SoCraTes Germany 2015 has again been a conference full of superlatives — or should I say “unconference”, given that it consists mainly of a two-day Open Space? Whatever you call it, we had more participants (over 180), more proposed sessions (90 – 100 sessions per day), and more sponsors than ever.
Speaking of sponsors: Of course TIM Group was among them, and all contributions were spent on reducing hotel bills for participants. Not that it was an expensive event anyway: the participants cover their hotel room, breakfast and dinner, and that’s it. But let me start at the beginning…
Six or maybe even seven years ago, my boyfriend Andreas Leidig decided to create a conference for developers — after all, developers deliver the software. If you remove all managers from a software project, chances are you might get something usable out of it, but if you remove all developers, well, I’d say your chances are zero. There were lots of agile events for managers, coaches and other “tree-huggers”, but no general-purpose developer conferences along the lines of software craftsmanship and improvement.
So Andreas created a developer conference, and named it SoCraTes: Software Craftsmanship and Testing Conference. It was designed as a two-day event falling on a Friday and Saturday so that both the developer and the developer’s employer would contribute time to the event. Arrival on the previous evening was mandatory in order to start the first day early and in a relaxed fashion. Another important factor was that it was held off-site — everybody stayed in the conference hotel, which we had to ourselves, allowing us to be together from the first yoga and jogging workout before breakfast to the last beer, song, or boardgame long after midnight.
We started our first SoCraTes in 2011, with the help of a small handful of friends. The first year we had one day of talks and one day of Open Space, because we were afraid companies would not let their employees attend a conference without a programme. The feedback of the 50+ participants reassured us we didn’t need the programmed talks, and from the second year we ran SoCraTes as a two-day Open Space. We sold out in the second year with about 75 participants, confirming our decision. On Saturday evening of the second year, a group of participants decided that they had not yet had enough, so they extended their stay and spontaneously ran a Coderetreat on Sunday. This Coderetreat is now an integral (though optional) part of SoCraTes, accompanied by workshops and other half- or full-day sessions.
In the third year, we sold out so quickly (literally within a minute) that we felt the need to do something. Of course it was nice for everybody who could register, but thinking of those who could not get a spot diminished the joy quite a bit. Also, the SoCraTes “brand” had expanded to the UK, where a sibling event was being run by the London Software Craftsmanship Community. Meeting friends from abroad was an important part of attending SoCraTes; how could this reliably happen with such high demand and such a small number of participant slots?
After some discussion among the organizers, we decided to experiment with increasing the size of the event. We were curious — and also a bit tense — because we wondered whether it would still be the same event, with the same familiar feel we had come to love so much.
The fourth SoCraTes took place last year with twice as many participants, approximately 150. And it was amazing! Of course the event felt different. I was not able to speak to everybody any more. Everything took longer, from the signup to the marketplace to walking around the new hotel, which was of course a bit bigger than the previous one. But at the same time, the SoCraTes spirit was there just like the years before, as the seasoned participants carried it over while the newbies blended in naturally. We heard many positive voices and read enthusiastic blog posts. Our experiment had been a success, and so we did not think twice about continuing in this direction. In 2015, we increased the number of participants to 180, and next year we will try to cross the 200 mark. Although I will slowly pass the management of SoCraTes on to the next “generation” of organizers, I’m looking forward to seeing SoCraTes thrive together with its sibling conferences that sprout all over Europe.
Again, my thanks go to TIM Group and all our other sponsors for supporting SoCraTes and encouraging their employees to participate!
Oh, by the way, are you curious now? Please feel free to have a look at http://www.socrates-conference.de.