Technical conferences for ourselves: our experience, mistakes and achievements

Published on June 13, 2018

Technical conferences for ourselves: our experience, mistakes and achievements

    At Naumen, we ourselves organize a technical conference. We called it Devel Camp (from "developer"). For our employees, it has become a good alternative to open professional conferences.

    The main difference between an internal conference and an open one is that we exchange views on what applies only to our company. If any technologies and processes are discussed, it means that this is already used by us or can be applied (in the opinion of our employees, and not external experts).

    At conferences of a different format, participants are usually afraid to show themselves or their company not sufficiently advanced or competent. At Devel Camp, this is irrelevant - we discuss everything that happens in the company as openly as possible.

    And, of course, we have no advertising or veiled advertising.

    Are internal conferences really needed? What is the profit for employees, speakers, organizers and the company? How to select reports and make the conference interesting? We hope that our experience can be useful for you.

    Devel Camp in numbers

    A bit about Devel Camp

    We hold Devel Camp 2 times a year (spring and autumn).

    The conference consists of several tracks:
    • we send reports to the technical track that will be of interest to programmers and engineers;
    • analytic - we collect reports on project management, analytics and requirements management, testing and developing user interfaces;
    • In the general track reports are collected concerning life in the company, communications, management and business. Reports in this track should be of interest to any employee of the company.

    How to select reports

    Selection of reports begins about a month and a half before the conference. They are selected by a group of program directors - our employees with extensive experience in participating in conferences. This year, the program committee includes:
    • Alexander Chernin - program director of Devel Camp, head of the robotic services group in the Department of Contact Centers;
    • Yuri Kalemi - program co-director of Devel Camp, architect of the development group in the Department of Contact Centers;
    • Svetlana Ayupova - program co-director of Devel Camp, head of Internet marketing in the department of cloud technologies.

    The task of the committee is to find reports and help the rapporteurs to prepare a presentation, the material of which will be useful to the audience.

    Search for reports consists of several stages:
    1. Corporate mailing a letter with the announcement of the preparation for Devel Camp. In it, we write to employees “if you have something to tell, contact the organizers.” As a result, 70% of applications for reports come to us in response letters.
    2. There are also reports that the program committee finds - 20%. We know about some projects that we consider significant for the company, and purposefully we are going to ask our colleagues to talk about them.
    3. Some of the topics remain undisclosed from the previous Devel Camp: unrealized ideas or the development of stories already told. This is another 5%.
    4. Separately, 1-2 reports from company executives are agreed.

    After listening to the reports, we distribute them into tracks.

    Criteria for the selection of reports:
    • interesting material (for the listener to say: "Maybe this has nothing to do with me, but it's cool that the guys are doing this! They have interesting and necessary tasks! They are good fellows");
    • reflection of global trends in the development of software products that have already reached our company or are about to get there;
    • topics that do not involve deep immersion in any technology or area of ​​expertise.

    We try to make reports lasting 15-20-25 minutes. This is enough for a storytelling story, and not enough for a deep technological report. In the second case, we invite employees to share a short version of the report or simply hook the audience on the topic, and tell the full version separately at some nearest conference or meeting, for example, the Java User Group. Or just make a separate report in the office.

    Separate reports and meetings - this is important, because we do not limit the activity of our knowledge-sharing employees to the Devel Camp framework. On the contrary, we want to be a catalyst for activities inside and outside the company.

    What difficulties we face

    The main difficulty in selecting and preparing reports is that knowledge holders are often employees with no public speaking experience. We try not to cut them off from participation, but, on the contrary, make every effort to help improve the report. It takes the lion's share of the time of the program directors in preparation. The same report can be told very well, but you can - and at all disgusting and incomprehensible.

    Another difficulty is when the speaker seeks to make the topic as narrow and professional as possible (this is only suitable when the public is homogeneous, but this is not our case).

    How much time is spent on preparation

    Calendar time to prepare takes about one and a half months. But, of course, most of the work is done in the last two or three weeks, when the preliminary reports run.

    HR-managers are still doing a lot of work, they have the entire organizational component with booking, logistics, catering, printing and so on. It only seems that the main thing in the conference is content. In practice, there are no trifles in this matter.

    What we see profit from the internal conference for the organizers, speakers and staff

    Why does an internal conference need a company?

    We in Naumen believe that it is impossible to introduce new technologies on orders from above. Our General Director does not issue orders, such as “that from the first of August machine learning will be used in all projects of the company”. In a project or product, a certain technology does not appear before managers and developers realize that this technology is really necessary, and it solves some customer problems.

    Therefore, it is very important that the groups that were the first to get new experience tell about it. And other groups could try to transfer this experience to themselves and not be afraid of failures. Successes colleagues - this is a great motivator. And Devel Camp in this story is a good catalyst.

    It is also important that employees know what their colleagues are doing. The presence of horizontal connections in the company is incredibly important: knowledge and experience will spread much faster (everyone knows specialists in some tasks or technologies from other departments. And if necessary, it is always clear who to contact).

    In addition, Devel Camp allows you to get to know and socialize in an informal setting for employees from different projects and cities.

    And I want to believe that Devel Camp increases the involvement of employees in the life of the company, which ultimately has a positive effect on loyalty to the employer.

    What we do not expect from the internal conference

    We do not perceive Devel Camp as professional training. This is a way to learn something useful and new. We have too diverse public: analysts, developers of different directions, testers, marketing specialists, project managers, and so on. To delve into individual topics, the conference must be very narrow and split up into ten tracks. The last time in the technical track, we had reports from a support engineer, a Java developer, a tester, a mobile application developer, and DevOps.

    How the topics of the reports change

    The themes are definitely changing as technologies evolve and Naumen evolves with them.

    Several years ago, an active transition to TDD (Test-Driven Development) was relevant for us, many of our products went through interface redesign, we began to actively use cloud solutions and package our solutions as cloud solutions.

    In recent years, machine learning has not passed by us. It is already obvious that everyone is tired of this topic and does not want to listen only to theory. We need practical results within the company, and we are doing it.

    Now our priority is to develop products and projects in the concept of “digital business transformation”. This means that we should not just come and automate the client’s business processes “as is” or “as it should,” but help the business to change its business with the help of new technologies.

    For us, the actual development of products based on CX / UX, testing hypotheses, the transfer of focus from backend- to frontend- and mobile-development, machine learning and the readiness of our data for analysis.

    But, of course, on the horizon of 5-10 years, other significant transformations await us.

    What we want to bring new

    We plan to do something like a manual or a lesson on a good report. To explain that 10 slides with the theory of small print is bad, and one vivid and vivid example is good. That reading texts from slides is bad, and joking for discharge is good. What is better to say in simple language, and make the slides understandable. We are confident that such simple truths will immediately raise the level of reports.

    Well, and more :)

    And we also want interest groups around Devel Camp to arise with their meetings, seminars, blogs, chat rooms, get-togethers ... So that employees have a desire to communicate with their colleagues. This is important, useful and cool.