Some Thoughts About Conferences in General
Until 2009 I used to attend a Microsoft conference every year.
The cost of attendance wasn't cheap but, at least in the early days, I found them particularly useful when I was feeling a bit jaded. These events presented an opportunity to learn, network, and generally re-invigorate your enthusiasm for an industry where the daily realities of the job and the poor work/life balance can prove stressful and de-moralising.
Our industry has a high 'burn out' rate, and conference attendance can be an excellent way to try and combat that.
In many ways the proliferation of 'free' user groups, especially for those of us living and working in the London area, made many of these advantages somewhat redundant. With so much user group choice (in the days before the reliance on Microsoft funding suddenly dried up so that many user groups simply vanished overnight) I realised that the last few conferences I'd attended had been a disappointment, and very poor value-for-money.
Of course if you're a permanent employee whose company are happy to pay for the cost of admission and give you the time off work to attend, any 'cost' arguments don't apply. But if you're a self-employed contractor who has to not only pay around £3000 to attend a conference that may only last a couple of days, but also take the hit of a week's lost earnings (once you've factored in additional time to cope with jet lag), the cost of attending a conference can be almost impossible to justify.
As a result, particularly after the huge disappointment of the last two Microsoft conferences I attended (where much was promised, but little actually delivered), I've made it a matter of policy to stay away from conferences. Talking to other contractor friends who've attended recent Microsoft conferences like Build or TechEd it doesn't seem like I've missed out on anything at all.
In fact the introduction of video streaming or downloads over the last few years means that 'virtual attendance' often provides a better experience than 'in person' attendance anyway: No extensive travel time or over-priced business hotels; If you hit a poor training 'session' you can just hit the 'stop' button and quickly dive into another one, rather than walking half a mile to find you're too late to be let in to a possible alternative; Wi-fi 'just works' at home unlike most conference venues and hotels; And, thanks to social networks and Twitter, you have the advantage of being able to see what other attendees are saying about a session before commiting to it. Even announcements from these big conferences typically appear on the internet hours before the 'on the ground' attendees have woken up for breakfast!
The Angular Conference 2014
But the announcement of the first annual Angular conference, to take place in Salt Lake City in January next year, was too much to resist. I love using Angular, and can't wait to find out what others are doing with it, and to learn tips and tricks from the experts, as well as the opportunity to network with others who've been working with the technology on a day-to-day basis.
After booking the hotel and flights ahead of time, I thankfully managed to get a ticket in the mad rush that took place yesterday evening UK time and lead to 200 'early bird' tickets selling out in less than 2 minutes.
The fast 'sold out' time is a testament to the interest in Angular. For a new, untested conference, held away from the usual big US cities I think that's unprecedented, and shows the enthusiasm and traction AngularJS has attracted from the developer community: traction that's been won in an incredibly short period of time.
So I'm excited to be attending, and it will be good to catch up with some former Silverlight developers who also managed to get tickets and who, like me, have undertaken quite dramatic career change choices by fleeing the sinking Microsoft ship and looking instead at more open source alternatives like Angular, at least on the front-end.
However, I am extremely disappointed to see that after the initial 'early bird' tickets sold out so fast, a decision to give special priority to 'girls' was announced.
'Positive' Discrimination is Still Discrimination!
An update email from the conference organisers yesterday said that more tickets would be made available on a 'first come, first served' basis next Monday at 7pm UK time.
That's the good news.
But the email also said that 'girls' would be able to effectively 'jump the queue' for tickets by applying through a specially set-up email address rather than just waiting for the next batch to be released and competing with everyone else to grab one.
I think this is just plain wrong, and manifestly unfair. A quick informal survey amongst friends on Facebook both inside and outside the industry showed 100% agreement with my viewpoint. One has to question why the hell this 'preferential treatment' decision on ticket sales has been taken.
For me, it boils down to this one single question: "Are girls less able to go online and order tickets the same way everyone else has to?"
If so, I've missed something.
And if you're going to give special concessions to one group of people, why stop at 'girls'? (Does anybody else think that term for women is at best patronising, and at worst insulting?) Let's have 'positive discrimination' for any and every 'minority' group: bloggers, gays, students, people of colour, people paying a lot more to attend because of the distances they have to travel, people whose middle name is embarrasing... Where do you stop?
'Positive discrimination' is, however you word it or try and justify it, DISCRIMINATION. And discrimination is just plain wrong. The fact that the Angular Conference organisers have not chosen to explain the reasoning behind their peculiar decision, beyond saying they 'want to include more girls' for me sets a worrying tone for the conference. I thought this was to be a developer's conference not a dating one!