My buddy Patroklos Papapetrou couldn’t cut it to the chase any better; Greece has finally made it to the software development conferences map.
In the next months, at least six big conferences are about to take place in various big cities of Greece. And how we came to this is not an event but rather a process.
First of all it appears we’ve reached the critical mass of professionals with interest in such kind of events. I know there have been conferences and symposiums for years before but these were mostly positioned towards academics. The past few years we’ve been seeing more and more conferences with talks on subjects born out of the everyday struggle in the industry. And more and more people seeing value in them. It appears the professional software developers “guild” is coming strong in a period of severe economic turbulence in the country. Great news for both professionals and companies seeking to absorb them.
This year being my second getting involved in the organization of DEVit, I am pretty sure about at least one thing. Organizing and executing a conference is no easy job. It involves planning, managing and coordinating, almost orchestrating I might say, lots of stakeholders down to the minute. Definitely not a task for team of two or three. So how have we come to have six conferences in various cities in Greece? As I see it, great effort comes out of the communities orbiting around common interests. Software developers are one of the very few professions, maybe second to doctors and medical professionals, that favor meet-ups, get-togethers and synergy so much. And if you look closely, you will discover yourself there has been an almost Darwinian evolution in the shaping of communities interested in technology the past few years. Look no further and you will discover that behind every major conference there are excited volunteers from local communities like SKGTech, GreeceJS, Agile Greece, the Java Hellenic User Group and even local meet-ups. We grew as a few colleagues having beers every once in a while, to slowly inviting others and meeting periodically. Then we started giving talks to each other. We got to know our colleagues, we nurtured synergy and grew our meet-ups to packed rooms. And when we discovered there are quite many like us with the same lust for knowledge and networking, we took it one step further. We started organizing conferences!
Oh, wait. There’s another thing I learned being part of DEVit’s organizational committee. Conferences need money to pull through! Like, lots of them. So there is yet another tipping point in the process. Suddenly there was money. This is one of the most interesting parts of the process you see because you would expect total financial draught from a country who owes 175% of its GDP. So where did money come from? Three things: international sponsors, local startups and local businesses cultural shift.
Let’s take it one by one. How international companies like GitHub, Microsoft, Mozilla and others came to trust a newly-found conference to sponsor? Honestly, I am not so sure. But if I was to bet my money on it, I’d say because they somehow recognized this exact process we are talking about here. Thankfully, we were lucky to have some local fellows, some “silent heroes” that have worked for that recognition to happen. You know who you are guys and thank you so much. In any case, back to sponsoring 101, what sponsoring an event gets you in exchange is essentially exposure. And exposure only makes sense if it comes in magnitude. You need the critical mass and you need the communities supportto achieve that. Throw in the fact that these events are also still one of their kind, and you’ve got your ROI.
A part of me wants to believe that they also heard a word or two from attendees or speakers of previous years events, but maybe that’s not true just yet.
And then, there are local startups too. Great people from Skroutz, Workable, Taxibeat, E-Food, Netscan and others who were once members in our meet-ups and founding members of the communities that followed, felt the need to give back. Support the ecosystem. Endorse the cause. Do they care about the exposure? Not so much I believe. They are just our buddies who acknowledge the effort and want to stand their ground by us in the battle.
Finally, and frankly quite interestingly, we have the local businesses. Organizations like Intrasoft International, OTS and Beta CAE Systems suddenly are willing to support small but admirable efforts from local communities. Why? Do they care about the exposure? How an e-government software company like OTS can benefit from its exposure to a Web Developers conference? It can’t. It’s not exposure they seek for. The big ships are suddenly trying to find new ways to navigate through the rough waters. You see, there is a talent shortage in Greece. Smart people are fleeing to companies abroad and budget cuts do not allow big organizations to invest so much in training junior people. They came to understand that they need to get closer to the “pool”, not through their corporate austere hiring workflows but in the form of pitching brochures in swag-bags and friendly delegates in sneakers mingling with the attendees flock. Sounds like wolves disguised as sheep, but not really. They straightforwardly want to hire people. Conferences like Voxxed Thessaloniki and DEVit are great channels to attract talent. And, be no fool, big organizations like these are great opportunities for career growth in a country whipped by huge unemployment percentages.
So, in terms of how I see it, that’s the story or the process that got us here. In a timespan of five years we’ve gone from ten member local meet-ups to international events with hundreds of people. Excitingly, the process is constantly hitting milestones along the roadmap and continuously evolving.
As a bonus, here are X reasons to attend at least one of the conferences taking place in Greece: