Does Our Industry Have a Drinking Problem?

At a conference recently, I had to leave for part of the afternoon to take care of some technical support for our product. When I returned to the venue, at about half-past five in the afternoon, everyone was holding plastic glasses of whiskey and cups of wine or beer.

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At an event where I spoke earlier this year, some wondered whether one of the other speakers would be able to make their talk after having drunk so much the night before.

Almost every conference’s second day opens with attendees being asked how their hangovers are. Second day early-slot speakers joke that no one will turn up anyway, or they’ll all just be staring into their coffee. It has become normal, in fact expected, that drinking and staying out late is what we do while at conferences.

I can’t deny that when I’m invited to a conference in Germany or Belgium, the chance to have a few nice local beers is definitely a plus point. However, I can’t treat every event as if it were a holiday. Staying healthy is important to me, and to my ability to run my business. The alcohol-fueled nature of our industry events therefore raises an issue. As a speaker, I want to be available to people who have bought tickets and attended the event I’m speaking at, and if the parties are the place to do so, then I need to be at the parties. For me this doesn’t raise any moral or personal quandary, although I’d sometimes rather be in bed so I can go for an early run before day two begins. Some speakers or participants, however, may find it hard to attend social events where alcohol is the main theme. Of course it’s possible to attend these events and not drink, but being the sober person at a party gets tiresome.

The parties are often the only way for attendees to get to talk to speakers or network with each other. We’re told that events are much more than the talks or workshops; they’re all about the networking and socializing. So how can someone uncomfortable with this particular type of socializing benefit from this side of an event?

We’re also underlining that our events are for over-18s, maybe even over-21s, by holding them in licensed premises. Most of us know students or even those who are working professionally in our field long before they are “adult.” Should they be excluded?

Making drinks the center of social events can also tend to exclude people who don’t choose to be “one of the guys.” I’ve spent most of my working life in male-dominated careers. The lifestyle around web conferences has nothing on the lifestyle of theater technical crews. To be accepted as a woman in that industry meant being able to lift stuff as heavy as they could, and drink as much as they did. I’ve tended to find it easy to be accepted because I’m happy to be treated as one of the boys. Not being a girly girl has made my life in male-dominated industries easier, and in some ways that is a concern. We don’t have equality if the only women we welcome in our industry are those who are happy to act like men, and<!--, as this unsettling post describes,--> sometimes drinking and trying to fit in can have darker repercussions. I believe that by providing a range of social activities we become more inclusive to all types of people.

We’ve discovered, as we start to organize meetups for our product, that a bar is often the easiest way to have a free meeting space. By choosing to meet in a bar, unless you expect a really large group, you can be flexible about the numbers. If you pick a quiet night, then whether 5 or 50 people show up, it will be fine. The alternatives of booking a room somewhere may not only mean paying a hire charge, but a few people in a large room makes a small meetup look unsuccessful, whereas a few people round a pub table is cozy. But there are some great and creative examples of alternatives to the party for socializing at events.

I attended Monitorama EU recently, where one attendee had proposed a 5K run around the Tiergarten in Berlin on the morning of the second day. This was publicized on the website and a small group of us headed out in the rain for an easy jog and a chat. Like many in our industry I can be a little socially awkward when meeting new people, but for some reason I never have a problem making small talk while running with someone. I found the run a really nice way to chat to conference attendees with whom I shared something additional in common.

Photo or history walks around cities can be attractive to a lot of people in our industry and need no more organizing than someone who knows the area and can take attendees around local landmarks and interesting spots for photographs. New Adventures earlier this year had a photo walk, and a typography walk round Brighton was organized around Ampersand conference.

These are all good examples of simple things that can be organized around conferences to create alternatives or additions to the parties. They don’t even need to be organized by the conferences themselves, although it is helpful if the conference organizers help promote the things that are happening so that attendees can find out about them without needing to search hashtags on Twitter.

