Smashing Podcast Episode 65 Featuring Alex Older: How Do You Organize a Grassroots Conference?
Drew is a seasoned Staff Engineer with a focus on Frontend at Snyk. He is also a co-founder of Notist and the compact content management system, Perch. Before this, … More about Drew ↬
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In this discussion, we delve into the organization of grassroots conferences and meet-ups. What does it entail to set up a small-scale industry event for your community? Drew McLellan engages in a conversation with WDC’s Alex Older to uncover the details.
Please note: This episode of The Smashing Podcast is not sponsored by any entity. However, our guest, Alex, has kindly provided listeners with a 10% discount on tickets to WebDevConf. If you can make it to Bristol for the conference, visit webdevconf.com for tickets and use the code 'smashing' to avail your discount. Thanks, Alex!
Drew: Our guest today is a full stack developer and the founder of the development agency, Bluefly Digital, based in the UK. He is also the founder and main organizer of the UK’s longest-running web design conference, WDC, which is now in its 14th year. This makes him an ideal candidate for our discussion today. Besides being a successful developer, business owner, and conference organizer, did you know he invented the pork jam roly-poly? Let's welcome Alex Older. Hi, Alex. How are you?
Alex Older: Hi, Drew. I’m good. I’m smashing.
Drew: That's great to hear. Congratulations on the upcoming 14th year of WDC…
Alex: [inaudible] facts are wrong there.
Drew: My facts are wrong? Oh…
Alex: It might be the 14th event, but it’s been running since 2007.
Drew: Okay. So we should be saying the 14th edition of WDC.
Alex: Yeah. Absolutely.
Drew: Okay. My introduction was incorrect due to my inadequate research, but I think we’ll get away with it. But your 14th edition this October.
Drew: For those unfamiliar, it’s a local event, but its influence is felt across the region and the UK. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have a day of workshops, followed by a conference day, or at least you have in the past?
Alex: We have done in the past. What I’ve found is that, while it’s great to do workshops, it can be quite challenging to find topics that appeal to a broad audience. I’ve seen it work for events and conferences that are very focused in one area. So if it’s a WordPress conference or a design systems conference, a workshop related to that works a lot better than stuff for WDC, because it’s very general.
Drew: Yeah. It’s a broad subject area, isn’t it? So finding enough people who want to focus down on a small bit for a workshop is trickier.
Drew: Yeah. That makes sense. I remember a few years back, I attended one of your workshops, I think it was a node workshop with Jack Franklin, which was great. I learned a lot that day. That was brilliant. These days you’re sticking to just the main conference day?
Alex: Yeah. So last year because of various things, we hadn’t done an event for a few years, so we decided to come back with a bang and do two days, which was nice because it meant we could get lots of people to come and speak for it, and it drew a slightly different crowd as well, which was quite nice. But the organizing headache of it all, I was like, “No, I’m just going to do one day.” It’s a lot nicer just to manage one day with eight speakers than it is to try and manage two days with 16 speakers, because it doubles all the worry.
Drew: Yes. So what was it that spurred you to start this in the first place? Where did the idea come from?
Alex: So I started… This is where I realized how old I am...