Writer/Editor focused on technology, marketing, customer experience design and more
The most predictable thing about most conferences used to be that, in the days leading up to them, you would be flooded with e-mails about your registration, new speaker additions and party invites.
Today, the most predictable thing about most conferences is that they are being cancelled, like Google I/O was yesterday.
“Due to concerns around the coronavirus (COVID-19), and in accordance with health guidance from the CDC, WHO, and other health authorities, we have decided to cancel the physical Google I/O event at Shoreline Amphitheatre,” Google said in a statement that was published on TechCrunch and elsewhere. “Over the coming weeks, we will explore other ways to evolve Google I/O to best connect with and continue to build our developer community. We’ll continue to update the Google I/O website.”
This, of course, follows in the footsteps of Facebook's F8, and others will certainly follow. As a journalist, this doesn't mean I lose out in the way a regular attendee would, but the coverage I provide has (traditionally, hopefully) served as a way for my audience to get at least some of the takeaways and other value vicariously.
For actual developers, though, it means less time to connect with peers, fewer opportunities to be as engaged as you might be in a talk where you're physically immersed, in front of a stage. These were the right decisions to make, but the way I see many people responding, in some cases, feels wrong.
Turning your back on what's happening within the Android ecosystem is obviously not feasible for developers, but neither is shrugging your shoulders and assuming your professional development will somehow take care of itself without going to these conferences.
Although I'm sure it's tempting (when you work in the tech industry) to offer a technology solution to a problem like this one, meanwhile, I was uneasy by a company that pitched me touting its ability to host virtual events. It seemed opportunistically early, at best.
Virtual conferences may be able to offer an alternate way to deliver the content or information that was scheduled for an event like Google I/O, but that only speaks to one half of the experience.
Even when there was no risk of a conference being cancelled, I've walked around plenty of convention centers and expo halls where people may as well have stayed home.
They weren't just spending all their time looking at their phones. They were just hanging out in common areas rather than taking in an extra session, or staring off into space even when a speaker was trying to impart something they had spent their entire careers trying to learn.
Few conferences are great experiences based purely on passively consuming what happens. Like any other learning activity, it's what you bring to it as an attendee.
This means being proactive, intentional and making an effort because you see it as an investment in yourself, what you bring to your team and how you can better serve your customers. The Coronavirus can't touch any of these areas.
As the calendar of developer conferences and other technology events starts to empty out, here are a few ideas I'd suggest to continue thinking and acting like a the most driven attendee:
Rather than hope fewer events get cancelled, or try to find a way to almost feel as though you're still there, an alternate response to this problem might be developing a conference-like experience for one. If nothing else, you'll be more likely to get even more out of Google I/O or similar events the next time they're held in person again.