GitHub Universe: Should I Attend in 2024
I was happy to be a speaker at GitHub Universe this year which meant I got to attend the conference in person. I had a very mixed experience this year and wanted to capture my thoughts. I also hope to talk about this a little bit on my Youtube Channel.
Ultimately, I want to answer the question perhaps for 2024 and Beyond, Is GitHub Universe Worth Going To.
I didn't participate in the workshops or certifications so I can't speak to those, but I will talk about the main conference days.
What is GitHub Universe
GitHub Universe is an annual conference designed to showcase new and upcoming advancements around the GitHub Platform. It differs from more traditional companies in that GitHub has always labelled itself as being Developer focused. This means that while you can expect the normal pageantry of a company-ran conference, there is a feeling of excitement as we look at all the improvements for where millions of developers call home.
I won't sugar coat this. Attending in-person can be incredibly expensive. If you're used to smaller community-lead conferences you may get some sticker shock from the prices. The All-Access pass is $1500 which gets you into the main room keynotes, all of the talk spaces and an invite to the VIP reception.
This is steep but it's meant to be a more selective option. There are some cheaper options that seem more reasonable in price. The community option is about $450 which sounds about right for the location and the size of the event. Honestly, if my ticket wasn't covered as a speaker and I wanted to attend I would have most likely gone with the community option.
You can also get most of the talks for free virtually (and on the YouTube channel about 1-2 days later). But some content (like the session I ran) was only available in person.
Cost of confrerence tickets, however are only a portion of your event cost.
If you're flying into San Francisco, be prepared to spend some money. Everything from your flight to hotel and food are elevated compared to the most of the United States. That said breakfast and lunch is served at the conference and often there will be events allowing you to be social while not breaking the bank.
Finally I do encourage you to check out some financial aid opportunities as they arise if you're planning to go but cost may prohibit.
There are a lot of people there. The event seems to have a few thousand folks in person, ranging from GitHub Employees and sponsors to sales reps, startup founders, and most importantly open source community influencers.
I know we give the term influencer a negative connotation these days. Don't worry most of the people that i bumped into were not constantly holding their phones out and demanding special treatment. In fact it was quite the opposite. I had many folks come up to me and tell me they've followed my work on social media and wanted to learn how they could get involved. These weren't just video personalities but also maintainers of quite impressive open source projects. While I have a small audience I'm by no means a superstar and to be able to talk with folks like Jason Lengstorf (Learn with Jason), Corey Quinn (Last week in AWS), Elio Struyf (FrontMatter) , Mariatta Wijaya (PyLadies, and the Python Software Foundation), and Simon Willison (Datasette and many AI-focused Data Journalism Endeavours) among many others is always worth a trip.
I also got to talk with students and folks from international communities that I normally wouldn't be able to connect with. It's always interesting to learn from the next generation of developers and be able to provide any insight that may help them along the way.
I want to address the diversity of the event. It was okay. I wasn't expecting anything out of the ordinary for a Bay Area conference and it kinda beat my expectations. That being said it still felt very white-male driven in terms of audience and the selection of speakers felt very white and Asian heavy. Most of the speakers were white men (shocker), but there seemed to be a larger percentage of women speakers. That said my unprofessional scroll through the speaker least gave me about a 3% (7 out of 170) Black speaker population. Is that good, No. Is it better than I was expecting yes, sadly.
The last group of folks were those there on official business. These were big business partners, sales consultants and startups. This group was mostly seeking the attention of their clients or hoping to get some visibility on their product. I don't blame them, this is a great place to do that. That said conversations with them were very to the point and then they dip. That's not my style but I feel like coming to a conference with a one-track mindset is leaving a lot on the table. Since I was working the booth I got to talk to them as well and occaissionally they would have their Engineering Director or their Lead Ops person around and we could dive into the nitty gritty of what they were working on, which is always cool. Unfortunately, there are always a few bad apples in that bunch but I personally didn't witness too many situations that couldn't be handled with a gentle reminder that we're here to help and often your frustrating situation wasn't directly due to something our team at the booth did.
Talks and Learning
Talks were on a different level and this is good to see from time to time. This is a commercial event which means that resources are poured into it. Speakers use professionally designed templates and are provided speaker coaches to ensure the best quality presentation.
Also be sure to take advantage of having GitHub experts at your disposal. While, there I also was able to ask Github Actions engineers for solutions to complex action workflows (which they hadn't seen someone try before so yay... I think)
Conclusion - Should you go?
Of course with most of these things, it depends. If you're a solo developer that is just interested in hanging out with other developers, sadly I don't know if this conference is worth flying to and attending. This feels very similar to Twitch Con where you can meet a lot of influencers and have fun, but it's going to be expensive. If you want to dive deep into some technical content, you're better with your local meetups and technical conferences.
If you're an influencer of any level, then you should definitely be there. I met so many folks who I've followed for some time and THERE WILL BE CONTENT that was originally discussed at the event. It wasn't intentional but it definitely happened.
You should go if your company will pay for you to go. Be sure to stop in the ask the experts and sponsors whose products you use. You can also take time to get some certifications while there.
Ultimately, it will depend on what you're hoping to get out of the event. I don't know how many core topics that you'll be able to learn here better than at home on YouTube. There is some professional development that you can acquire while there but it will come at a cost that perhaps you should look to your employer paying for if that knowledge will benefit them.
As for me, I am going to try to attend in 2024. I think as a developer advocate I fall into that minor influencer role. Also GitHub Universe 2024 is aiming to be bigger and more impactful than last year so there may be more for the solo dev hoping to skill up their GitHub skills.