Gant Laborde

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Behind the Scenes of React Conferences

A Report of 7 React Conferences in 2017

In 2017, I got to interact with speakers, attendees, and organizers as I attended conferences worldwide with React! Here’s what I want to share.

There were SO MANY conferences in 2017, and I didn’t get to go to them all. I know I sure wanted to! While I attended as many as I could, most of them had some track specific to React. In chronological order, let’s take a tour!

React Conf 17

March 13–14 in Santa Clara, CA
Size:
~350 people
Tracks:
Single
Workshops:
No
My Role: Attendee
http://conf.reactjs.org/

The big one! Once a year, Facebook puts on a phenomenal conference that’s filled with people you see online all the time, but once you attend you can meet Tom Occhino, Brent Vatne, and Tal Kol. You can even meet stars like Jennifer Van before they explode into popularity!

The tech discussed here is always top notch, both in quality and presentation. Even though everyone is crammed sea-to-seat the view is wonderful.

Tickets are hard to get, but if there’s one React conference to attend for information, this is it. Facebook takes great care of everyone at the event.

If you’re a professional React developer, you want to apply to attend this conference. If you can’t, then you want to watch it live.

I have detailed coverage of this conference — so please add these blog posts on your reading list if you plan on attending.

Summary:

Pro: Great info, well cared for.
Con: Space and tickets limited
TL:DR; Go or watch live if you are a professional react developer.

JazzCon.Tech

March 26–28 in New Orleans, LA
Size:
~400 people
Tracks:
5
Workshops:
Yes
My role: Speaker
http://jazzcon.tech/

As if you need another reason to visit New Orleans, JazzCon.Tech is amazing. Being the very first year of JazzConf, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the people who put this event on were pros. They knew conferences, and they knew New Orleans.

The format is all things Web/JavaScript. There’s a specific React track, but I found myself drawn to grow beyond my standard calling when I compared talks. With lots of tracks to choose from, you can round out your JavaScript mastery by stepping into domains and disregarding the how-to portion of the tech.

Notable speakers from around the world get to attend and speak, but the best part is that the entire event has that distinct New Orleans flair.

The staff was accessible, the power strips were ample, and the food and spirits were top notch.

Some conferences are excellent at information exchange, but they fall flat on networking. Because, let’s face it, networking as a nerd is a little harder for us than it is for others. But not here. It was easy to expand my network organically, and I got to spend time with lots of speakers I would continue to interact with for the rest of the year!

As a speaker

I was treated exceedingly well. If I had any questions or concerns, I could easily find the coordinators pratik and Vincent. At no point did I feel pressured, stressed, or concerned. They spoiled me. What a high bar for all my other talks.

2018 dates are announced and available.

Make sure to add this one to your list. You can book the trip alone, and leave with 100 new friends.

Summary:

Pro: Great city and professionally detailed conference
Con: Most talks not recorded
Speaker: Extremely well-treated, apply to this CFP!
TL:DR;
Laid back and well-run conference; excellent for exploring tech and exceedingly great for networking.

React Amsterdam

April 20–21 in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Size:
~1.2k people
Tracks:
2
Workshops:
Yes
My Role: Speaker
https://react.amsterdam/

“You HAVE to visit Amsterdam at some point in your life.” Or that’s what I’ve been told from countless frat-boys, and the movie Eurotrip. I’ll be honest, I did not expect much, but what I found, was my home away from home.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

What a beautiful, friendly, and welcoming municipality. I went there hoping to add it to the list of places I’ve seen in Europe, and I left it… kicking and screaming to stay forever. It’s now my favorite place in Europe; everyone rides bikes, everyone treats each other with respect, and the number one crime is tax evasion. It’s a creative’s paradise, and the conference was the gem in the crown.

With a conference of 1,200 people, you’d expect some logistical concerns: Space for people, food for all, visibility, and speed of entry, but everything flowed with grace. They even had specialty coffee stands where people would make beautiful patterns in the coffee foam for you. It’s the attention to detail that made the event spectacular for so many people!

The only hiccup was that the wifi seemed to go out halfway through the day which is pretty understandable, considering those numbers. I highly recommend you get yourself “offline-ready” when traveling, so it wasn’t too difficult for me.

Two tracks was a nice touch. This gave people the ability to experiment with Native who probably wouldn’t have had the time or ability to go to a Native-specific conference.

As a speaker

I was able to plug in and test everything before the conference, so I could be sure that things would run correctly. One thing I’ll note is that I couldn’t see the timing indicators, so since I started early, I ended early, because changing my presentation duration dynamically on stage is a skill I’ve yet to master. All’s well that ends well, and the presentation was a great success.

I’ll also add this. There was no official after-party, but when you’ve met a bunch of speakers from around the world, and you’re in a city like Amsterdam, you make your own. It was here I got to spend a lot of quality time with Ken Wheeler, Sanket, Tomislav and much more. People who I still keep in touch with today.

