Big and little conferences
This year I went to one big conference and one little conference. Here are some quick notes about the tradeoffs.
Big, company-run conferences are great networking opportunities because “everyone” is there, and parties often spring up for smaller groups in the evenings. They have many high-quality talks about core topics that are appropriate for huge audiences.
However, these talks are often limited by corporate constraints. At WWDC you won't hear a talk about iOS jailbreaking. At GDC, while you might have a panel on unionization, you might not get a neutral moderator.
Small, community-run conferences are less good for networking due to raw numbers of attendees, but you learn names and faces much more easily, especially from year to year. You can certainly get to know people that way at larger conferences, but it takes more effort from people like me who don't do it naturally.
And while the quality of speakers is much more variable, so is the range of topics! That aspect works in your favor if you want to give a talk. Unlike a huge conference with a competitive CFP, you have a fighting chance of getting a presentation slot.
There are Goldilocks conferences like PyCon which combine guileless community building with huge attendance and high quality. If you're in a community that has one of these, you're very lucky.
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