I was just at a conference, which was much like any other conference in their after-hours events. The food was pretty good, the beer and wine flowed freely, and the mixers were Coke, Diet Coke, and sparkling water.
There’s a lot of complicated parts of throwing a conference, especially in a hotel, and each of the events had professional bartenders. This means the conference is not devoting someone to handing out alcohol, the hotel has some belief people will get cut off, and it all works great. If you want to drink.
But more and more, as I go to these things, I wonder why we want to drink. I mean, seriously. We are here to have high-level conversations with the leaders and up-and-comers in our fields. That is not improved by artifically lowering our IQ or our inhibitions. As a woman, I am especially sensitive to the fact that it is extra dangerous for me to appear drunk, when statistically, at least one of the men eating cheese and wine in this room has not been great about consent with an intoxicated partner. As a person with migraines caused by time-shifting, lack of sleep, and sulfites, alcohol is not a great idea if I want to keep performing at peak efficiency.
What could the conference spend this money on instead?
- Paying for more under-indexed people to attend.
- Paying speakers
- Providing childcare
- Paying open-source maintainers
- Really excellent pop selections (Mmm, Fentiman’s)
- Space for other organizations that can’t afford it
- Community support/outreach
I want to be clear that this is not about any one conference. In fact, the one I went to, I didn’t see any sign of misbehavior. I just think that the economics of it are counter-productive and reinforce existing power structures. I hope that in 20 years, we will feel about the open bar at tech events the way we feel about the smoke-filled room today. It’s a thing people can do, but it’s not a requirement to network.
What is the advantage of providing free alcohol?
- People who care about free alcohol are happy
They are a big demographic, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think that anyone who would refuse to go to a dry conference because it was dry is someone who is likely to be in a position to add a lot to the conference. That’s a pretty hard line to take when you can always buy a cocktail in the hotel bar 50 steps away.
For more on this topic, read:
O'Reilly Software Architecture/Velocity
The Lead Developer London