The Benefits of Bicoastal Conferences

Summary: Having two conferences on different coasts is like having two halves of a mother brain.

In the Winter of 2015 I started planning the first EMPEX conference in New York. The idea was simple, if unusual for a tech conference: put on a fun event in a cool space with entertainment and good food. In other words, throw a party where folks happen to learn things. And treat your speakers well, because they make your event.

Along the way I've met tons of cool people in the Elixir community and have been able to hear dozens of interesting talks. It's also been my distinct pleasure to collaborate with a superb bunch of co-organizers.

I recently moved from New York to Los Angeles. In a few short weeks we'll host the first EMPEX Los Angeles conference. During the conception phase of the new event I thought we would split into two organizing groups - the New York team continuing their work while the new LA team would build on lessons learned to make an EMPEX event with West Coast flavor. We'd have two websites, two Slack teams, two mailing lists, two logos, etc, reflecting each group's ownership over their event.

This was a very shortsighted idea that lasted approximately two weeks. The moment I set up a separate Slack and realized that our LA finance chair couldn't easily share estimates with our NY finance chair, the bifurcation was defenestrated.

I don't know what I was thinking.

Well, no- I do know what I was thinking. Much of the magic and good ideas came out of the weekly meetings where we discussed business, chatted, brainstormed, and (after two or three beers) tossed out some truly wild ideas. There was no way I could lead a remote team without being part of those creative sessions. Perhaps I also wanted a clean psychological break when I moved to a new town.

Regardless, this has been one of those live-and-learn experiences for me, and thankfully I realized it quickly. We're now all on one Slack team (with separate channels for #nyc and #la, though everyone is welcome in both) and we regularly give updates on finances, talk submissions, news from around the community, and fun ideas. Some responsibilities require local chairpersons, such as speaker coordinators. Other jobs necessarily reach across both events; having a single person handle marketing ensures we have a coherent communications schedule that doesn't inundate our mailing list.

But the best part is having double the brainpower and a shorter iteration cycle for trying out new ideas.

A central theme of EMPEX is trying out new ideas that our attendees may (or may not) love. For example, our upcoming LA conference will use two speaking slots for panels that bring more viewpoints on areas that tend to be specific to each developer's situation, and will allow attendees to ask questions rather than having to listen to a single speaker's possibly irrelevant experience for 20 or 40 minutes. If the format is popular, the New York event can learn from our experience and iterate further.

And the LA event - even though it's the first of its kind - is not the first EMPEX. It's building on two years of learnings and events in New York. So you know it's going to be good.

In other words, the EMPEX you love is about to get even better.

— Desmond Bowe Crevalle founder
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