That said, I am still struggling to find good alternatives to the pub meetup, particularly in the UK. Other than taking over the corner of a larger coffee shop for a daytime meet, what kind of things are possible and inexpensive for small groups? In particular I find it hard to organize alternatives for the type of meeting where the numbers that might turn up are hard to predict.

Meeting up in pubs and attending conference parties will always be part of our industry, and an enjoyable part for many of us at one time or another. If the conference you attend is your only one that year, then having the chance to let your hair down with peers you rarely meet in person is not a bad thing at all. However, I’d like for drinking not to be what defines these events and those of us who attend them. We become more inclusive the less we look like only a certain type of person is part of “us.”

58 Reader Comments

  1. Great article, Rachel. I used to attend many meetups and many of them would be held (or end up) at a bar (maybe one reason why I’ve lost interest). One conference, a presenter was smashed already as he attempted to give away raffle prizes, embarrassing to say the least, yet the dude was likely not admonished for his lack of presence. From personal experience, after a few drinks (it’s rarely just one), the quality of the interaction deteriorates. I love a good brew, but have never understood the priority of (or dependency on) alcoholic beverages to socialize. How about a coffee house ?

  2. +1 – Great article. This applies to non-conference business meetings as well. I dread meetings where I know there will be drinking games tacked on the end!

  3. I totally agree. I don’t drink and also happen to be responsible for organizing the socials for a UX/UI conference called edUi. Maybe it’s because I don’t drink, but our socials almost always have some sort of other entertainment, engaging activity, or focus. One of our receptions this year is at a local nature center/science museum, another is a historic canal cruise, and another is a live story telling event. There will be alcohol at most of these, but the focus is on getting to know and having fun with your fellow attendees.

  4. Sharing a few beers to ignite passion about a subject with like-minded and smart individuals and talking about programming or entrepreneurship is fun and inspiring, which is probably why it is so common at these types of events. Rarely can I do that in a normal social setting because most people don’t care about Ruby on Rails.

    That being said, you make several good points, and I can see how you’d feel left out if its not your thing. I can’t be that sober guy when everyone else is drinking either. The title of this is catchy and clever (and I’m sure will increase the number of people who read it), but not everyone who participates has a drinking problem. Everything in moderation.

    I guess I just like to associate with smart, driven people that also like to go out, be social and have a good time.

  5. I understand the concern here. However, I disagree with the cited cause.

    What it comes down to is this: who you hang out with and how they behave. Alcohol may factor into their behaviour, but so may so many other things: their level of tiredness, their current diet, their general disposition, the culture in which they find themselves.

    I’ve spent evenings with people drinking where they were a pain in the ass. Other evenings, they’ve been drinking and everything’s been fine. Some people don’t drink, and they’re still a pain in the ass.

    If you point to alcohol as the cause of the issue then I think you’re externalising the blame for the root issue: people’s misbehaviour. If you’re hanging around with people who aren’t responsible for their own behaviour and are rude, inconsiderate and annoying to be around then alcohol is just another variable in the path to the inevitable conclusion: you’re hanging out with people who piss you off.

    Alcohol may bring out the traits in them you dislike, but I don’t believe that it’s the root cause. Some people are lovely when drunk, perhaps even more lovely than they are when sober.

    Conversely, a lot of people in our industry drink a lot of coffee. Does that make them snappy, hyper, irritable, distracted or any other string of (mis)behaviours?

    Probably. Maybe. Who knows?

    Blame people for their behaviour. Don’t blame alcohol and then tell the rest of us we shouldn’t have any.

