Like all events and event series globally, Devopsdays needed to adjust their plans in 2020/2021 - and depending on region well into 2022 as well. While many chapters decided to cancel their events, some organizers instead opted to go virtual, or: hybrid when regulations in their area loosened.
What was their experience with these formats, and what parts did organizers carry over to their in-person events in 2022? In fact, did they “go back”?
I’ve done a study as a Devopsdays Core member, to learn more about the decision making in different cities, and for knowledge sharing across organizing teams. This article assumes some knowledge of Devopsdays as a worldwide series of events and the Devopsdays format.
Early November 2022 I sent out a survey to 89 respondents. I received 37 replies (from 36 unique cities).
The number of cities that had a devopsdays event, 2009 - 2023 (tentative)
Even the untrained eye can observe a dip in the otherwise hockey stick-style growth. I first observed the numbers I could gather from devopsdays.org.
For 2020, 82 cities planned events. Of 50 of them we’re “pretty sure” were canceled. The different ways to reflect that an event is canceled, and some cities using off-platform event pages, make it hard to find the real number.
Some organizer groups teamed up with another city to bring a virtual event. For the Netherlands, Eindhoven joined Amsterdam, for Turkey Ankara and Istanbul joined forces. Several cities in Texas joined forces to have a virtual online event.
11 events still took place in-person, just before widespread lock-downs, or in some parts of the world towards the end of the year when restrictions there loosened.
19 events took place online / virtually / in cyberspace. Special mention for Devopsdays Zurich, who every Tuesday evening in September held online DevOpsTuesDays to keep their community engaged.
42 events were planned for 2021, 13 of which were canceled (or postponed), and 19 were virtual events. Seven cities managed to host an in-person event (Houston, Oslo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Zurich). Ankara and Istanbul, and Amsterdam and Eindhoven teamed up once again.
2022 saw 52 planned events. At the moment of writing there are 24 event pages for 2023 planned events.
The past few years have been a watershed moment for online and hybrid event formats. But, like with anything in life, the understanding of what makes an event “hybrid” varies greatly, depending on whom you ask.
Matt Stratton believes that for an event to be labeled “hybrid”, we need to look at the way attendees engage with the event. Only when an event has a mix of attendees that participate in-person at a physical location (all at the same venue, or at distributed “watch parties”), and another group that participates remotely, will we call an event hybrid. And since he’s one of the Core organizers and a former co-chair, that’s the definition we’re going with - you can
fight find him on Slack.
Organizer team size varies from city to city. Madrid and Toronto both have an organizer group between 2 and 5 people. The majority will have a team of 6 to 8 people, including Berlin and Tokyo. Austin, Chicago, among others, have the biggest team size: 13 tot 15.
Team sizes across events!
While none of the smaller teams (2 to 5 organizers) ran an event in 2020, cities with the largest team size (13 tot 15) were not more likely to run events than cities with 9 to 12 organizers (25% vs 36%), or even much more than teams with 6 to 8 members (20%).
For several cities, 2020 was supposed to be the year of their first Devopsdays: Birmingham (UK), Eindhoven, and Prague. The cities that could host an in-person event were either ahead of the lockdowns in their regions, or would take temperature checks, require certificates, mandate masks, and generally limit attendance.
Chicago received positive feedback for their online event. All talks (including Ignites) were professionally pre-recorded, with the speaker dialing in for a virtual “fireside chat” with the MCs after their talk was presented. “We used a Discord channel to propose topics and then had Discord voice/video channels for each one. As far as participation in virtual Open Spaces, this was the largest I’ve seen in any virtual open space implementation. We had 10-12 people per room, which was more of a limit of the platform than interest.”
Stockholm used Zoom for talks, and Discord for discussions. They experienced that it was difficult to motivate participants to actually participate.
Zurich did a “DevOps Tuesday” - one talk every Tuesday in September. “Format was ok but not the same as the real DevOpsDays.” No Ignites, no Open Spaces. Tel Aviv tried their hands on a virtual event in 2020 but it wasn’t called DevOpsDays. “Community Summit” included Devopsdays, and other events.
Of 37 responses, 29 didn’t host an event in 2021. Montreal took place in-person. Official provincial government guidelines applied, and were enforced by the venue. Zurich also took place in-person. The organizing team communicated their COVID-19 policy on their website, on the tickets, at the venue, and in every mail communication. Only attendees with a valid COVID certificate could join the conference.
