews vouching for a book.

They discount the subscription 50% on black friday.

> They discount the subscription 50% on black friday.

And if I read a dozen node.js books a year, that would be fine. But if I just want to read the one or two Rust books coming out per year... it is not such a good value.

True, make sense. I like being able to search across a variety of books for specific things (i.e. AWS, Go, React, etc) and some of the videos are pretty good. Also, I still buy a lot of books and being able to go through them before I buy them is really nice.

They don't sell ebooks anymore?

Not individual ebooks directly from O'Reilly. I used to do that. But they've pushed the Safari initiative, and gone wholly on the subscription route.

They also forced some publishers off the platform, even if they participated in Safari.

Do you know which publishers they pushed off the platform?

My company, for one.

The letter I received was a form letter which leads me to believe others were impacted, too:

We periodically review our partnerships and titles made available through our online learning platform, to ensure appropriate diversification, topic coverage, and audience fit. The learning platform customer base is rapidly evolving and growing, which means the learning resources we offer our customers must as well.

I'm writing today to let you know that while we have greatly appreciated your ongoing partnership with O’Reilly we have made the decision to not renew the contract for the distribution of XXXX content in the O’Reilly learning platform effective XXXX.

This is a huge blow to our industry I think. I've attended a lot of conferences, large and small, and the hallway track is almost always the most useful part.

I've had some of my most important collaborations start with meeting someone in the hall.

I've met some of my best friends in conference hallways.

I have an entire group of friends who I only ever see at conferences, because we live all over the world.

I once got questioned entering Canada as to why I was going and I said, "to visit friends". They asked me how I could have so many friends in Canada if I've lived in California all my life. I told them, "I met them all at conferences!".

And it's true. Every person I know in Canada I met at a conference (other than a few family members). And almost all of them have helped me professionally at one time or another as well as being good friends.

I'm going to miss those O'Reilly hall tracks. :(

When I worked on the Mosaic project, I went into my boss's office one day and his shelves had sprouted about 6 shelf-feet of O'Reilly books.

Somehow Terry convinced some O'Reilly rep that since we were helping them sell so many books that maybe they should give us some free books. Turns out that the entire catalog was 6 feet at that particular moment. So he had every. single. O'Reilly book in print. I was not entirely gracious in my jealousy.

A couple times a year I am reminded of the comedians and speakers I heard as a child talking about old things ending all the time, and it's been happening more and more to me. The worst is still the "Guess who died game", but that's so far about losing people I grew up with. As you can tell by the above, I kind of grew up with O'Reilly, and I hope this isn't the end of an era.

Same with some standard development orgs as well like the IETF. The real value is in the "hallway" meetings or pop up meetings organized over a particular topic. Especially the IETF where they even admit the email list is where official work is done and not really in-person meetings.

The use of collaboration tools like github/lab, wikis and mailing lists help a bit. Maybe we need to give Second Life a second look...

This sort of thing is true for scientific conferences as well -- that half the point isn't the talks, but connecting with potential collaborators between (or instead of) talks. With numerous conferences this year that haven't been cancelled outright shifting to online, we'll have to see if any of this networking aspect can be captured.

I've been going to OSCON on and off since the entire conference took place in the downtown Portland Marriott and it was a really good conference, until they moved it to Austin. From there, attendance seemed to decline yearly and the content was getting very watered down. At the 25th anniversary event back in Portland, it was startling clear that either O'Reilly was becoming disinterested in this event or there was a revenue problem. I guess a bit of both.

While the trigger was obvious, the way this came down makes one suspect that the in-person events were, if not on the chopping block, at least somewhat precarious. Remember also that it's not just OSCON; O'Reilly had a big slate of events.

(That a lot of people mostly equate OSCON with the O'Reilly events business is likely a symptom of the overall problem. This isn't a commentary on the quality of their events generally--which I've found to be pretty solid--but it does say something about the mindshare they have beyond OSCON.)

And, if I'm being honest, OSCON has gone from being almost a must go if you were in certain open source circles to something still mostly worth going to if you could find the time and budget. OSCON out-survived a lot of shows that were about open source overall but it's frankly a bit hard to be an event about open source in a general way when open source touches almost everything.

In any case, in spite of the special place a lot of people have for OSCON, it probably wasn't sustainable as a standalone event without the rest of the event slate.

Good riddance. They would purchase great conferences, like Hadoop World which costed only $200 to attend, and turn them into $1500 affairs.

Wish there were more very tech focused conferences in the US like Devoxx in Europe. No filler. No hidden sales pitches.

LISA, SCALE, Supercomputing, Gluecon, local DevOps Days, etc.

