I’ve spent an entire flight from Lyon, France to Istanbul, Turkey thinking about how to write this post, and I still have no idea how to approach it. So I’m just going to do my best and hope it comes close to what I want it to be.
I want to talk about RealtimeConf Europe.
I was fortunate enough to be invited as a speaker to the conference, to give a talk about how Go is a realtime language. I was incredibly flattered and incredibly intimidated to be selected as a speaker. A lot of these people—including Julien, the man behind the event, and Adam, who helped as an organiser—are people I respect and look up to (quite literally; Julien is freaking tall). It was incredibly intimidating to realise I would need to stand in front of them and pretend to be an expert. It was terrifying to realise I’d need to bring my best, and that my best might not be good enough.
It is very rare for organisers to think of everything, but Julien managed it. He had a conference to plan and his girlfriend was due to give birth any day, and he still politely replied to my varied emails as I planned my talk. He emailed all the speakers ahead of time with the resolution of the projector, so our slides could be tested ahead of time. We had a plethora of information on Lyon. I didn’t speak a lick of French or know anything about the city, but I still could feel confident that I’d be fine getting to my hotel, the event, and anywhere I’d need to go in the city, because Julien laid it all out for us at every opportunity.
On the night before the event, there was a meeting in the hotel that speakers stayed in for everyone to get drinks and get to know each other. This was great. I was tired, I had just spent the better part of two days on a plane or in airports, and having that event just downstairs from where I was staying made the difference between me attending and not attending. When I walked down there, I immediately ran into Adam, who shook my hand and struck up conversation with me. We talked about &!, the same-pagification app that his company, &yet, built.
I met a lot of incredible people that night. This is a running theme of the conference; I learned a lot, but this event wasn’t about ideas, it was about people. It was about the community. It was about gathering together to share our passions with each other.
When I arrived at the conference the next day, and saw everyone with their name tags, I made a couple unsettling discoveries. A lot of the people I really respect in that community, the people I would be too intimidated to strike up conversations with, were people I had inadvertently approached the night before without recognising. People I had joked and talked with naturally, who (despite being stars in the community) were incredibly down to earth. Nobody was ever too important to talk to me. Nobody ever looked down on me. My ideas counted as much as theirs. The ideas that, had I known who I was talking to, I would’ve been terrified to even voice.
I met even more people I look up to and respect at that conference, and chatted with them about silly things. Aral and I had a wonderful conversation about how we all need to stop being adults and revert to acting like six year olds. I talked with Steve Klabnik all throughout the conference, and although I’m sure I was pestering the hell out of him, he was always very patient and friendly with me. I made Jan start stammering when I told him he was the perfect person, because he’s too modest and the blatant compliment caught him off guard. Julien saw me wandering around lost in thought, and pulled me aside to ask if I was ok. He noticed when I was sitting in the beautiful, glorious, amazing sun for too long, and yelled at me not to burn. There are hundreds more stories like these, including far more people. These are all people who have done amazing things, people who have huge followings in the tech community. And they accepted me as one of them.
The conference itself was organised with a whimsical aplomb that is breathtaking. A string quartet played at various points throughout the day. A magician was present at lunch, performing tricks for people. A wine expert came on board during a break on the second day, and held a wine tasting for the attendees. And, of course, the entire conference was on a boat. These are the kinds of touches that delight attendees and set the conference apart. These are the real world translation of the character and personality that Superfeedr and &yet put into their software, which is what makes their software so delightful to use.
Paying it Forward
If I had to choose a single word to sum up this conference, it would be “inclusive”. I had no idea what to do with myself in France, but fortunately I never needed one. Anything that was going on, I was invited to. I ate with speakers and attendees. We spent downtime together at a bar or wandering the city. I played with Tim’s kids (yes, that Tim; remember what I said about people with followings being totally approachable?). And it was always with an attitude of generosity. Nobody nickled or dimed over who paid for what; we bought pitchers of drinks and shared them freely. We shared food freely at restaurants, and when one table accidentally paid for both tables, they just shrugged and said “don’t worry about it, just pay it forward.” We all just focused on having a good time and enjoying each other’s company, and we trusted the rest to work out.
When I saw an &yet team member wearing the team sweatshirt, I got really excited (those things are amazing) and asked if I could take a picture. She laughed and agreed, and told me I should ask Adam for one. I agreed, knowing deep down that I’d never be able to ask Adam for anything. Apparently she knew it, too, because the next day she approached me with a smile and thrust an &yet shirt into my hands. I could barely stutter out a thank you, I was so speechless.
Adam took the stage at the end of the conference and gave a talk that was deeply personal and focused exclusively on emotions. I was floored. The number of parallels it had to my Open Web post kept me smiling throughout the talk. I was filled with a warm glow because Adam and I thought the same way about the issue.
But the emotional impact of this conference wasn’t limited to Adam’s talk. I received a DM from the &yet team on the second day of the conference, asking me to give Adam a hug and tell him the team missed him. They passed the message around to as many people as they could reach, and we passed it around covertly at the conference itself. By the time I approached Adam and gave him his hug, he told me it was the eighth he had received that day. When I approached him at the end of the conference to say goodbye, he hugged me again. Twice.
To make this sound less creepy: I’m a hugger by nature. As soon as I become comfortable around a person, I see nothing wrong with hugging them for absolutely no reason. I am blessed to be friends with many people that will hug me for absolutely no reason. I sign most of my emails with “Hugs, Paddy”. Hugs are actually a really, really important thing to me. But I’ve never had the courage to hug someone I respect and admire before. Hugs are a very open, unguarded admission: “I care about you. Please feel good.” For some reason, as a society, we decided that’s not appropriate outside of a close group of friends. That is possibly the stupidest decision we’ve made as a society.
Then Julien hugged me goodbye, too. Julien’s work is the work I wish I could do. The work that embraces open standards, the work that is done for the community, the work that is trying to slowly make the world a better place to live. I always feel bad chatting with Julien, because I know I’m distracting him from doing something amazing to make everyone’s lives better.
I was not prepared to have these two people tell me in the most implicit, resonant way possible, that they care about me and want me to be happy.
I have been to a lot of tech events. Some of them I leave feeling depressed about the state of our industry. Some of them I leave feeling motivated to do great work. Some of them I leave feeling lucky to have been in the presence of such great people.
This is the first tech event I have left feeling loved.