APR 20, 2020
Written by M. Scott Ford

Announcing MenderCon 2020

Conference announcement banner: A celebration of software maintenance - MenderCon - May 14, 2020 - Love legacy code? Find your tribe here. Hand in the form of the American Sign Language ILY sign

I recently announced on a few different social platforms that Corgibytes and Legacy Code Rocks are hosting a conference.

Q&A

Since I published the initial post, we’ve had a lot of interest, and with that interest has come some questions. In hopes that others might find it helpful, I’d like to take a few moments to answer most of those questions here.

Why is it called “MenderCon”?

The term mender was coined by me and Andrea after I saw an ad for a Maker Fest event and I said “where’s the event for people who like to fix things?!”. That’s what I want this event to be. It’s an event for people who are passionate about mending software systems. I want to limit the use of the phrase “legacy code”. While we’re using that term to market the conference, I don’t want the phrase to be directly in the title. I’m also intentionally avoiding “virtual” in the event name. Again, that can be something that’s communicated when describing the event, but I don’t want it to be a defining feature. If the event happens again in the future, we might be able to run it as an in-person event. In that case, I don’t want to have to change the name.

Why now?

I’ve been wanting to host a conference focused on modernizing software for years. It’s been on the Corgibytes’ wish list for at least 5 years. The logistics of an in-person conference seemed overwhelming, especially because we don’t really have anyone on our team with natural event organizing talents. Since we’re an all-remote company, more than one person has proposed over the years that we try to run an all-remote conference. But with so many great in-person conferences, I was nervous that an all-remote event would not be successful.

Then COVID-19 hit. Now, all over the world, people are sheltering in place. Many in-person conferences have been canceled or indefinitely postponed. Many people are craving more opportunities for professional connection and learning. Many people are working from home for the first time.

I figured if there was any time when an all-remote conference might have a chance it would be now, and frankly with all of the stress caused by the pandemic, I need something positive to look forward to. Organizing this event has been a welcome distraction from feeling helpless about the state of the world around me.

And I think it’s incredibly important, especially right now, that we talk more intentionally about the long term maintenance and nurturing of software systems. There have been numerous reports of neglected systems being unable to adapt to the changes that are required of them, either in terms of functionality or load.

What’s an un-conference?

Simply put, an un-conference is a conference that does not have a predetermined set of speakers or talks. The people who show up to the event are the ones who decide what gets talked about.

This approach eliminates a fair bit of overhead for organizing the event. We don’t need to put out a call for proposals. We don’t need to go through proposals and decide who gets to speak. We don’t have to verify that the people who submitted proposals are still available, and we don’t have to notify everyone who didn’t get selected.

The un-conference format also creates an opportunity to elevate voices who are not normally heard from. At a traditional conference, the list of speakers and topics is curated in some form by the organizers. This can often lead to the conference schedule being dominated by people who are well known or people who have gotten practice speaking in the past. While we welcome people with speaking experience and notoriety, it’s important to me that we create a space to where those who are not normally selected have a chance to speak. In an un-conference format, anyone who wants to speak gets to speak.

So, by going with this format, there’s less work on the people organizing the event, and there’s an opportunity for new people to be heard. I call that a win-win.

Why are you doing it this way?

In addition to creating the opportunity to see some good talks, I wanted to create a space for other kinds of sessions, particularly ones that require some level of participation or discussion. With so many people working from home because of COVID-19, there are many who are craving more human interaction. I want to have the conference be a space for that. So don’t be surprised to see someone pitch a session that is simply titled something like “Let’s chat about the unique challenges of refactoring PHP”, and when you get in the room there are no slides, just someone who wants to facilitate a conversation.

What do I need to prepare to organize a session?

This depends on the kind of session that you want to run. On the simplest end, you can just prepare a topic or idea that you’d like to explore. That would be perfect for a purely discussion format. On the more complicated end, you can craft a slide deck and presentation or walk through a live coding demo. Those might work well if you plan on doing most or all of the talking during the session. I predict that many sessions are going to mix some elements of each of these approaches.

Is that the same thing as an Open Space?

I didn’t call MenderCon an Open Space, because I’m nervous about how closely we’re following the typical rules for an event that bears that description. There is a vibrant community that’s really passionate about Open Space events, and the people in that community take pride in making sure that Open Space events are done right. There were a few decisions that I made about the schedule that I felt would make it not fit the full spirit of an Open Space event, specifically, kicking the event off with a keynote and having dedicated networking time. If we were to follow the Open Space format strictly, then the keynote and networking time would be sessions like any others.

What do I do if I want to speak? Is there a CFP?

There is no CFP. If you want to speak, make sure you come to the “Pitch Session”. At the “Pitch Session” we’ll invite anyone who wants to organize a session up onto the virtual stage. There, they’ll briefly announce their session title along with a short description and the time that the session’s scheduled to happen.

What do I do if I’m not sure which session to attend?

During each of the session rounds, there are going to be several different sessions going on at a time, and it may be difficult to decide which session is the best one for you. The Open Space community employs the “Rule of Two Feet” to specify that you can leave a session at any time and join a session at any time. If you feel you’re in the wrong session, then switch to a different one. Don’t feel obligated to stay in a session for the full time just because you were there when it started. And similarly, don’t be afraid to join a session after it’s started.

Is there a website?

Not yet. :) We’ve purchased mendercon.com, but we haven’t published anything there just yet. Once it does, most if not all of the Q&A here will also be published there.

Is there a code of conduct?

Yes! This event will governed by a code of conduct based on the Contributor Covenant, version 2.0 (shout out to Legacy Code Rocks podcast guest Coraline Ada Ehmke for the awesome work on this resource)

The finalized code of conduct will be available from website once we have it published. The only difference between the reference version will be the instructs for reporting behavior that violates the code of conduct.

Will my session be recorded?

With the platform that we’re using, this is something that is decided when the session is created. If the session’s organizer would like it to be recorded, then we leave that decision up to them. We can imagine it being useful to have conversations that are not being recorded. I plan on recording the keynote and the pitch session.

What platform are you using? Why?

I was originally going to use a combination of Zoom and Trello. I was really nervous about the logistics of doing so, because I wanted for it to be very easy for people to create sessions, attend sessions, and then move from one session to another if they didn’t like the one they found themselves in. But I was determined to make it work.

Then I learned about Hopin, and I felt like it was built for exactly the kind of event that I wanted to run. There were even features that I would have had a very difficult time replicating by just using Zoom and Trello, such as virtual vendor booths and randomized 1-on-1 networking sessions.

How can I help?

I’ve had a lot of people reach out and ask how they can help. I could use some help standing up a super simple website (see above), and I’d like to have people around on the day of the event who can help with any logistical challenges that may arise. We’ll create a dedicated channel in the Legacy Code Rocks slack team to coordinate those efforts. I’d also appreciate support promoting the event. I know there are many fantastic menders out there who would have a good time attending MenderCon.

Anything else?

I’ve tried to answer all of the questions that I’ve gotten so far, but I’m sure there’s going to be more. If I missed something please ask in the comments below.