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Watching conference talks as a group

This week at work I organised a lunchtime session to watch a conference talk together with other developers.

I ran it to see whether enough people would be interested in doing it as a regular thing. A bunch of people showed up, so I plan on keeping it going!

The idea is very similar to a book club - we watch a talk together, and then we talk about it. I was inspired by a similar thing we ran at my last job. We called it “conference talks we love” and I think it was itself inspired by Papers We Love.

I really like this format because I’m unlikely to attend many conference talks in person, and even though loads of great talks are available online, it’s hard to find the time to watch them. But it’s easier to make time for stuff if you make it a social thing, and it's a great opportunity to discuss some of the problems we run into at work. It's also quite a nice way to get to know people outside of your immediate team.

How I organised it

I was initially hesitant to organise anything because I wasn’t sure if people would be interested. But one of my coworkers mentioned to me the idea of running some kind of book club, and so I floated the idea of watching conference talks instead. She had some good ideas for stuff to watch, and knowing at least one person would show up encouraged me to set a time for it.

The biggest barrier was finding a space in the office for us to meet, with a monitor to show the talk on. But I discussed this with my manager and he suggested an open space we could use. He also suggested that if noise was a problem we could all sync up on our laptops and watch with headphones. This wasn't an issue in the end, but it's a good backup option.

I also decided to run it on a friday, because our office is very quiet then (lots of people work from home) so it’s much easier to secure the space.

I posted on our developer slack channel a few times, firstly to let people know it was happening a couple of days in advance, then again on friday morning, and then a final reminder when we starting. Two of us were joining in remotely, so they watched along on youtube and then joined us for the discussion via a slack call. Miraculously we had no audio/technology issues, so everything went quite smoothly.

The talk we watched was Taming Monoliths Without Microservices from RubyConf Australia, which led into a discussion of how our own services are structured, and the difficulty of identifying where to introduce code boundaries. We also considered whether the particular problems discussed in the talk are encouraged by the Rails framework, which makes it really easy to just pass ActiveRecord models around. We all come from different technology backgrounds so it was interesting to discuss different programming languages besides ruby.

What’s next

I’m hoping to keep this running as a regular thing, but I haven’t decided how frequently to run it yet. I might try doing it weekly and see how that goes.

I've set up a trello board to capture ideas for other talks we can watch together, so I'm going to share that around and pick some for the next couple of sessions.

So far I’ve only invited people within my own part of the organisation (we sit on our own floor so we're a bit separated from everyone else), but if there’s enough interest we could extend that to all the developers. This would probably mean finding a bigger space though so I’m going to wait and see how it goes.

I also want to come up with a cool name for it, as I’ve so far been referring to it as tech-talk-club-thing which isn’t very catchy. If you have any ideas let me know!

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