Summary:

Pro: Amsterdam + tech === amazing
Con: With so many people and such an active event, it can be hard to interact or compete for attention. Be sure to charge your extravert battery.
Speaker: Everything was clear and concise! I couldn’t ask for more.
TL:DR;
This conference is intense and significant. You should check it out if you can, and be ready for a lot of great information in an epic location.

Chain React Conf

July 10–11 in Portland, Oregon
Size:
~500 people
Tracks:
Single
Workshops:
Not in 2017
My role: Master of Ceremonies
https://infinite.red/ChainReactConf

Portland! The hip tech hub of the U.S. which is perfect for the first React Native conference. In many ways, a React Native conference is more about React than most other conferences, because it’s less about the platform and more about the core internals.

Now, of course, this conference has a special place in my ❤️ because it was thrown by Infinite Red, and I got to be the Master of Ceremonies!

Being as I was backstage the whole time, and not actually an attendee of the conference, I can only speak for all the hard work and fun it was to help put on a conference! BUT, there have been quite a few blog posts commending the experience.

When planning this conference we had Five vital objectives:

First, a focus on providing the most welcoming and friendly environment with an emphasis on conduct so people can enjoy themselves.

Second, bring together experts in the field for presentations on burgeoning concepts and providing direct access to speakers for all.

Third, an ideal location to showcase Portland with a beautiful venue.

Nailed it

Fourth, deliver the highest-quality for a reasonable ticket price.

Fifth, create an unforgettable experience for everyone; to make this a high-profile event on everyone’s calendar year after year.

It was terrific to see Chain React shirts and stickers on laptops at the other conferences I attended throughout the rest of the year.

As a speaker

I got to be part of a good bit of the planning. I learned we had to take great care of our speakers because, without them, there’s no conference. Additionally, as a serial conference attendee, we did everything we could to make everyone feel welcome while highlighting their trip to Portland!

It was just an AMAZING venue. What a cool building, with a cool lounge area for getting ready to speak. Check this tweet showing the behind the scenes coolness during Brent Vatne’s talk.

Summary:

Pro: Geared directly to expose the power of React (specifically React Native) in a friendly and fun way.
Con: Covers all platforms, which can be quite a roller coaster of topics. Something I love, but not for everyone.
Speaker: Speaker wifi, lounge, dinner, the works!
TL:DR;
Yes you should go to Chain React if you’re considering using React on anything other than web. That includes Windows, Xbox, Linux, iOS, Android, AppleTV etc.

Coder Cruise

July 16–23 in International Waters
Size:
~100 people
Tracks:
2
Workshops:
No
My role: Speaker
https://www.codercruise.com/

Out of all the beautiful landscapes, this is the only cruise that will give you that + beautiful waterscapes.

You sure can’t complain about the parties, the entertainment, the food or the drinks… that’s what cruise ships do! Every second of being on that Carnival Dream boat was gorgeous.

The CoderCruise was a polyglot conference; any programming language is welcome. Now you might think that’s too unfocused, but in actuality, it’s one of my favorite aspects. I want to be sure to do at least one polyglot conference a year. The concepts are so open!

Instead of learning about the way you handle a problem in the tech that you’re in, you learn about problems and solutions in tech in general. Without the strict React lock-in, you can get a great perspective on what React is doing well, and where people need a different solution. They’re not pushing the React competitor, but instead identifying deeper needs!

I left this conference with PLENTY of new ideas for libraries to serve as solutions for a wide array of languages.

To some, coding on a boat sounds silly, and to others it sounds amazing. To be honest it’s a bit of both that makes up the charm.

One funny thing is that the conference rooms on the boat are the most boring, drab, and silliest places. EliW who helps coordinate the conference did EVERYTHING to make the internals of the boat top-quality conference material. It’s the Carnival staff who were fighting against him.

It reminds me of when you’re on a diet, and that one co-worker keeps buying everyone donuts to tempt you.

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know there was a conference going on in these rooms, I’m just walking through with all these free drink tickets and dancers… you wouldn’t want to … join us would you?” — Carnival Crew (during talks)

Besides the distractions, we really had a good time. All the selected speakers were fantastic, and the conference was excellent.

There’s another aspect I’d like to highlight about this conference that makes it stand out. Since this was a cruise, it was the most child-friendly conference I’ve ever seen. Almost always, going to a conference means that you’ll be away from loved ones. People brought their families, and there were even sessions which encouraged people to start coding.

I HAD to see this. With something as simple as Minecraft, the entire room was in a coding blaze for their special “Hour of Code” session. CoderCruise provides you with ample opportunity to disconnect and really think about things that are important in a fun way.

As a speaker

What’s funny is everyone was treated so well, there was relatively little divide between speaker and attendee. Even dinner seating was mixed. One second you’re talking to an employee who’s being sent to the conference to attend and enjoy themselves, and the next you’re talking to upper management at Microsoft. I liked it.

Of course, be 100% offline-ready for this cruise. Even with all the marvels of modern technology, you’ll have no choice but to disconnect.

