Round-table discussions can be a really useful way to discover and share direct experience with peers and colleagues. A good round-table discussion is quietly facilitated by someone who knows the subject matter enough to include interesting questions and can ensure that everyone has a voice.
Here is what I have learnt from facilitating round-table discussions and watching others, too.
understand the participants
understand and prepare the topic under discussion
remember: this is not your platform
encourage quieter people
nudge the discussion to ensure all points are covered
The rest of this post goes into more detail on these points.
I founded and helped to run the first PIPELINE Conference in 2014 and I have been part of the team that has run 5 of these events to date. Here are my thoughts on how to run a good tech conference based on my experience with PIPELINE and with other events I have attended and spoken at.
Since 2012 I have been running several meetups and conferences with a technology focus: London Continuous Delivery meetup group (2500+ members with around 80 different speakers in total), PIPELINE Conference (5 events since 2014 with around 50 different speakers), CodeMill digital skills meetup, and Assembly Conference. I have been keen to attract and promote a diverse range of speakers and attendees to all these events, and I think (with help from amazing team members) we have been fairly successful in promoting diversity in these tech events.
Much of this diversity improvement has been focused on encouraging more women to speak and attend, but of course there is more to diversity than just gender; recently, I have tried to address other aspects too, including ethnic background, social class, and also personality “type” (particularly more introverted people).
In an environment of rapidly-changing technology and approaches, an internal tech conference can be a powerful and effective way of spreading new ideas and practices and sharing learning & experience. Having organised and run several internal tech conferences (at different organisations), Victoria Morgan-Smith and I decided to write about our experiences in an article for InfoQ: Internal Tech Conferences – How and Why. We also interviewed several other people from various organisations who have also run internal tech conferences in order to give a broader perspective.
Our aim was to inspire and enable other people to develop and run internal tech conferences in their own organisations, building on the experiences of the teams and organisations in the article.
In this article we draw on our personal experience of running internal tech events at companies we’ve worked with, along with reflections and advice from people at Paddy Power Betfair, Callcredit Information Group, ING and others. You’ll find further reading & listening material at the end of the article – there is so much inspirational work happening in so many organisations.
Software engineering today is as much about people as the technology itself: an internal tech conference can give a huge boost to your organisation’s social capital – that currency by which relationships flourish.
The format you choose for your internal tech conference depends on what you want to achieve from it: it can be “by the people for the people”, or a showcase to celebrate achievement. You can keep the audience or speakers to just a single department, or invite other divisions, or even invite external speakers and/or audience.
Making the event a success takes effort: choose your speakers well, and mentor themas they prepare their talks. Work on the logistics – it’s the little things that count.
Remember to have fun: ‘death by PowerPoint’ will mean people remember the event for the wrong reasons!
Follow through: for a lasting impact, keep sight of the outcomes you seek and be ready to work with others to keep the momentum going.
We hope that the article is useful for people thinking of running or improving their own internal tech conferences!
Thanks to everyone involved: people we interviewed, the amazing InfoQ team, and to my co-author Victoria Morgan-Smith.