“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.” – Cobb(Leonardo DiCaprio), Inception

What is DevFest?

On September 9th we had the first instance of our Wingify DevFest. It started with a simple idea, to have a community of fellow techies where everyone could meet, learn something new, share ideas and inspire one another. But we didn’t just want to end here. We wanted to have a day where people could celebrate and have a good time. Thus, the Wingify DevFest was born.

How did we plan for it?

Though the DevFest happened on 9th September, the preparations had started much before that. In fact, the whole structure of DevFest underwent drastic iterations since we’d first started working on it. Initially, we had simply planned on having a set of internal team members of Wingify as speakers. The rationale behind this was, this being our first DevFest having internal speakers we would help us have a good grasp of the speakers and their content. It would also be easier to organize because we could skip the overhead of finding external speakers. This idea was soon scrapped because we would have had to compromise the interest of our teammates as most of the internal talks had already been watched by the team. The other extreme plan was to have all external speakers, which too was soon ruled out because of the logistics involved. We also knew that some of our own internal speakers had good content which the world should definitely see. Finally, we agreed upon having an all external speakers list and keep the internal speakers as backup, should the need arise any time. And thank God we did, because as you’ll soon find out, we did have to use the fallback.

Amidst the initial confusion of finding the ideal number and type of speakers, there was still an extreme clarity within the organizing team about the other events that we wanted to have. More on that later.

Deciding on the theme

Organizing the first of a series always has its own set of challenges and uncertainties. For us, the main challenge, which was a crucial factor in almost all of our decision making, from the topic for the DevFest to even deciding what swag should we have, was identifying our target audience. Unlike some major tech cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad where the majority of folks are working professionals, Delhi has a beautiful eclectic mixture of working professionals and college students. In fact, the number of engineering colleges in Delhi are mind blowing. This translates to the fact that in most of the meetups and communities there’s a mixture of both the streams. Extrapolating from this fact, we concluded that we too could expect a mixture of both the classes. The challenge with that was to find a theme suitable enough to resonate with all the members. Performance, Reliability and Security was the perfect topic because everyone, at some point in the college/professional life, has had a requirement to know deeper about it. With a balanced set of talks on this theme, we could achieve a point which would keep both the parties interested.

Picking speakers

With the topic of the DevFest clear, finding speakers was the next challenge, or so we thought. On 27th July we started campaigns on several social media channels, meetups and also word of mouth to find the best tech speakers in Delhi. It was a 15-day campaign and by the time it ended we were ecstatic. There were more than 20 entries and some even tried to register after the deadline. Not bad for the first time 🙂. After several meetings and discussions, we finally narrowed down to 3 final speakers. We had even sent them the invitation. Too easy, we thought. One week before the event 2 of our speakers backed out because of inevitable issues. There was a DEFCON 1 emergency declared in our nation! Everyone went on a rampage. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, it wasn’t DEFCON 1 because we didn’t have nuclear weapons, but you get the drift. In that frenzy we sought out the internal speakers. Things could’ve gone really south if we didn’t have an existing plan B. Though, we eventually ended up having four speakers instead of three because an earlier backed out speaker managed to join back and, so, we were more than happy to re-adjust the schedule. These were the speakers who finally spoke

  1. Atul Agarwal (co-CEO, AdPushup) as the Keynote Speaker
  2. Saurabh Shandilya spoke on ToR 101
  3. Deepak Pathania spoke on Performance Optimization for the mobile web
  4. Neha Sharma spoke on Web apps and Performance
  5. Manish Gill spoke on Gyaan in Scalability

Organising interactive events

At Wingify, we frequently have internal technical events that keep our wits sharp. Since one of the inherent idea of the DevFest was to keep it interactive for everyone, what better way than to include a few of these events in the schedule as well. Selecting the events was as easy as looking back at list of previous year’s events and adding the ones which were liked by majority of team members. The finalists were Code in the Dark and Capture the Flag.

The Day

The day before The Day we stayed back late in the office. The previous week had been taxing because of the whole speakers backing out fiasco and also because the organising team had been really busy releasing the new VWO Conversion Optimization Platform to general public! Thus, there were several logistics that had to be taken care of on the last day. Everyone went late that day yet returned back early the next morning.