  6. Well put Luke! If you drink so much at these things to where hangovers, acting like an idiot, and missing parts of the conference become the norm and a joke – then yes, there is probably something wrong there. “Blame [those] people for their behavior. Don’t blame alcohol and then tell the rest of us we shouldn’t have any.” – Precisely

  7. This is a good example of why we setup Geek Karting.

    For me standing around in a pub is ok but can get a bit dull and the late nights are tiring BUT I want to meet other people in the industry and believe the social aspect is incredibly important. In fact a social event in 2005 led me to realise there were tonnes of other web people in my part of the UK (including Rachel!). So the idea of a web conference with no conference part was born and karting seemed to be a popular idea…

    We’ll hopefully be running a whole bunch of events in 2014 after a year off but it’s much more difficult to attract sponsors when there isn’t a slot or a stage…

  8. I’m not advocating heavy drinking at conferences and don’t do it myself, mainly because I want to be alert the next day to soak in the information on offer, but I feel that in general, having some alcohol on offer is a good thing and a conference would not be quite as appealing without it.

    I, for one, am a lot more chatty after I’ve had a beer or a glass of wine and that is generally how I’ve met people, you can call it a personality flaw if you like but I’m not alone in my social awkwardness (particularly amongst developers). It’s up to the individual whether they choose to overdo it or not, just as it’s up to the individual in any walk of life.

    I don’t think gender plays too much into these situations, its often easiest to blame the male attendees because they make up the majority of attendees, when in fact many are feeling excluded themselves. Whether we feel comfortable going for a drink with others in our industry is more a reflection of our own personality traits than gender stereotypes.

  9. I disagree with even rising a question like that (drinking problem?) – you notice it much more, because conferences for you are so common that it’s almost your job.

    For “normal people” conferences are kind of holidays, getaways. And drinking is often a thing that you getaway 🙂 I saw people drunk on many conferences and not a single time I’ve seen any abuses or serious mishaps because of that.

  10. I can’t say I’ve seen much outright drunkenness at conference events. On the other hand I am somewhat older and don’t really know what the young kids are up to these days. I’m much more perturbed by the terrible and unhealthy food that is the staple of conferences.

  11. I think you’re right about many things but I’d strongly disagree on the connection to any specific industry or field. This kind of social drinking is a human phenomenon. You’ll find in any scientific or professional gathering (congresses, conferences, meetups, …) and it’s just as accentuated in the social sciences as it is in tech. I think a couple of factors contribute to the phenomenon: availability of the alcohol, lack of the usual control by spouses, partners, peers, etc., euphoric emotional state due to the elevated sense of purpose that conferences with professional peers can induce. I think that especially organizers of conferences have to be aware of the topic and see it as a health and quality management responsibility to limit excessive drinking and balance the social program.

  12. this is just another article that wants people (in this case nerds) to behave in a certain über-political correct way. a little bit like “thought police” – i call it “behavior police”.

    like with most things i dare to say the alcohol consumption at tech conferences follows a bell curve: some don’t drink at all, the majority have a couple of beers and a few totally waste themselves.

    what is wrong with that? nothing…but…hold on…..we must think about the females!!! drinking is a male thing!!! so all the female tech conference attendes must be intimidated because of this evil thing called alcohol that gets served there (often for free!). errrm… ever been to an average club? have a look around, drinking is not just for guys. we girls can handle alcohol and the occassional drunk weirdo just fine, no matter if they appear on the dancefloor or at a tech conference.

    a little bit of alcohol is not evil, it helps people to open up and to socialise. sure, some don’t know how to handle it but so what? it’s no reason to spoil it for the rest by banning alcohol from conferences.

    this leaves only one interesting point: what about the under 21s / under 18s (depending on the country)? not sure but maybe a different badge for them could be a solution so that they can only get juice/cola at the bar but no alcohol?! my gut feeling is that the majority of youngsters are put off by conferences anyway because tickets are usually too expensive for them 🙁

  13. Haha! NICE! I’ve never had this issue, although I haven’t been to many conferences. I could easily see how this can be a problem, and more or less since you’re a lady.

