An Independent Conference

Independent – an important word in a lot of vocabularies, especially in the vocabulary of someone who is doing something for the community. Yes, for the community – as in the community, not as in self-promotion, that would be a different option. :)
Putting your own company as a principal sponsor without putting real money into the conference is called self-promotion, in my books. There are so many companies that claim their events to be independent, while selling their & their own interests – and please read it write here in caps: THERE IS NO PROBLEM WITH MARKETING AND/OR SELLING. The problem is when it is being presented as a community-based & independent one, because there is a very clear separation – at least for me.

I am always coming back to SQLPort Community, which in order to prevent any cult of personality, established the maximum number of presentations per person in a given year – just 2 (two).
In the 8.5 years we have had multiple people who insisted to do more (and even someone suggesting to do a presentation on every single meeting), but we always kept our identity and with no lack of current or new speakers (while introducing new ones – I would say that the most known Data Platform speakers in Portugal had their start at SQLPort), preserving the community identity and most importantly – our independence.

Being Independent is a tough choice, it requires a significant courage & resistance capacity. Resisting people and companies who believe that they own you because of X or Y, or some special personalities who believe and demand their entitlement for their rights and special treatment. In a good year, in a rich country you can have a luxury to refuse anyone (speaker or/and sponsor), but in the less rich environment, you will have to navigate the common sense while keeping your independence as a sail, because one it is gone – it will never come back.
Once you sell-out, there is no easy way of earning back the respect of the community.

Being Independent as a conference means that you are looking to provide the best content possible (from your own point of view, naturally), ignoring the friendships, focusing on what makes sense and especially what makes part of the conferences target & spirit. I won’t go into the details of how hard it is, and how personal relationships can suffer because of that, but unless a grown adult understands the concept of building an independent conference, there is no way of teaching the basics of the game.

An interesting step aside would be all the recommendations of how to organise & run the conference, that would come from the people who do not run & organise anything similar. I guess that being a father of 3 children already taught me the lesson that the most advices of how to handle them comes mostly from people who has either 1 or no children at all. Dear friends, let me share with you that you have got no idea. No idea at all, what stands behind, what drives which decision and while your comments are truly welcome – you have no idea, and you will not have any idea – because nobody is going to share with you all the details of how hard it is to navigate a real storm. Either you have been there – or not, and there is no book which shall teach you that. Plus, the storms can be so different, so what your friends told you can be actually from different waters and in the different time of the year. :)

Running an independent conference will bring you some surprises, such as:

  • you will be accused as a sell-out of any company/companies you will associate with;
  • most companies will promise to sponsor you right until it will come to do so;
  • some companies will bail-out because there are no “decision-makers” and/or they can’t sell their product/services, while keep on claiming their community roots & spirit – not understanding that the community events are all about giving and not about receiving;
  • people who will promise to volunteer, shall not show up at the moment when they are needed.

Also, note that Open Source does not mean automatically as independent. A lot of commercial companies with commercial interests have open-source projects.
A Vendor who is organising an Open-Source Conference is not organising and independent conference, not at all.
A vendor with an Open-Source project who is organising a conference is most probably not organising and independent conference, unfortunately.

Organising any conference takes a lot of effort, resources and money. While finding crazy volunteers (similar-thinking individuals) is possible, getting some resources is pretty hard but still possible in the modern world – but the money will still be the most difficult part. The part that will take a serious test of your independence, but when you succeed – it will be well worth it, because your independence shall claim to be able to withstand the test.

Take a detailed look around and discover how many independent conferences are around.
Yeap, that few. :(
If you are still considering that it is important to have someone around who will tell you how the things are really functioning, without any marketing soap – think about supporting by sponsoring/speaking/volunteering.
Do it today, because tomorrow it just might be too late.

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