Key takeaways from Devoxxma -- the edge conf

Nov. 11, 2023

One month after its latest edition, I thought Devoxx Morocco deserved a special look back on 10 editions of slowly building a brand as the number one developer conference in MENA.

I’ve been around the world in tech conferences, and while some are worth it, they either stall or slowly decline in a salesy suite of corporate talks. Devoxx Morocco is fundamentally different.

It’s not only about the growing audience, the consistency of xHub staff or even the record number of talks submitted. No, there is definitely a unique combination of factors that makes it stand out from other tech conferences.

I’ve gathered what you could call the secret sauce of Devoxx Morocco. I even found a name for this approach: the EDGE factor, as in:

#1 - Vacation-like vibes

First, let’s talk about unfair advantages. For the last 3 editions, Devoxx Morocco has been looking at the sea, and by that, I mean direct beach access from the venue. You could literally get your feet wet in the Atlantic Ocean, and go back for the next session, fully energized. Or just enjoy the sound and sights of waves as the sun sets. It’s quite unfair, right? After all, what tech conference can offer this level of contact with nature, while taking you from QuarkusVM to frameworks in the same day? That alone rules out 99% of venues anywhere in the world! Oh, and Morocco is 2 hours from Europe main hubs, so it’s still a cheap no-brainer for most attendees.

In 10 years of meetups and conferences, this is the only event that feels like a little vacation. A real detox with Devoxx if you want. We’ve even seen families with kids enjoying the pool or the 360 days of sun per year, while speakers went on community activities.

Speaking of activities, the second factor that strikes DevoxxMA as special lies in the connections.

#2 - Seamless connections

DevoxxMA was never vocal about the networking opportunities. They know their audience right, because what’s pulling coders and geeks to a conf, except coding and geeking? That’s a smart tactic: catch them with great content and let the atmosphere do the rest. As they gather around “Tea&Tech”, connections start, they make new friends, they grow relationships, all organically. “Come for the talks, stay for the community.” There were no special networking sessions, or structured job dating between attendees (hmm, that’s an idea!).

In hindsight, this is probably the single most lasting effect in a developer’s life. I was positively thrilled by the value of face to face conversations. You realize no amount of connections is too much. I have had transversal epiphanies on totally new topics (LangChain!), horizontal networking with my own flock of DevOps and Cloud engineers, but also vertical conversations with juniors from diverse contexts. Scaling at its best!

This alchemy would not be possible without great effort behind-the-scenes, involving many decisions.

#3 - Challenges and decisions

As a member of the committee jury, I spent days filtering content, hoping for the best, aligning content with requirements, personal hunches with internal discussions. At the end, the final schedule is in the hands of the core committee members. In that last stage, you quickly learn that some wisdom is at work, and not always rational. Involving community members during the Call For Papers stage was a smart move, and a long awaited one too.

As for challenges, staff showed swift agility in patching the schedule after losing half a day. That was uncalled for (yet less fatal than a pandemic). Again, it all went behind the scenes, but in hardships you recognize determination from amateurs.  Risk-taking is also a mark of mature organizations, and indeed the first “Data & AI” track was an innovation worth pushing. The AI track showed a deep and wide offer, reaching a peak at the main keynote with the demo of L3arbi, the first audio assistant in moroccan dialect. The live demo proved one thing: when you push to the edge, you acquire the agility of the happy few.

But it does not come from nowhere. With 10 editions under the belt, xHub staff slowly built a steel track record, and a community.

#4 - Bridges and epiphanies

The next takeaway is in pure DevOps fashion, i.e breaking silos. The value of a tech conference lies in the bridges it continuously builds. Every edition is a fresh breath of air with real impact on people and culture. There was this time where Devoxx4Kids got young people hooked to IT. Or this other edition where the speakers went on a 2-day trip to discover local culture in small villages around. Or also the fact that all swag of DevoxxMA 2023 was replaced by help for victims of this year’s earthquake. Let’s be honest, “By developers, for developers” is a slogan slightly diverging, but for the better! It would be more accurate to say “for development”: developing software, but also local talents. I was positively shocked to see so many students, juniors and women in tech being sponsored to attend the conference. Compared to other events, xHub pushed the concept to the edge, to unlock value above the ecosystem. Such decisions are not free however, but I can feel how this strategy is a long term win, they really nailed it. 

The one innovation that got me excited is a personal one: the first solopreneur session ever. (Nb: maybe I missed it on social networks, but it was never scheduled in any Devoxx edition anywhere in the world, ever.). When I proposed this event and got the go from the committee, my plan was already ready:

How did it went? It was honestly a blast. Imagine a crowd of 70+ attendees slowly filling the room. After a full day of conference, everyone was a little tired, and it was dinner time. But they sat, armed with patience. They wanted their own kind, local developers from their neighbor cities, to tell them a story of launching digital products alone.

Knowing this story was real, and they got the people in front of them to ask, I think that’s what got the audience magnetized. Knowing there lies another possibility than a career of 9 to 5, enduring commutes, promotion stress, toxic management… and above all, knowing they could come up with a simple idea and implement it the same year for $10/month… to achieve a meaningful day of work, to achieve freedom.

I think that’s what made people ask so many questions, the curiosity and the feeling that behind the fears was the possibility of freedom. I hope this will break silos even more in pure DevOps fashion, as Devoxx Morocco invested in this solopreneur session.

Finally, there is one last investment, one that the CFP committee is pushing each year: first-time speakers.

#5-Above boundaries, first-time speakers as future ambassadors

You grow a community by sharing the light. Old trees should not cover the sun from new sprouts. Also, ask football coaches, they will tell you the secret to longevity is to blend young blood with old soldiers (international speakers for the matter)… and that’s exactly what we did. We pushed on platforms and convinced a dozen people to submit their first proposal. When they were accepted, a handful of them were confirmed, and spent their best time as first-time speakers in Agadir. Shoutout to them, in no particular order:

By starting this trend, we launch new speakers, with the secret hope they stand after usand represent Morocco and Africa in future events. Judging by feedbacks and audience, they really nailed it! They found a curious crowd of developers hear about AI, LLMs, icon design, etc.

What’s next?

For 10 editions, Devoxx Morocco stayed at the edge, focusing on MENA, slowly building a unique value proposition for the region. You can think of this as an EDGE factor as in:

All I wish them is long live Devoxx Morocco, stay on the EDGE, for the next 10 years and beyond!

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