    I love the coffee (and/or tea?!) shop suggestion! But the problem is getting everyone to attend it. I’m sure a bar will sound more appealing to most people.. Definitely in Europe. However in my own perspective town walks, pretty much sound the most ideal. That’s what I do and would do if I’m not from the area! It’s better if you’re not! One can get lost and have lots of interesting in-depth conversations. Technical and of personal interest. Group or individual.

    I don’t think the industry has a drinking problem. I feel more like it’s one of the only times that everyone feels accessible to drinking. And with people within the same industry, they can endlessly talk and talk trash with these other individuals and not feel like a total outcast in the group.

  14. I know a woman who experiences the same thing when she goes on corporate outings with her company’s brass. Although she has no problem enjoying a drink in a social situation, she does not like to drink when surrounded by professional colleagues.

    Despite the trappings, gatherings like these are not purely social — you haven’t chosen to gather with these people because they are friends that you trust. I completely get why a woman might not want to hang out with a bunch of professional acquaintances, many of whom are male, when alcohol is likely to make them significantly less professional. It must be tough to be “one of the guys” when one of the other guys gets his beer goggles on and decides to start flirting with you.

  15. I’m a little confused; is the article trying to infer – based largely on observing people’s behaviour at conferences – that a lot of people in the industry have a drinking problem? While I don’t doubt that some do, it’s a little like extrapolating people’s behaviour at the Christmas party across the whole year – if you did so, you’d have a very skewed impression of who has a problem and who doesn’t! It’s also a very grave insinuation – there’s a big difference between a bunch of people struggling in the morning with a hangover and a serious condition that ruins lives. Perhaps that’s not the suggestion the article’s making, but it does use the phrase “drinking problem”.

    The fact is for most people – those who attend the odd conference rather than “do the tour” – it’s escapism from the day-job, a break from the office, and the evenings offer a chance to let your hair down. Some people might prefer to do that by go-karting, some by running the 5k – but I’d wager a lot more people are going to want to go to the pub. If, once at the pub, someone can’t control themselves, then that’s down to them – and frankly, nothing to do with “the industry”. A lot of teachers like a drink, that doesn’t mean education has a drinking problem – talk about a generalisation.

    I get that some people won’t be interested, but having tried to suggest this is a problem the author goes on to make some good suggestions for alternatives – great, options for everyone, someone simply has to organise it. If the demand’s there, it’ll happen. One small point I’d like to make, though – there will always people who want to drink in the evenings at a conference, and if you take that away you’re alienating _them_. I know it’s rubbish being sober amongst people drinking, but what’s more inclusive – some people drinking coffee or soft drinks in a pub, or a bunch of people unable to drink alcohol because they’re in a coffee shop?

  16. Great article, Rachel. Having helped organize conferences and local tech meetup events, I agree that this is a problem. Attendees view conferences as a vacation and a chance to meet other people. When the only opportunity for this is an open bar, they’ll often drink more and stay out later than they normally would. I’m certainly guilty of this.

    Preventing that behavior is up to the event organizers and the challenge is twofold. Finding a non-bar venue that works for your group size isn’t so hard but the event also has to have enough universal appeal to draw everyone out during the non-conference hours. Drinking isn’t the problem but rather a lack of creativity. I’ve heard of some great networking events at conferences like photo walks, dodgeball tournaments, bowling and morning workouts. I’d love to see more variety like this but they never seem to draw as many people out as an open format social at a bar. Most conference bar parties are crowded and loud anyway so maybe that’s not a problem.

    Even drinking itself could be remixed a bit. I recently attended an optional, extra-fee craft beer tasting at a conference. It was a great opportunity to learn about some local brews and meet other webbies who also love craft beer. As long as there are a variety of networking alternatives that keep all types of people engaged, I don’t think drinking itself should be totally shot down.

