As a core member of the Developer Relations team at Bugsnag, I spent quite a bit of time at conferences in 2017. By the numbers, it is 16 conferences for a total of 52 days on the road, and 156 meals eaten during that time, not including snacks.
In the spirit of January retrospectives, I thought I’d spend a bit of time recapping the standout conference food from 2017. The idea was sparked during a conversation with a coworker where they compared mediocre coffee to “still better than conference coffee.” With the follow-up implication that “conferences always have terrible coffee.” I countered, saying I’d actually had some good coffee and the best conference coffee was at…
Monitorama is a community driven conference dedicated to all things monitoring technology. No matter what level in the stack you work, Monitorama has talks on how to monitor it, giving you the information to improve.
Monitorama is held every year in Portland, OR, which itself has an abundance of delicious, independent coffee shops. To keep everyone caffeinated, Monitorama brought in Nossa Familia, a local coffee purveyor to do pour-over coffee of single origin beans. This by far was the best I encountered through the year of lukewarm or barely drinkable (where’s the sugar?) carafe coffee. Kudos to Monitorama for making my caffeine addiction more palatable while on the road.
Conference Happy Hours can be a bit of a coin flip when it comes to whether they are worth attending. I’m generally up for chatting with people in a more relaxed environment, but some key ingredients need to be present.
The best Happy Hour I attended was at Velocity New York. The drink selection was damn good (oh hello sparkling wine!). The standout was the small bites that were offered. There were waitstaff making the rounds with trays of restaurant quality appetizers, including oysters, ceviche, and bruschetta.
React Rally had dual events for the evening’s socializing. One was Karaoke in the conference bar, and the other an Ice Cream Social game night. The Ice Cream Social was notable for giving attendees a fully thought out, non-alcoholic event option.
I truly was in awe at the level of thought the organizers put into having both types of events, even though it was a smaller conference. To make it even better, they were a quick walk through the hotel away from each other. I loved drinking a strawberry milkshake while watching the Karaoke. Cheers to sprinkles at any conference event.
Many people with food allergies, myself included, find food selection while traveling or at conferences a major challenge. My personal allergy is not very common (capsaicin, i.e. all chili peppers) which makes it especially difficult to confirm that food is okay for me to eat. Many conferences are now gathering information on food allergies and dietary restrictions at time of registration. I applaud the progress in this area, but have generally found it to cover only the most common options (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free).
The best solution I encountered in my 2017 travels was at 360iDev. They are a conference focused on the iOS community held in Denver, CO each year. The organizers provided a voucher that could be used for any main at the food trucks a couple blocks from the event location. Not only did I get a lovely walk in the sunshine and fresh air, but I also could pick from many different types of food. I was able to confirm with the food vendors the item I selected was safe. Food anxiety problem solved!
Food is definitely not a new idea for giveaways inside vendor booths at conferences, but no one topped Procore’s offering at RailsConf. During the evening reception, the Procore booth boasted not only its own drink bar, but also popcorn and Procore orange colored candies. All of that is quite an impressive feast, but the key differentiator was the Dippin’ Dots! Yep, those little frozen balls of ice cream, generally only found inside amusement parks for exorbitant fees. I might have partaken in multiple rounds of Dippin’ Dots…I’ll just call it a Dippin’ Tasting Flight.
The most memorable food for the year was at first time conference KotlinConf. Kotlin is a new programming language for Android application development. If you haven’t given it a try yet, check out this blog post by our Android engineer on “Getting Started with Kotlin”.
First, breakfast was included and there were even hot food options (mmmmm bacon). Second, the snacks available throughout the day were a mix of healthy and indulgent. There was yogurt and hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, nut mixes, along with cookies and chips. These weren’t just set out during specific breaks, but present in the attendee lounge throughout the day.
Next up was the evening Happy Hour that met all of the criteria mentioned above. It was in the venue, had games of air hockey, table tennis, and billiards. Food included sliders, mini salads, and an ice cream sundae buffet (and yes, there were sprinkles).
Hat tip to all the organizers of these conferences for taking time to fill attendees’ stomachs along with their minds. Who will be the top for 2018?