TL;DR HR departments of IT companies have discovered software craftsmanship conferences & realized their recruitment potential - this has turn the money tap on, but the pressure to make the conferences more approachable for any developer (that's what recruiters expect) results in quantity slowly taking over quality. That's why I recommend you to get interested in either more specialized or just more local community-based events - in many cases these succeed in retaining the enthusiasm & substantive value.
My calendar used to be split not into months, but rather periods between software conferences. BuildStuff here, CraftConf here, DevDay here ... - well established yearly routine that I've kept fine-tuning regularly. I've enjoyed learning about new stuff, interesting accomplishments, controversial ideas. I used to ride the positive vibe of energy spread by enthusiastic orgs, fledgling new communities or just the masses of my alikes around.
But this is the past. And not just because I've grown older.
Large, "generic", "software craftsmanship" conferences are still happening of course & the new ones keep spawning every month or so, but the format has changed a lot:
- they are not organised by enthusiastic tekkies, but Enterprise HR / headhunters / outsourcing companies
- they are targeted at local (job) market (to attract local listener)
- sessions are adjusted to entry/mid-level participants (median of engineer experience level in the market) - which is not bad per se, but in the past the usual target were so called "passionate developers" (geeks among the geeks) while now each session starts with the description of what's "microservice", "TDD", "bounded context", ...
Former enthusiasm & authenticity are gone. So is the feeling of participation in something special. What's left is a dev-recruitment-fest, properly fuelled with cash from sponsors. Not a surprise, keeping in mind the current condition of the job market.
I've got nothing against the sponsoring, I can only suspect how hard it was to collect funds in "conference pioneering times", but I can't ignore the fact that the mainstream of conferences these days got freaking boring. Take two random ones & they are like two drops of water: identical, tasteless, the memory of them dries out fast without any trace.
Go "underground" ...
Fortunately it doesn't mean that all the conferences suck big-time: what works for me personally is aiming for specialisation. The more narrow the niche, the more focused the community, the more clear leitmotif of the conference - the better it gets. Speakers are more motivated to come up with something more substantial, audience is more demanding & prefers more advanced talks with raised knowledge threshold level. Even if the event is of the smaller scale, it's perceived as more important (due to being unique), so it attracts interesting announcements, premieres, even "unofficial info leaks" :)
That's why I can do nothing else but praise the recent Elixir Conf EU 2017 that took place few weeks ago in beautiful Barcelona. I'm not going to pretend that the event was perfect - of course it wasn't & there's certainly room for improvement. Nevertheless, it was by far the best conference I've attended in at least 2 years - the sum of content & passion put into this event could easily cover quite a few similar events. Even despite the fact that:
- there were just two tracks (well - quality over quantity)
- in some cases (especially during the lightning talks) speakers got a bit carried away by their enthusiasm ;>
- obviously both sponsoring & recruitment were present during the event - but fortunately in this case they didn't overshadow the real content
What did I like most? Well, it's rather hard to beat the opportunity to meet & chat with people like your favourite language creator, leading web framework creator or major package manager creator, but ... I was pleasantly surprised hearing what kind of companies adopt Elixir (& already use it in production) - I guess that names like Square Enix, Bleacher Report or CCP Games (creators of EVE: Online) do ring a bell.
I've also noted another very positive shift within the community: Elixir devs tend to talk far less about hyper-scalability, distributing systems & millions of parallel connections. Of course these topics are still present, but what has got finally more attention is Elixir's expressiveness in terms of modelling the business logic. The examples (take from the sessions or just the corridor conversations) of "do more with less" were truly captivating - especially if you try to clash them with "enterprise reality" peppered with some heavyweight platforms.
... or go local
Does it mean that the only interesting events are the super-specialized tech-hipster fests about technologies used by ~0.1% of dev-population? Of course not, there are other ways - e.g. look for the local events around you, held by local communities & led by passionate madcaps :) Meet-ups, collective hacking sessions, User Groups - all the forums where local passionates find a safe environment to come, share their knowledge & hear about other people experiences. Events with lower budgets, without foreign speakers, but with far more enthusiasm & content instead.