  17. Drinking has perils, but what I see is primarily people behaving responsibly, continuing the conversations about CouchDB and Redis and HBase that they were having. I haven’t found evidence of exclusion happening- non-drinkers being ignored, unable to participate. It’s certainly fun to prod at people and suggest a hungover state, but rarely does that reporting-bias come with the telltale throbbing head and light sensitivity of the real deal- I think most people look pretty good, and I’m especially happy that I have the rare opportunity to say that about someone I know only got 4 hours of sleep, because we both kept comparing storage backends until early in the morning.

    Few I think are gullible enough to confuse the dress code- social/drinks avail- for the event itself, for the enthusiasm of getting to open up and pour out some of ourselves with other practitioners. I for one am happy to navigate this gray area like an adult, and one I hope others report as responsible.

  18. At the UX Immersion conference in Seattle (spring, 2013) there was an assortment of restaurants for dinner sign-ups. That was great–pick your fav food, sign up, and meet a dozen people over dinner. We all gotta eat. 😉

  19. I think this is a great article with an unfortunate title. I don’t think Rachel is saying. “all drinking = bad”. I think she’s saying that there should be some formal non-drinking alternatives. I love Jason’s comment above, “Drinking isn’t the problem but rather a lack of creativity.”

    I’m a fairly shy person, so I like to get to know people via more structured activities (even just having dinner as Catherine suggests above). Drinks receptions are the highlight of a conference for many people, but for some of us, they can be uncomfortable and alienating. I’d jump at the chance to get to know you on a walk around the city, charitable activity, hackathon, or similar. And, maybe once I know you, we can all go have a drink. 🙂

    So, I raise my (water-filled) glass, to Rachel for writing this article.

  20. I used to not drink. I was one of those health nazis. However I discovered other countries smoke and drink on a regular basis and I learned to adapt. I no longer hate smoke. I no longer shy away alcohol. Yet I still get my hour or two of aerobic exercise in each day. I think you have been propagandized with American standards. You are better than that.

  21. Have to agree with some of the other comments here…definitely not an industry phenomenon, but a conference one. I hear similar stories from friends in other industries: medical, financial, law…the saddest one was witnessing it first-hand at a conference for drug and alcohol treatment workers that my wife attended in Anaheim.

    I completely agree with the proposed solution, though — setting up some cool official alternatives would help a lot, especially for people like me who don’t drink.

  22. I think this misses the real problem ( saying this as a male, don’t drink, no drugs, vegetarian, 8 cups a day coffee drinker).

    Our industry requires us to work like crazy people, as a programmer i work frequent all nighters, weekends, weeks etc. I rarely get the opportunity to see anything between sleep/commute/work.

    So conferences etc end up being a place to relax or let your hair down type of thing,.

    I’m also curious as to whether or not there is a significant number of people that were unable to perform, or if they were just hungover.

    But i see ad hear lots of people that drink, drugs (legal and not so much), and other stuff just to keep going in this fiercely competitive industry, if you don’t pay attention for five minutes, you’re already behind.

    There is a reason the Silicon valley people put their heads together in the 70/80s to stop unions, time off. overtime and that sort of thing in this industry (As a salaried programmer you’d pre pretty much SOL in the usa and same elsewhere) Maybe fixing that first will help the rest (not that i’d really want a union)

    Honestly as non drinker, i’ve often thought, maybe just one, everyone seems not to care and be having fun.

  23. Article title definitely comes across as a little judgey. I enjoy a drink (or twelve), but I just wanted to say I wish there was more dope smoking going on at these conferences! I was at CMS expo and I was the only guy holding greens. It made my quite popular but the reefs ran out pretty fast!

  24. Totally agree with melissarach above. I think the negative comments are mostly missing the point Rachel was making because they’re misled by the poor title of this article (it’s a play on words, not literal). Yes, as other commenters have said, conferences are often a chance for people to be on vacation and let loose–but the point is that not everyone likes to let loose and have fun by drinking. Plenty of people just aren’t into drinking, and plenty others can’t/shouldn’t drink even if they want to (age, religion, health, addiction, etc.). Neither is the point that we shouldn’t have alcohol at all. We just should offer a more diverse array of events at conferences to help more people have fun, rather than only having events with nothing to do other than drink and talk. As a non-drinking introvert, I certainly would appreciate more variety!

