Not everyone has the opportunity to go to the latest technical conference. In lieu of the full conference experience, plan out a Stay-at-Home Conference for yourself and make the best of it by using some of the free content available on the internet.

I recommend that developers go to at least one technical conference every other year. The actual event itself doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity to escape the confines of the local office to socialize with developers outside our immediate social circles as well as to attend technical sessions that can help inspire new ideas, tools or techniques.

However, in some years, budgets are tight; in others, deadlines loom. Even when things seem to be going well, life itself can happen. For whatever the reason, if you find yourself not being able to attend one of the many excellent technical conferences available around the country, be heartened because you still can get access to some of the great technical content from these conferences online if you know where to look (and aren’t uncomfortable with some of the content being a little out of date).

Additionally, if you do a little up front planning and careful negotiation, you can create a sort of “virtual conference” for yourself that can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home.

The Negotiation

First, negotiate with your immediate manager to take a few days off to “work from home”. Make it clear to them that you intend to spend the time attending virtual technical sessions in lieu of a full conference. Point out that you will be saving the company money by not having to pay for travel, food and expensive hotels. Also make it clear that, like a conference, you won’t be able to respond quite as frequently to emails or other queries due to being “off site”.

It is also important to set expectations with your family that you will be working during this time and should not be disturbed (unless it is an emergency, of course). Close the door to your home office and ask that family members text or email you if they need something. Insist to being treated as if you really are away at an actual conference. You will need un-interrupted time to watch and digest the sessions that you’ve chosen, not unlike the real thing.

Ultimately, make sure that all of the parties involved can agree to your terms.

Planning Your Event

Find a future date where your work calendar is clear enough to book the time as “out of office” (its okay if you have to cancel meeting or two). Make sure to reserve at least 2 contiguous days for your virtual conference and set a daily schedule that mirrors real technical conferences with multiple sessions and breaks. Don’t be afraid to put in extra time at the beginning and end of the day to do a deep dive into any interesting topics that you encounter.

Next, sit down and browse YouTube and the links provided below and build your itinerary. Remember, this is your conference. Pick videos that have topics that will interest or challenge you – and don’t be afraid to pick a few topics outside of your comfort zone.

Finally, put them on your calendar and let your boss know.

Sample “Microservice”-Themed Conference

This is an example conference that I’ve planned out focusing on Microservices. I’m assuming a 8-6 day which is reflective of a long day of immersion in a set of loosely related topics. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time before or after each day to experiment with a technology or idea presented in one of the presentations.

Day 1

Begin End Session Presenter Notes
8:00 8:30 Breakfast   Get your notebook handy
8:30 10:00 Getting Started with Spring Boot Josh Long  
10:00 11:30 Java 8 In Anger Trisha Gee  
11:30 1:00 Lunch After eating, try to build and run a Spring Boot application  
1:00 3:30 Core Design Principles for Software Developers Venkat Subramaniam  
3:30 4:00 Break    
4:00 4:30 CF & The 12-factor App 101: The Secret Decoder Ring for Operations Matt Cowger  
4:30 5:00 Building Scalable Stateful Services Caitie McCaffrey  
5:00 6:00 Designing for Performance Martin Thompson  

Day 2

Begin End Session Presenter Notes
8:00 8:30 Breakfast   Reflect on the previous day
8:30 9:30 Clean Architecture and Design Robert C Martin  
9:30 11:00 REST-Ful API Design Ben Hale  
11:00 11:30 The Problem with Time & Timezones & Internationalis(z)ing Code Tom Scott  
11:30 1:00 Lunch    
1:00 2:00 Microservices at Netflix Scale: Principles, Tradeoffs & Lessons Learned R. Meshenberg  
2:00 2:45 Verifying Microservice Integrations with Contract Testing Ben Sayers  
2:45 3:00 Break    
3:00 4:00 Load Testing Done Right with Gatling Stéphane Landelle  
4:00 5:15 Flyway Database Migration made easy Axel Fontaine  
5:15 5:45 Simplifying the Future Adrian Cockcroft Keynote

Additional Thoughts

Be sure to have easily prepared (or already prepared) food and drinks. Don’t find out too late that you need to leave your home office to go out to the store. Stock up on brain foods like fish and nuts as you’ll need the extra fuel to help digest all of the interesting topics.

Also, consider aligning your Stay@Home Conference dates with a local Meet-up group so you can carry on the experience into the evening hours.

Summary

You can see that it is not too hard to put together a pretty comprehensive conference experience based on the free content posted to on line. Searching on an interesting topic or presenter can lead to very deep and rewarding presentations.

More importantly, you can organize an virtual conference and share it with your team or just share it on line using a format similar to my example. Just remember to keep to a theme and look for interesting and/or challenging videos to add a little variety.

Additional Useful Links

Honestly, just search YouTube, you’ll be surprised how much content is out there.