Navigating our new virtual reality: online tech conferences

Since March, shutdowns and cancellations related to COVID-19 are our reality. It’s especially clear in the tech conference space. Where thousands of Pythonistas should have been gathering in Pittsburgh for our beloved annual PyCon just weeks ago, we flexed to a small online event. Perhaps most stunningly, conference heavyweight O’Reilly Media recently announced that they’re shutting down in-person events permanently: farewell Velocity, Strata, OSCON.

I’ve given over two dozen talks at tech conferences around the world, but it wasn’t until this week that I gave my first talk at a fully online event: Python Web Conf! Presented by Six Feet Up and some of the IndyPy folks, I have to admit I was a little skeptical about how they would pull it off. How would they bring the same level of energy, professionalism, and attention that I’ve come to expect of an in-person event to a virtual one? Was it even possible?

And that’s from the perspective of a speaker. What about as an attendee? How do you decide if an online conference is worth the time commitment or registration fee? (Yep, while they may not pay for a physical convention center, online events still have costs associated.) What’s the unique draw of an online conference when we’re already spending all day on Zoom calls?


As a speaker and participant, I can confidently say that Python Web Conference was OUTSTANDING and 100% worth it. From start to finish, every interaction I had with the staff/volunteers and attendees was an overwhelmingly positive one. In advance of the event, they mailed me a “swag bag” filled with great stuff: a custom t-shirt, stickers galore, sturdy notebook, even an Adafruit Feather nRF52840 Express. I felt fully supported by the production team as we did the tech test and went live. Big thanks again to Calvin, MaryBeth, Josh, Carol, Paul, and Casey.

Verdict: would I attend again? YES. Would I pay the registration fee to attend this online event? YES.

But what about other events? It seems like a new online gathering is popping up every week.

It can be hard to navigate our new virtual reality of online tech conferences. How do you know if one is worth your investment? Here are some questions to ask, and how Python Web Conf compared for reference (noted with ✅):

  • Do they have a strong, clear web and social media presence? ✅
  • Is their event website easy to navigate and lists need-to-know information: a useful About page, Speakers, Schedule, etc? ✅
  • Did they have a Call for Papers/Proposals? ✅
  • Have they published a speaker schedule in advance of the event? ✅
  • Do they feature a diverse line-up of keynote and regular session speakers? ✅
  • Do they have recognizable sponsors? ✅
  • What kind of tech are they using to host/stream the event? Is it accessible? ✅
  • If you have to pay a fee, is there a cancellation policy? ✅
  • Is registration handled by a legit ticketing service (e.g.,, Eventbrite)? ✅
  • Do they have a Code of Conduct? Statement on Diversity and Inclusion? ✅
  • Are you actually interested in the talks? Can you afford it? ✅✅

Of course, there may be other bonuses like an active Slack community, high-quality videos posted online, or a mailed-to-you swag bag (again, ✅✅✅). But this list will definitely get you started. Please let me know if there are other questions you ask to evaluate online events.

I’m so grateful that my first experience with online events was such a positive one. And I haven’t even talked about how my talk went!

Please read my next post to learn how to improve your communication, collaboration, and productivity so that you can deliver useful software and feel successful and connected during this incredibly stressful time.