  25. Well put article. Sad it didn’t address the drinking problem that seems to be prevalent amongst development agencies. Seems like everyone is touting an in office keg as a work perk. Between the crazy drinking developers do, and the other poor habits a good majority of developers have, it is a widely unhealthy field to be in.

    It would be nice to see events/companies that did things a little bit healthier.

  26. Great article.
    The culture of these events accepts and encourages excessive drinking and normalises the behaviour. While it’s important to accept responsibility for your drinking it’s the communities responsibility to create a safe culture for it’s members to be a part of.

  27. This is a societal, not and industry, issue. It also seems to me quite an American perspective. Most Brits/Europeans enjoy having a drink or two.

    It’s fair enough if you want to be healthy/alert/alcohol-free, nobody is forcing you to have a drink, but expecting others to go on ‘interesting’ history walks instead of socialising in a bar seems a bit unrealistic.

    Maybe just start your unofficial ‘Day 2 Running Club’ at the conferences you go to, and anyone who’s keen/doesn’t want to drink can come along.

  28. Interesting article Rachel. I think pub meetups are a great part of our industry. But I’m glad that there are people out there thinking of other options. It certainly does get tiresome when *every* opportunity to meet up is centered around alcohol.

  29. I think our industry has a conference problem. The sheer number of conferences and events are just overwhelming. And each conference seems to feature the same people and same talks. I agree it’s a sign of a healthy community and can promote the industry and professionalism but, it just appears to be the same groups preaching the same message to the same believers with the disposable income to attend. Perhaps the conferences’ focus should be on attracting persons outside the industry to give them a better understanding of what we do and how it can improve their bottom line or community.

    But yes, responsible drinking, and other behavior, should be encouraged. When it’s detrimental to the conference, evening alternatives should be offered to limit the potential for bad behavior.

  30. Well said Rachel. Thank you.

    At the last conference I attended, I gladly opted out of late night drinking and parties. I am 38 and I spent many, many years in my 20’s doing just that, so … “been there, done that” you know?

    Instead I opted for meals with friends and then decompressed with cable TV, AC and a comfortable bed.

    While craft beers and whiskey may be hip and cool, the reality is, alcohol can be dangerous, destructive and just plain obnoxious.

    Drink responsibly or don’t drink at all

  31. I don’t see the issue? You position yourself as being in a minority of people, first as a—frequent—speaker and then as someone who doesn’t necessarily appreciate the alcohol-centric nature of post-conference events. So you are a member of a small, perhaps even niche group.

    And yet you are then able to find a small niche group who do enjoy an activity that you also like, running.

    Surely based upon free-market economics if more people enjoyed running instead of drinking then the number of conference jogs would increase while the number of conference bar meet-ups would decrease. Conference organisers are going to appeal to the majority of their audience.

    Also I fail to see what difference your gender makes? I thought we had long ago done away with the need for a snug?

  32. Reading the comments:

    Simply put, drinking alcohol is a socially accepted past time (in the immortal (paraphrased) words of the late, great Bill Hicks, “Alcohol is a legal drug, a TAXED drug”) and can be extremely destructive to some, yet perfectly harmless to others. The popularity surge of craft beers and whiskey amongst “artsy” people is simply a “new” way to consume alcohol, the “hip”, “cool”, acceptable way, and this surge is a big reason why conferences provide this socially.

    The point of the article is not to say “No Drinking!” but to say, let’s offer alternatives to the typical bar/pub and alcohol fest, offer alternatives for all types of people. Not all web/tech people/artists are in to the same stuff.