September 9th, our spirits were high. No, we weren’t high (at least not until the events lasted), we were giddy. Everything was set. The initial slow pouring of the attendees soon gained pace and by 11 am our office was packed and ready for some action. It was a good mixture of energetic college folks and knowledgeable professionals, each trying to find like-minded counterparts to talk ideas. Thanks to Akash Tyagi, we had some really cool banners installed all over the place. In fact, right from the beginning he had been the guy who’d designed the banners, logos and social media cards etc., which everyone greatly admired.

Atul Agarwal had accepted our request to be the Keynote Speaker for the event. His talk on performance, reliability and security, was full of wisdom that he had garnered on his journey to make AdPushup a successful and formidable ad-revenue optimization company in its space. He went on about how most companies, in a haste to launch feature after feature, often forget the aspects of performance, reliability and security, which later bites them back. Sometimes overlooking such aspects costs companies a fortune and, even worse, respect of their clients.

Immediately succeeding him was Saurabh Shandilya, who spoke about the ToR network. His talk cleared some of the misconceptions that people have about ToR and through his articulate speech he managed to convince many people to try it out. Not only that, he even managed to convince some folks who’d already tried it earlier and given up, to give it another shot.

Next in line was Deepak Pathania. Although Deepak says that it was his first ever talk, we have our doubts. We’ve seen seasoned speakers get uncomfortable on the stage but Deepak didn’t break a sweat. He spoke about the Google Amp project and why it’s a viable optimization strategy for your mobile pages. He also went ahead and gave some example on how to quickly start a project with Google Amp.

With a quick lunch, after Deepak’s talk, it was Capture the Flag time! Dheeraj Joshi from the organising team, had managed to craft some mind-tickling questions for the participants to rack their brains on. For the next two hours everyone was glued to the event, trying to find ways to get to the hidden flags. At the end of the day, Capture the Flag turned out the be the star attraction of the DevFest.

Succeeding the CTF, was Neha Sharma who spoke about Web Apps and Performance. Neha is a tech speaker and founder of the renowned JSLovers Community and we were lucky to have her in the list of speakers. Given the breadth of her topic and the limited time she had for her talk, she could only give an abridged snippet of how developers can improve their website’s’ performance by using several best practices.

After Neha it was Manish Gill’s turn. Manish is a fellow Wingifighter who rose up to the challenge to speak at the DevFest when some external speakers had backed out. He works in the Data Layer team in Wingify, the team which manages the performance and scalability of data collection and retrieval aspect of our application. Having worked on challenging scalability problems and having experience in giving public talks, he was the ideal candidate to represent Wingify. Manish did deliver an insightful talk about how we’ve used Postgres and Kafka to scale to the tune of 20k requests per second.

We finally finished the day with Code in the Dark. It was a long long day, and we’re glad we chose to end with it. Our in-house DJ, Ashish Bardhan, played the best of the best Techno music that we could’ve asked for. The dark settings along with the laser lights and the music set the right ambience to get the adrenaline pumping. It was intense! By the time the Code in the Dark ended everyone was rejuvenated.

All that, in one day. Achievement level: 50,000.

How did we fare?

There were many things we did well, and there were many things we could’ve done better. Our sound system, definitely, frustrated some of the speakers and audience members. It malfunctioned multiple times and broke the flow of the speakers. We should’ve also provided a visual timer for the speakers so they could keep a track of their talk. It wasn’t the smoothest event, I agree but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. With these learnings we’ll be better prepared to have a smoother DevFest next time.

Some moments captured during the DevFest:

Conclusion

Our quest to have a community of like-minded people has just started. The first instance of the DevFest has been a stepping-stone for us and it’ll only get better from here. Stay tuned for the next DevFest. It’s going to be legen….. wait for it!

PS: A big shoutout to the members of the organising team; Akash Tyagi, Dheeraj Joshi, Jatin Makhija, Kushagra Gour, Sahil Bathla and also the volunteers for all the hard work they’ve put into making the DevFest a success.