The Portland conference is going back to virtual

The Portland conference is going back to virtual

We won’t bury the lede on the announcement today:

The Portland 2022 conference held on May 22-24 will be fully virtual again.

We make this very difficult decision with the understanding that it will disappoint some of you. We also make this decision with the knowledge that it will relieve some of you from stress or anxiety. We’ll explain a bit more below the reasoning for this decision, but the high-level issues are:

  • After talking with our vendors and staff, we determined we couldn’t produce the quality of event that our attendees expect if we run a hybrid event.
  • Omicron has changed the risk profile associated with travel and large gatherings, and increased the number of unknown risks that we face as organizers.

We are excited about the quality of our previous virtual events, and look forward to iterating on and improving our event once again this year. We have been just as excited as you at the prospect of being able to gather safely, but we feel the need to hold off for one more year.

We’re also looking at the ability for some of our meetups to host watch parties. The details are still being worked out, but we’d love to find a way for small groups of people to gather in this fashion.

Updated conference details

Our 2022 conference will be structured the same to our previous virtual events:

  • Sunday, May 22: Writing Day
  • Monday, May 23: Conference talks, Lightning Talks, Unconference, Social event
  • Tuesday, May 24: Conference talks, Job Fair, Lightning Talks, Unconference

We’re excited to experiment and improve on our existing format as well. One change we’re considering is doing scheduled Q&A blocks with 2 speakers, so attendees don’t feel rushed going from the main stage to the Q&A after every talk.

Now that we have made this decision, we are moving on to the other tasks of launching the conference. We expect the full conference website and ticket sales to be launched in the next couple weeks. The sponsorship prospectus is now available as well.

Reasons for going virtual

There are four major areas that formed the basis of our decision:

  • Physical health
  • Event success
  • Mental health
  • Organizational sustainability

The biggest worry that we have when organizing the conference is a COVID outbreak. We were already planning a number of mitigations, but this risk is always present whenever we gather in a large group. Omicron has lead to the highest case counts in the USA, and increased our anxiety about possible negative outcomes.

The quality of the event was another large factor in our decision. We discussed at length, but we couldn’t find a good way to integrate in-person and virtual attendees. We figured out a way to handle it for talks, but had not solved the issue for the job fair and unconference. Hybrid conferences require reliable in-person WiFi, which has always been a difficult issue in past conferences.

Once we started planning the event, we realized that our hybrid event would require much more staff. We’d effectively be running two conferences at once, and each organizer would be able to focus on one event at a time. This alone would stretch our existing team to the limit, before you even consider the additional stress of COVID-related disruptions or sickness.

The other major consideration is the health of Write the Docs as a small community-supported organization. Reserving a venue and committing to an in-person event adds a large amount of financial risk to the organization. We are unsure of what attendance or sponsorship for the in-person event would look like, and cancellation fees would affect our financial health.

Once we thought more deeply about our options to move forward, keeping the event virtual for one more year seemed like the most prudent course of action. We know that we can produce a great virtual event for our attendees, and now we don’t have to worry nearly as much about COVID-related risks.

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We hope you will join us online for another Write the Docs conference. Whether as a speaker or attendee, you can bet it will be another delightful year.