    @Kevin Shelton well said, I would agree. I approach conferences as a once or twice a year thing to meet new people, see new friends, improve my craft and represent my company. In the future, if given an opportunity and if I have something to offer, I may choose to give a talk a few times a year. But in reality, I have a family and life in NC that is more important and not a lot of disposable income. Half of the conferences are available online and while you would miss the networking and camaraderie, you can still learn and grow your craft.

  33. You make a good point. It occurs to me in retrospect that something the folks at the ConvergeSE conference did earlier this year provided a nice alternative to the pub meet. For lunch time between talks, they got a bunch of local restaurants & food cart vendors to set up in the plaza in front of the museum (centrally located to all the conference venues). There were tables and chairs set up and a local bluegrass band playing. I’m sure some people still went off on their own to lunch, but this impromptu food court really encouraged folks to meet & mingle.

  34. I applaud your idea of having other types of meet ups that don’t involve drinking. I have two problems with bar scenes at conferences: 1. I don’t drink. 2. I’m old, which means almost no one is willing to talk to me. I have to squeeze every bit of good I can from conference sessions, chance hallway conversations, and the occasional meet up organized outside of a drinking establishment.

  35. There are not many industries dominated by quiet types, but this is certainly one of them.

    Introverts need alcohol to socialize.

    Who wants to attend a dry tech conference? Anyone?

  36. Thank you so much for actually bringing this up. For me personally, I don’t care much one way or the other about whether there are meetups after a conference, as I am not a freelancer and don’t attend for the networking opportunities. However speakers, organizers, or even attendees who drink enough that they can’t act professional (either in the moment or the next moment) is just cringe-worthy. My main problem, personally, is that conferences have such a reputation for drinking and partying, that I have a lot of trouble getting training money out of my managers to attend anything with the word ‘conference’ in the name, no matter how good the panelists are or how much I learn there.

  37. I don’t think it is an industry specific thing, any conference that has after hours social events has a bit of booze flowing, teaching, politics, academia all similar to technology in terms of conference related boozing. Yes, conferences should plan activities with a bit more imagination, but that normally comes with extra costs and effort. I have run a few geeknic events, lunchtime picnics in a London park which have been mildly successful, but I do still like pub meets. A pub *is* a safe space. It is engineered and licensed to be a safe space (that isn’t to say that bad things can’t and don’t happen in licensed premises, but it is one of the few places where the risks are formally considered and mitigated). It is a good place to meet people you don’t know so well, there will be other people there, and there will be sober staff who are responsible for maintaining a safe environment. In London when I have hired a space (Isslington Hub) for an event (there was booze, but there didn’t have to be) it struck me as far more intimidating for attendees, to turn up to an unstaffed building to meet a bunch of people that probably know each other, with nobody else around. In london, good non-pub places include the Hub Kings Cross, Hub Westminster and the Firebox cafe. Generally though, having examined the alternatives, and being aware of the downsides (excluding under 18s, and being more alcohol focussed than I would like) I would still on balance go for a pub for an evening meetup.

  38. The part of this article that resonates the most with me is Conference speakers who talk about excessive drinking of their own and others, and hangovers. Sure, lots of people drink responsibly and for many a conference is a mini- vacation from routine and participants may party a bit more. What I worry about is the encouragement of over-drinking and the glorifying of it. Every year college students actually die from alcohol poisoning , as well as from alcohol-related injuries. I think we would serve as a better example if we made sure to send a more moderate message. I don’t think it is censorship, or political correctness or prudery. I applaud the writer speaking out on this issue. It obviously inspires strong feelings.

  39. By and large, we’re not always the most mature bunch. I mean think about it, us Web Developers and UI Guys and Gals and Full Stack Developers and the rest of the web crowd are typically driven, love what we do, and do it because we love it. Most of us work in offices with foosball tables or from home. Most of us didn’t tread the beaten path on the way to making a good living doing what we love. Every once in a while, it’s good to blow off some steam and grab a drink with friends, old and new, who share the love, triumphs, and fascination with this ever evolving web we are helping to create. Drinking is a choice – and very occasionally, in the best of company, I like to get lost in my cups.