Summary:

Pro: Everything was beautiful — It’s a Cruise
Con: The boat is an evil temptress (but we chose conference)
Speaker: Treated extremely well, but so was everyone!
TL:DR;
Polyglot conferences are amazing (do one!), and what’s better than having them on a cruise ship? Bring the family; this is the conference that doesn’t take you away, but inspires your loved ones.

React Native EU

September 6–7 in Wroclaw, Poland
Size:
~400 people
Tracks:
Single
Workshops:
Yes
My role: Speaker
https://react-native.eu/

Mike Grabowski is a central figure in the React Native community, and when he announced he’d be throwing a React Native conference, I knew it was going to be impressive. Countless, high-profile speakers were at this conference. The info and the venue were all top-notch!

I gained a ton of respect for everyone in the EU who has to fly into the States all the time. That flight was no joke. It was well worth it, though! CallStack spared no expense in making the event epic.

Every talk was impressive and entertaining. Ranging from Vladimir Novick’s Bluetooth with devices, all the way to the native code that ties in with the React library. There was so much information, socializing, and food, that the conference even had a room for sitting back and decompressing while being able to watch the talks on a TV!

Though I’ve never thought to visit Wroclaw, Poland, it was full of culture and breath-taking locations, like the one for the afterparty.

Something worth noting is that the sponsors had such cool placement! Most of the equipment in the lounge area was decorated with sponsor logos. Such a cool idea!

As a speaker

The speakers were treated very well. We even got our own room, but we were so involved in the conference, we rarely used it. Probably the most significant benefit to being a speaker was after the conference. There was an exclusive speaker-invited get-together at the CallStack office, where we got to play foosball and eat pizza with everyone to celebrate. It was fun to share the success of the event with everyone.

Summary:

Pro: Expert talks in a friendly and welcoming setting
Con: The flight; just fly there early!
Speaker: Top notch speaker treatment!
TL:DR;
If you’re in the EU, this is a great conference. If you’re not, it’s still worth it, especially if you’re considering React Native ❤️

Connect.Tech

September 20–22 in Atlanta, Georgia
Size:
~1k people
Tracks:
11
Workshops:
Yes
My role: Speaker
http://connect.tech/

ConnectTech is another colossal conference, and it’s got tons of tracks, with two official React rooms, but the concept showing up in several other tracks like “Advanced JS” and “General Mobile”. The keynote presentations are developer-centric and valuable. Everyone has something they will want at this epic conference.

Whenever I see a large conference, I wonder about two things; what’s the quality drop, and how hard is it to find a comfortable space for myself? I can’t be alone in worrying about those things so let me answer those for you.

  1. Quality with such a large group: The quality didn’t drop at all. It actually went up. More people meant more options for all. The food, the conversations, and the talks were improved with a little friendly competition. Another bonus of such a large conference is that there were more sponsors! This meant more fun swag, giveaways, and excited energy. The ConnectTech folks are pros at handling a large group. All the tracks were clearly labeled with a TV out front.
  2. Personal Space: It’s got to be crunched up right? Nope… they rented an obscene amount of space. You could find a comfortable spot in every room. Walking from talk to talk, you’d pass plenty of empty tables for anyone needing to disconnect from the conference and get work done. Even the main hall was configured with large circular tables, which was conducive to eating or coding during talks.
well done

As a speaker

With 70+ speakers, you’re surrounded by masters of disciplines. What better place to surround yourself? I made lots of new friends instantly. One thing I really liked was how many opportunities there were to interact with everyone!

The second day I found myself at a table of epic speakers, discussing a wide array of absurdities and curiosities. It’s like the coolest meetup group you could ever wish for.

The conference made sure there was something for everyone. The last day they gave away thousands of dollars worth of prizes (one prize being a brand new MacBook) and then took everyone out to socialize in the city’s center. I saw a lot of smiling faces the entire conference.

Summary:

Pro: Something for everyone at every level
Con: That one room with no power-strips (I know I’m reaching here)
Speaker: Best speaker treatment of the year 🌟
TL:DR;
Atlanta is great at hosting big, successful, and impressive conferences. This is the ideal place to host ConnectTech, which is all of those.

Closing Notes:

Swag

Conference swag is always fun; I personally love it! Be sure to grab it, as there are lots of people from your team who will happily take it off your hands. It’s also fun to watch as companies go through swag fads.

But 2017 Isn’t Over Gant!!!

Right, but I’m done! In the upcoming months, it will become holiday season, and besides all the family events, I’m going to the Infinite Red all-team retreat (called All-treat), camping in the woods with friends, and flying to Harry Potter world! You’ve got to remember to travel for yourself!

I’ve already started lining up spots for 2018! See GantLaborde.com for the lineup as it develops.

🎉 About the author

View technical tweets and puns with @GantLaborde on Twitter, or follow him on Medium and GitHub. You can see where he’s speaking next on http://GantLaborde.com/

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