Progress DevReach couldn’t just be another conference—not in 2020. But how can you replicate the energy and connected spirit of a conference online? We made it our mission to find out.
The world of events, like many things in 2020, has had to adapt to survive. Events and conferences are still crucial sources of connection, information sharing, community building and innovation, but to say it is a challenge to replicate the effects of a typical in-person conference virtually is an understatement.
So for DevReach 2.0(20), held in October, we didn’t just try to do that. Instead, we wracked our brains to figure out where we could make it even better. We wanted to share how we did.
DevReach, an annual conference that typically brings upwards of 1,000 developers to Sofia, Bulgaria, and featuring some of the leading voices in the app dev space, was already in planning for 2020 when the pandemic changed everything. To borrow a word you’ve probably heard a lot this year, the team had to pivot, and quickly.
“From the start, we knew we didn’t want it to be just another online event,” said Sara Faatz, director of developer relations at Progress, who led the planning. Sara explained that they quickly understood the digital fatigue they would be confronting and were determined to find a way to capture some of the energy that an in-person event would have. The conversations, the networking, the community—it all had to be there, and that meant a static presentation of slides wasn’t going to cut it. They needed to get creative.
“There was always high energy no matter who was presenting.”
—Chris Ward, DevReach attendee and president and CEO of DXD Technology Solutions
Energy doesn’t come from watching slides—it comes from interacting with other people. In the end, we moved DevReach to our Twitch channel, where audiences could engage in real time with speakers via chat—and they subsequently sent almost 5,000 chat messages over the course of the week.
“The hosts were fun—and funny!”
—Kat Nelson, DevReach attendee and developer at Rural Computer Consultants
Led by community leaders and members of our developer relations team, our sessions were as interactive as possible—think more pair coding, less slide presentation. To fend off the aforementioned digital fatigue, the conference was shifted from a couple of marathon days to a full week with four hours each day. Free swag (even attendee lanyards) was hand-packed and mailed to registrants to build the excitement. The last day of the conference was, of course, a #CodeParty.
“With DevReach we aimed to shake up the virtual conference world,” said TJ VanToll, principal developer advocate at Progress, noting that virtual tech conferences were sorely in need of experimentation to boost participation and engagement. “Although I learned a lot of technical information from the event, the moments I’ll remember are the fun I had engaging with the speakers and with chat.”
“It just felt like I’m not so alone as a developer as you would think you are… it gave me a sense of community.”
—Bernadette Leigh, DevReach attendee and senior systems programmer
Building community and making it easy for people to network and get to know each other has always been a key part of what made DevReach special. Bernadette, who is pretty new to our Telerik tools, went on to describe to us how as the conference went on, she felt more comfortable with the hosts as she felt like she got to know them, and that added real value to the presentations beyond the technical content (which she also said was smoothly delivered).
“It was great to see other women in the field who are successful.”
Kat told us that her favorite part—aside from getting cool prizes, of course—was seeing other successful women. In her work she is often the only female in the room as part of a department that is 85% male. Kat came for the Angular day but liked it so much she stayed for four of the five days (and only meetings stopped her from the fifth).
“The community showed up in a beautiful way and I was humbled to work along-side such incredible community influencers (both in and out of the spotlight),” said Alyssa Nicoll, developer advocate at Progress. “I hope we can bring some of the magic that happened this year to future events, it was truly special.”
“It’s nice to know I have a place where I can ask questions, too.”
As humans, much of our best work comes when we have the support of a community behind us. Chris shared how much he enjoyed the collaborative atmosphere, with everyone coming together to help other developers—he remembers many conferences that weren’t like that. As a leader at the top of his company it’s usually other people who come to him with questions, and he especially appreciated that it was so easy to jump in and ask a question, and the host or the chat would always answer.
“Everybody makes mistakes while coding… you’re not the only one!”
Mistakes happen to everyone—especially when you’re live on screen. Seeing highly experienced developers making mistakes and needing help can make it easier for us all to take a little pressure off ourselves in our own jobs and be more creative. Not to mention, as Kat added, “it was nice to have a break from writing code all day, and to watch someone else do it.” That’s something we could all enjoy a little more of from time to time.
It took a lot of hard work from many at Progress and dozens of industry experts, but we truly couldn’t have made DevReach the success it was without the amazing developer community, thousands of whom joined us for DevReach 2.0(20)—even more than could ever have joined us in person. Many of our attendees shared with us how much they loved the format and told us they hope we keep parts of it going next time around.
“We learned an incredible amount,” noted Sara, reflecting on the event afterwards. She went on to note that there were great lessons to apply for DevReach next year, no matter what the format will be.
If you’re curious to learn more about DevReach, head on over to the DevReach 2.0(20) website, where you can view the recordings from each day.
A member of the marketing team at Progress, Danny loves all things tech and has been writing about the industry for over 12 years. He enjoys the process of making complex subjects easy to grasp. He studied both English and computer science in college because he's fascinated by languages (including code!) and never stopped.
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