I recently attended the .NET Fringe 2017 conference in Portland, OR – in fact, I’m on the plane back now as I write this.
This year I was honored to be asked to kick off the conference with a talk, which you can read more about here.
Since this way my third year attending the conference and it fast became my favorite, I want to write up some thoughts on what I think sets .NET Fringe uniquely apart from others – particularly other conferences based around Microsoft projects.
Community is Central
The conference isn’t based around a product launch. It’s not based around a cult of personality. It’s based around a welcoming community with a huge diversity of thought and talent. This is crucial for any conference that involves technical talks, I think, but .NET Fringe has classically gone above and beyond to attract attendees and organizers that are hugely passionate about the .NET development community and moving things forward.
.NET Fringe is lucky to have some pretty well-known and admired attendees – folks who I would consider luminaries in the .NET field have attended for years. This year we had Scott Hanselman, Jon Galloway, Immo Landwerth & Karel Zikmund from the .NET Framework team, and Ted Neward. And I’m only scratching the surface; that’s everyone I thought of off the top of my head in the 10 seconds before I decided to stop boring you with name-dropping.
…And Their Accessibility
But far from their mere attendance of the event, what really blows me away every year is how personable and accessible all these people are, and how the conference space encourages that. There is no cult of personality at .NET fringe, because everyone there has a lot of personality.
In the time after my talk, I was able to get great feedback from Jon Galloway, which is a huge deal for me as he runs the .NET Foundation which is a seriously important institution in my opinion. I was also able to speak with many of the folks who gave great talks, and to have an “unconference” session with some of the .NET framework maintainers about insulating maintainers from abuse in OSS projects.
At no time during the conference did I feel like an outsider, and I felt welcomed everywhere I chose to insert myself. It’s not often that one is able to feel that way about a conference, let alone for 3 years running.
Speaking of unconference sessions, the idea of these alone is very powerful to me. While many folks still focus on the talks happening on stage, there is an entire parallel unconference track running in a separate area. Here, attendees can expand on topics they’ve been introduced to or start a completely new conversation. All that’s required is a post-it note holding a time slot.
I love this because I think it puts a lot of organizing power in the hands of attendees. Those who want something different than the conference is offering at that moment are empowered to create it, and I had some great follow-up conversations as a result.
Illuminating Many Paths
By its nature of focusing on “the fringe of .NET technologies”, the conference ensures a variety of ideas. I don’t just walk away with knowledge about some new product or one sort of OSS library; I come away with entire new schools of thought and tracks of things I’d like to dive into. This year, paths were illuminated for me on F#, Event Sourcing, and ways that we can work to better enable .NET OSS maintainers. All are paths I intend to explore heavily in the coming year.
The Percolator Effect
.NET Fringe doesn’t only exist to disseminate information or wow an audience; it also exists to build people up. Beyond being a supportive community in general, there were numerous examples (my own amongst them) of folks who were encouraged to go out on a limb and speak more at the conference. Bobby Johnson spoke during his talk about how Julie Lerman (who spoke last year, and who was missed this year!) encouraged him to speak during a previous conference. Glenn and Troy had offered similar sentiment to me, and I and others passed that along to many more during the conf.
Hearing the people you look up to encouraging involvement from others and actively “leveling-up” the members of our community is a big part of what makes this conference special to me.
In fact, Scott Cate challenged everyone to teach 1,000 people before next year and report back on how we do it. A worthy challenge, and one I hope to complete.
Questions? Thoughts? Ideas?
What did you think of the conference? What do you look for when attending a conference? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.