Goodbye, IT Conference

Sebastian BergmannArne BlankertsStefan Priebsch |

We had a great time with you. Together we traveled around the world. We bathed in the jubilation of the participants and maybe even made the world a little better together. But all this must end now.

Attendees of an IT conference

We will gladly admit: for a long time, we had an intimate affair with you: the IT conference. Without you, our joint company would not exist. Without you, there is no place for the PHP community's "family meetings". Without you, we lack the professional discourse that drives innovation in IT.

You are missed.

Nevertheless: we all have to make sacrifices. Some of us are just learning that their personal development – at times – must be subordinated to the society.

How many sick or possibly even dying participants is one on-site conference worth?

In the last few weeks, we experienced that conference organizers are not sure what to do. Cancel or postpone on-site conferences? Convert them into online events? This uncertainty is understandable. Who wants to be in a situation similar to airlines, the entire travel industry, or the catering trade? Nevertheless, conference organizers are in exactly this situation, because – purely sociologically seen – a conference ranks somewhere between a soccer match, a rock concert and a visit to a pub.

A conference, as every participant will confirm again and again, lives essentially from the "Hallway Track": the spontaneous, informal social interaction. This is where questions are asked, controversial discussions are held, or people simply make the experience that they in fact do not know much less than others.

With the social distancing that is necessary today, we just do not see how a conference could possibly work out. It's like in a club: it's always crowded, at the food counter, during breaks or just sitting in a much too small breakout room.

A conference where, as a speaker, you only show up for your own talk and otherwise stay in the room or leave immediately, is unimaginable for us. Especially for us speakers, the exchange with the participants is important, because, after all, we do not get paid to speak. Conferences are where we build and maintain a lot of customer relationships.

A conference with significantly fewer participants in significantly larger rooms is hardly economically feasible for the organizer.

Should online conferences be held instead? The Hallway Track will be missing. The special feeling of being on the road, being away from home, will be missing. The total immersion in the conference topics, in a world of its own, is simply not possible online.

We have decided not to attend any more conferences in 2020. This decision hurts both emotionally and professionally.

We will sorely miss the visibility as speakers or keynote speakers. A small consulting firm like ours gets most of its business from "word of mouth". But that no longer works when we are not present at events, and certainly not when there is no platform for our satisfied customers to tell others.

We're neither doctors nor immunologists. But we understand that the death toll in this pandemic is directly related to how quickly the disease is spreading. A slow spread can only be achieved by avoiding as many personal contacts as possible.

Perhaps it hurts us most, but: conferences are currently not absolutely necessary. Conferences are dispensable on the short term, maybe even in the medium term. We must ensure that as many of us as possible stay healthy for as long as possible. We owe that to ourselves, our families, and the society at large.

Various organizers are announcing conferences for next fall and ask us if we would like to give a talk.

We do not want to be complicit in any social pressure to relax necessary protective measures.

As IT professionals, we have all the tools and know-how to work from home and network online. It remains to be seen which formats this type of networking will need, and whether it will have to be an online conference.

Is this a temporary farewell or a goodbye for good? Who can say? We look forward to the future with curiosity and patience.

Stay healthy and keep a safe distance.