The thing is that cheap conferences depend on either a company running it for sales purposes (and mostly not then for big events) or volunteers providing cheap labor--both of which limit the options. Volunteers mostly get tired of running conferences when there are large commercial interests involved--as happened with Hadoop.

Developers conferences can be useful if you get to talk to the right people.

I was given a pass to Microsoft Build one year because we were looking to build stuff on Azure but weren't sure which services were mature and which were not. I talked to almost every single PM who had a booth there (and at MS, PMs are also developers). I learned that if you push MS PMs hard enough and ask the right questions, most will drop the marketing facade and give you the insider's view. (after all, developers -- by personality trait -- generally hate two-faced marketing talk and would genuinely rather talk about the tech)

This unfiltered insider's view is decidedly quite different from Microsoft's enterprise marketing's messaging. Attending Microsoft Build and talking to PMs helped us avoid investing our efforts in Azure services that turned out to be dead-ends. (many of Azure's GA stuff are feature complete but not truly production-ready) Short of running POCs, there exist few other low-effort means of procuring this intelligence other than by talking to (honest) Azure consultants at Meetups who have to deal with this stuff in daily production.

My conclusion from the conference (corroborated with my own dev experience) was that the parts of Azure that were built on pre-existing Microsoft technology (like VMs and SQL Servers) were generally solid and could be relied upon.

Whereas many new-fangled PaaS/SaaS cloud-only offerings tend not to be as battle-tested and would often fail on corner cases, so one would be prudent to think twice about putting mission-critical workloads on them. Also, one learns that despite the glossy marketing material, some Azure offerings turned to not have had any dev activity on them due to low uptake. There are still maturity issues in Azure today, and my gut feel is that most enterprises that do run on Azure mostly use their IaaS (VMs, SQL) offerings -- these are the most mature -- rather than their PaaS and SaaS offerings.

The common refrain from marketing folks is that cloud development is a moving target, and what was true a week ago might not be true now (a trivially true statement but of no practical use).

This past February I had the honor of giving my first ever keynote presentation. The conference was sponsored by my employer. That said, aside from mentioning that I worked for said employer, I never mentioned it again nor did I try to sell anyone anything.

I had some of the best most awesome conversations during the coffee and lunch breaks. I can only hope that I gave a fraction of insight during my keynote that I received during the hallway talks.

I, for one, will surely miss the O'Reilly Conferences. Very well organized and great keynote speakers. Also, you will meet a lot of interesting people in hallways, dining, social events etc. It also gives you O'Reilly Online access.

I certainly agree about the "Hallway track." Nowadays, you can get more from a session by reviewing the video, than from being there in person.

However, making relationships, and maintaining them, is really important. This goes double for today's distributed teams; where people may seldom get a chance to meet.

Never been to an O'Reilly conference, but have attended many others.

Nowadays, most conferences are too damn big and polished for me. My favorite conference of all time, was MacHack, in the late 1980s. Really scruffy, scrappy, and energizing.

I actually was planning to attend their DevOps conference this year before COVID. My employer will sponsor one conference of my choice. Any recommendations for replacements?

If your employer is paying, how much more runway do you have to make a decision? Given the current situation, I'd expect many companies to start cutting expenses and making excuses.

If there is a virtual training class rather than an online conference, I'd make that a priority, if the funds may disappear.

As for replacement conferences, I wouldn't assume that you'll have any certainty around those until those for some time.

That's good advice. The general hope is that things start to ramp back up for fall conference season though I'm not placing any big bets on that. A few conferences are still holding to summer plans but IMO that's very iffy especially if they're not at the very tail end.

USENIX SRECon has been a great conference for a few years. They've postponed it right now, but I expect it will still happen.

Hashiconf (if you're using their tooling). Incredibly informative and always well put together.

Ask for your employer to cut you a check for the cost it takes you to go to a conference, and spend it on some good headphones or earbuds, and a bidet.

I never got much out of the "hallway track", myself. For the parties and socializing, I guess I prefer the company of people that don't tend to find themselves at professional technology conferences.

If the talks don't have interesting ideas or expose me to new things, it's hard for me to get value out of a conference. It's true that you can watch a talk from anywhere, but being in the same room usually gives the talk deeper and longer-term impact, I have found.

For me, a lot of the value is "hallway track," meetings, etc. But I do also find value in having some forced time to be exposed to new things. There are lots of talks online about various topics but, to be honest, I don't get around to watching a huge amount.

Most conferences can be summed up in a group of blog posts. I don’t need to listen to a Diversity Evangelist tell me how to code.

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