Smashing Podcast Episode 65 Featuring Alex Older: How Do You Organize a Grassroots Conference?

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 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.

Alex: Yes.

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.

Alex: Yes.

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...