Amsterdam and Eindhoven teamed up for a second year in 2021, and this year used an online event platform called CrowdCast. People needed to get used to the interface. Main talks were centrally streamed to all attendees (no option to skip and stay social). “We did lightning talks instead of Ignites, because the Ignite format loses a bit of its charm when done remotely.” Open Spaces on the platform were limited to 10 people per topic: “It did work, but was not great.”
Texas had pre-recorded 5-minute (Ignite) talks that went as well as the regular talks. Open Spaces were run via Discord video chat rooms with between 30 and 50 folks attending, “everyone who responded to surveys or talked to us about it after the fact was very happy to have the opportunity.”
Minneapolis hosted a hybrid event in 2021. “Most speakers presented live at our venue. One submitted a pre-recorded talk. All talks were live streamed on YouTube. “We ran in-person Open Spaces, and a separate virtual Open Space in Zoom.”
Arguments against pivoting to online events largely fell in three buckets:
Hybrid is perceived as even more difficult to pull off: “It’s like running two events simultaneously that are very hard to sync up.”
In terms of numbers Belo Horizonte, Minneapolis, Paris and Toronto are outliers. To the question “What is the average number of attendees for your event under “normal circumstances”?” they answered, 700 - 900, 900, 1000, and 1100, respectively.
Toronto and Paris (and also Indianapolis and Detroit) did not host events in 2020, 2021, nor 2022.
Minneapolis in 2021 had about 200 people join in-person, and another 150 online. In 2022, 400 people joined in-person, with another 50-100 watching the livestream on YouTube. Their Open Spaces and Sponsor Hall in 2021 both happened over Zoom, but were not repeated for their 2022 event because they had limited uptake.
Most of the cities are at around the same amount of attendees for their 2022 events, as they did pre-pandemic. Devopsdays participants are loyal. Boise offered refunds to sponsors and ticket purchasers when they canceled their 2020 event. “I would estimate only 25% asked for a refund, the rest asked to use it as a credit for our next event, which we held in May, 2022.”
5 cities from the survey respondents did not host an event in 2022. Detroit canceled their 2022 event due to low registration.
Chicago typically has 600 people participating. Their 2020 virtual event attracted double that amount. In 2022 they were back for a more intimate in-person event, with 350 participants.
Tokyo’s 2022 event was still hybrid. Berlin instead “tried to find a time where it still is warm enough to open all the windows”, and “chose a venue with air cleaners in the smaller workshop rooms.”
Overall feedback from participants (virtual) was positive, recognized that organizing teams tried to make the best of it - and at times excelled! Several cities made changes to their online events 2020 - 2021, with elements not translating well to a virtual format (Open Spaces and sponsor booths).
Amsterdam tried out a virtual escape room, virtual bingo, and a Kahoot for their virtual events. In 2022 for Devopsdays Eindhoven, they introduced activities like bingo to their in-personal event, since the response had been so positive.
Belo Horizonte during the pandemic years held different types of events: bootcamps, practical tool training, mentoring in online format, free-of-charge for their community. While those were well-received, “In 2023, we’ll be back in-person!”
London for 2022 had quite a strict covid policy, which “turned out to be the right call”. Attendees who couldn’t make it were swapped to a virtual ticket or given a refund. “That went down well.”
Indianapolis instead, will not have an online component for their 2023 event, “we want to encourage people to be there in person”. Texas disagrees: “I believe we’re doing our communities a disservice by not continuing to work towards effective hybrid events, or coming up with another way to bring the devopsdays local and/or global community to folks who can’t or won’t join us in-person.”
I’m still reaching out to several respondents with follow-up questions - like whether teams that organized online or hybrid events during the pandemic, noticed a change in the make-up (diversity) of their events - that persisted after 2021. Devopsdays organizers are also still welcome to fill out the orginal survey: https://forms.gle/UEaPWAEcW4Tiey6E6
While only few people will tell you they prefer virtual events, my hope for this new year - if you’ll indulge me - is that Devopsdays events will offer an online experience alongside their “real world” event. Few people have the luxury of attending events in-person - it costs time and money and the stress of arranging care and using vacation days. We also might not want people to fly to our events because of environmental considerations.
I’m looking forward to more conversations around this topic. Like at the Devopsdays Global Organizers Summit, this August, in Chicago.