Conferences and Training: an interview with Sergi Almar

We kicked-off the column about event organizers’ experience with Alessandro Giardina (IAM) from Brescia, Italy. Today we (metaphorically) fly to Barcelona, Spain, to interview Sergi Almar.

Sergi organizes the Spring I/O conference since 2010. He delivers technical trainings for Pivotal / VMware and Confluent.

Last, but not least, Sergi is a software developer and architect, and actively contributes to, the open source ticket reservation system for conferences, trade shows, workshops, and meetups which is at the core of Swicket’s services.

1) Tell us a bit more about Spring I/O and its role in the developer community

Spring has always been a synonym of community. More than 17 years of collaborations and history has made this project so successful. I first used Spring in 2005 and I’m still in love with it, I can’t say the same of any other technology. I started Spring I/O because I was passionate about it (and I’m still!) and wanted to bring the Spring community together, it has grown year after year being now the leading conference in Europe around the Spring Framework. 

It’s a place to learn, share and have fun. It is really rewarding meeting and putting faces to the community members and being able to exchange ideas and experiences. There is something about the Spring community, it’s really open, healthy and welcoming and that makes it special.

Main stage view – Spring I/O 2019
2) 2020 marks the ninth edition of the Spring I/O conference. What kind of challenges have you overcome in the past eight editions?

Things have changed a lot since I started Spring I/O. I’ve learned a lot and tried to improve year after year. I could say Spring I/O has gone through three phases: in the first (2010-2012), I tried to establish a conference around the Spring Framework, keeping it low budget and targeting local audience, in the second phase (2015-2017, yes I skipped a couple of years…) it was all about internationalization and making everything more professional and the third phase (2018 onwards) was about growth and consolidation.

I had to face several challenges in the process, but I can say scaling is hard! You want to automate as many things as possible, I remember printing the attendee badges at home and ordering them with my wife at home the day before the event until late night. I was also doing every single attendee invoice manually, which consumed a lot of my time.

All these tasks become unmanageable when your event grows. One of the attendees of Spring I/O, Federico Yankelevich, recommended back in 2017. An open-source project, built with Spring… I had to test it! I quickly found out it had everything I always wanted to simplify my tasks: automated invoicing, on-site badge printing, check-in, integration with several platforms and fully customizable and extensible. What I love about is that it is open source and I can add any missing feature, I would like to thank Celestino Bellone for his amazing work and support.

3) Due to social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic you had to push back the event, initially planned for mid May, to 8-9 October 2020.
Are you planning anything to stay in touch with the community during the months that separate them from the conference?

Due to the current situation most of the conferences have been cancelled, postponed or converted to online events. It’s impressive how event organizers have quickly adapted to these difficult times. Spring I/O 2020 has been postponed to October, but I felt this was a long wait, so I decided to create a free mini online Spring I/O (called Spring I/O Bridge) on the same date when the original event was scheduled for. Even if we cannot meet in person, it’s a good excuse to gather the Spring community together, we needed it. So far the response has been great. has been our ticket reservation system for some years now, I was happy to know it was already working on the online events support, adapting to the current situation. We will be among the first ones to test this initial support and that allowed us to participate in interesting discussions to shape and iron out this new feature.

Main stage – Spring I/O 2019
4) Also this year the beautiful conference centeR Palau de Congressos of Barcelona will host the event.
How are you preparing for providing the attendees with a “safe” in presence experience?

The health and safety of everyone is a top concern for us. The situation is evolving fast, it’s hard to predict how it will be in October but we are constantly monitoring the official information from global health organizations and the Spanish authorities and we’ll follow all safety advice and implement all required procedures.

As of now, we’ll have the following safety measures in place: an increased cleaning and disinfection program across all high-volume touchpoints, place hand sanitizer dispensers in all entrances and rest rooms, place signs in every entrance with recommendations of hygienic and safety advice from the WHO, have medical service, train staff and suppliers on preventive measures. We’ll keep on adapting our measures to have a safety environment.

5) What’s your opinion of online events – training, for instance? Are there any perks? What are the drawbacks?

We have seen an exponential growth of online events, online conferences have their pros and cons. We are now able to attend conferences that we wouldn’t have the chance to, they reach a wider audience. No more budget or travel constraints, this saves time, is more environment-friendly and you don’t get jet lagged. Things like attending a conference in your pajamas or eating while watching a session are now allowed 🙂

But replicating the in-person experience is hard, we are all in the learning process to build successful online conferences. The attention span in online conferences is shorter, we are constantly interrupted by all the inputs we get like emails, tasks to do… and sitting in front of the computer for a long period of time is exhausting. In an in-person conference, we have much more stimulus: we need to go to a room to listen to a talk, go for a coffee in the breaks, talk to people next to you while having lunch… everything is more dynamic. A conference is much more than talks, as I mentioned before, being able to meet the community members is priceless, this builds trust, and collaboration is easier with people you know and trust.

I think there is place for both formats, but nothing will replace an in-person conference, call me old-fashioned. I see people returning to their offices energized and motivated after conferences, will we see that for online conferences as well?

I’ve been delivering online trainings for a long time. The expectations of a training compared to a conference are different, the training is completely focused on the learning process and methodology. We have more experience here and the online format fills a real gap.

Swicket works side by side with the event organizers to whom provides its services, in order to develop solutions that best fit their needs. Their input is central to our work, and thanks to our exchange of views we have been able to add online event management capabilities to our offering.

Want to know more? Get in touch!

Sergi Almar
Sergi Almar

Experienced software developer and architect based in Barcelona focused on JVM technologies.
Tech Co-founder of some IT startups.
I’m the organizer of the Spring I/O conference (Barcelona, Madrid and Mexico City).
Specialities: Spring Framework, Java, JEE, Android, Angular, Apache Kafka, RabbitMQ, Software Architecture, Startups, Entrepreneurship