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How to bootstrap your first developer conference

We were stoked to pull off the first Ory Summit in October 2021, bringing
together an all-star group of developers who presented on the diverse ways in which they use Ory open source products. We bootstrapped the two-day Ory Summit with a core team of three people, supported by the rest of Ory, plus the presenters, members of our open source community who were generous with their time and energy.

All Ory Summit 2021 presentations can be watched again here.

Normally such events are executed with three times the amount of resources and
time, so we had to find an efficient framework for making our first conference a
success. In retrospect, we learned loads about how to run a live digital event
for developer communities, and that’s what we want to share in this article.

Why we held the Summit

Digital human communities usually center around recurring events that bring them
together in one place to share a communal spirit, exchange ideas, and get to
know each other. The Ory Summit is the first recurring event for the Ory
Developer Community.

Ory services provide free and open identity infrastructure for a lot of different platforms – examples include an Anime media aggregator called Animeshon, or SumUp, a payments company specializing in solutions for small businesses. We thought our developer community would enjoy more opportunities to share the challenges and solutions that arise as they integrate Ory services.

So you want to bootstrap a developer conference?

1. The Basics

  • Know your audience

It is hard to overstate how important this is. If you know your audience well,
you'll understand what they expect from a community event and how to reach and
engage them best. If you lack a clear picture of who your audience is, you may
cast the net too wide. Ask yourself: Do you want to organize an event for a
wide audience or the members of your community?

  • Good internet connection

This is self-explanatory. If your internet connection is not tailored to
support high-quality streaming, you'll have a bad time. 4-5mb/s up speed
should be the minimum to stream in decent quality; more is better!

  • Keep it simple

Don't overcomplicate the event. In practice, this means you have to cut
certain activities/parts of the event. If a half-comatose person can follow
your event proceedings, organization, and planning: you're doing it right. If
people need a half-hour introduction into how everything works and they still
don't get it, you have a problem, officer.

2. The Stack

If you have nothing but the basics mentioned before and some frontend skills, we
recommend the following for your tech stack:

It's free and easy to stream on Youtube, performance is good, and it's unlikely that your stream goes down. Plus, most people know the platform.

  • Chat

We use Slack for chats. Discord is also an option, plus a myriad of other chat apps. If you already have a chat platform for your community, just use that!

  • Authentication

GitHub OAuth. Most developers have a GitHub account. If you want an email/password option and more control, we recommend using Ory Cloud.

3. The Preparation

  • Prepare talks, workshops and find speakers:

This could be an article by itself so we'll keep it brief. Since you have
clearly defined your goals and audience for the conference, finding suitable
topics, workshops and speakers should come naturally. Keep your eye out for
opportunities; talk to your team, users, top community members, and
grandmother about presenting, organizing a workshop, or managing a Q&A
session. You may also want to publish a "Call For Papers". A CFP describes the
themes, topics, and formalities of the conference and lists important
information such as deadlines or the format of submissions.

Once we had all the speakers, workshops, and sessions lined up, we sent out a
"Speakers Package" to onboard speakers. The package contained a collection of
banners/logos/cards for social media and a step-by-step guide on how to use
the event platform and ensure smooth, stress-free performance on the day of
the event.

  • Organize backup presentations:

Hope for the best and plan for the worst. As with any live event, it’s
necessary to plan for last-minute cancellations or emergencies. Line up at
least a couple of replacement talks, which can come from your team or anyone
else you feel comfortable asking to be a replacement. You can also use group
discussions or ad-hoc workshops/hacking tutorials as backups, but keep in mind
that those require extra time and effort to plan. If all goes well and no
backups are required on event day, plan for a one-off session or a "surprise"
session near the end of the event to make use of one of them.

  • Practice with a dry run:

Create an environment that lets you simulate the real event as accurately as
possible. Ask members of your team/friends/relatives to act as fake visitors
or presenters. Don't do too many dry runs to preserve the goodwill of the
lovely people helping you. My specific advice: do one initial dry run followed
by one final "dress rehearsal". Feedback should be shared after the first dry
run and been taken care of when doing the dress rehearsal, which should
resemble a finalized version of the event.

  • Promote the event:

Our main channels for promoting the Ory Summit are the Ory Community Slack,
our newsletter, word-of-mouth, banners on our website, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The most effective were our Slack, newsletter, and word of mouth. The optimal
place to market your event depends on where you interact most with your
community. In our context, personal connections and word-of-mouth are more
powerful means than traditional ads. We also promoted the conference on our
GitHub, some developer conference lists, and in team members' personal
networks. There are many ways to promote a conference and it's one of the most
crucial ingredients of a successful event.

4. The Event

Seemingly a million things occur in the days leading up to a conference. Here
are some general tips to ensure success:

  • Don't panic.
  • Keep the team and yourself fed, watered, and as well-rested as possible.
  • Double-check the technical infrastructure before and during the event, including equipment for recording, streaming, audio, and network connectivity.
  • Have fun.
  • Celebrate with an after-party 🥳.

5. What else?

Remember to keep it simple: Some things are mandatory, like a proper Code of Conduct (the geekfeminism CoC or the Berlin CoC are good examples), or good audio quality (encourage speakers to use headsets/earpieces with boom microphones instead of AirPods). Other features are optional for your first bootstrapped developer conference.

Here are several topics that we didn't delve into, but should be considered:

  • Code of Conduct & Inclusivity
  • Audio & Video Quality Optimization
  • Visual Branding
  • Landing Page
  • Interaction with Audience/Q&A
  • Interactive Workshops
  • Merchandise
  • Sponsors
  • Tickets (Free/Paid) ...and much more

6. After the event

  • Publish recorded presentations:

    Remember to get permission from the speakers to do this!

  • Do a retrospective to get feedback:

    We sent out an exit survey that 10% of the attendees filled out and asked Ory
    team members to share feedback. Here are a few things we want to improve at
    the next Ory Summit:

  1. Use a simple event platform.
  2. Publish recordings directly after the sessions.
  3. Plan backups earlier.
  4. More content for non-technical people.
  5. More workshops & beginner sessions.
  • Analyze the data:

    This depends on what you collected. Our main source of data was the exit
    interview and some attendance metrics collected on the platform.

  • Organize the next event:

    Take a deep breath, and begin planning your next event.

Ory Summit 2022 ⛰️

In light of how much fun we had at our first event, we are stoked for the Ory Summit 2022. Preparation has already begun and we will soon publish a call for papers and more. If the global health situation permits, there will be an option to attend the Ory Summit in person this year. It will take place in Q2/Q3 – the exact date coming soon.

We have many things planned for this year. While not wanting to spoil the
surprise, I think this is going to be the biggest Ory event ever 😁.

Thanks for reading and participating in the Ory Summit 2021. If you want to participate or help in any way, please reach out [via email( or on our chat.

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