  40. I can definitely relate to many points of this article, but it’s tough what conference organizers can do with their limited resources regarding adding more variety to their events outside the bar.

    Organizers going out their way to create post-conference events that competes with the deeply-rooted tradition most have to go to the bar post-conference is a tough task.

    It will be doing so with the expectation that organizers implement post-conference activities that are valuable enough to justify an increase to the overall cost of the conference to fund such activities and/or not take too much away from improving/sustaining the overall quality of the conference.

    Outside of having a round on them to begin the festivities at the bar, there’s little sunk cost to having a bar being available to guests or inviting attendees to one nearby in the minds of organizers, and as a result it haven’t been too much of a concern for organizers to explore additional ways for attendees their conferences to enjoy themselves. I’ve always thought.

    It probably doesn’t make sense to deviate from this formula from their perspective.

    But that’s sort of a moot point of course: organizers should be willing to do it for the sake of being more diverse despite the pay-off may not be immediately apparent towards improving the overall satisfaction of the conference (nor profitable). Failure isn’t the worst of failures, having not tried is.

  41. Conferences I’ve physically attended that HAVE provided a great variety of events for attendees outside a bar are hosted by for-profit companies whose pockets are really, really deep–such as Adobe and their awesome Adobe Max post-conference events. Things like mini-competitions for those to show off their skills, a concert by the bar, and etc.

    But that isn’t something that’s feasible for most conferences based on open-source projects and similar causes. In most cases, the conference or meet-up was merely organized by a group of very intelligent people that organized the event primarily to hang out with people just as passionate as they are about the main topics of the conference, as well as educate and train people about the things they’re passionate about, for a day or two.

    From their perspective, with all the money I can imagine they must spend towards a well-ran event, a bar near the venue of the conference–sometimes merely the bar at the venue if the conference took place at a fancy hotel–is cost-effective to limit attendees to (as far as post-conference activities for organizers to be directly involved with).

    The demand is certainly there: Given the scary developer stories attendees and speakers have shared with me usually involved some OLDIE (old version of Internet Explorer) and so on, I can somewhat understand why that bottle of Gin & Juice, Whiskey, or Wine (I don’t drink so if I’m only naming bad drinks, I can’t help it) would be a great way to end a conference day consuming… and that’s not even taking into account the accumulated stress they had attending or managing the event.

    For some, beer is “courage juice” necessary for them to open up (whether that’s rational or not, is outside of my scope of comprehending; I’m not a drinker).

    Also, it’s very easy for non-drinkers and drinkers to co-exist to still talk and network after the conference at a bar vs creating an post-conference event that may make more people left out, fragment the ability to network and meet people, and so on…

    Ultimately, it’s a win-win for most organizers: Most of their attendees are happy and they spend very little for this to happen.

    There’s definitely people who can take it overboard with their drinking, but it’s a personal problem if someone goes overboard with their consumption of alcohol. They’re (hopefully) adults.

    It’s a professional event after all, not drinking with the ‘homies’ or the ‘homegirls’. There’s expectations you’ll be mindful of that if you decide to drink to an extent you’re “too loose” to not bring attention to yourself. Professionals trust fellow professionals to not get overboard with their drinking.

    Outside of having policies to make sure such people don’t distract from the conference normal proceedings or be asked to leave accordingly, organizers can’t really account too much for that than they already do.

    Of course, some will inevitably have the feeling they are “left out” at a bar full of drinking attendees, but then again, that’s a personal problem if someone were to feel that way as a result of going to a bar with people who do in fact drink. And that’s especially true for students and those with health conditions that make it illegal, nonsensical, or unwise to drink with the speakers they attended the conference to meet (or the attendees they’ve befriended throughout the conference).

    I’m one of those people, being a person that suffered a stroke, and had open-heart surgery shortly afterwards, at age 18 due to a birth defect. I never consumed recreational drugs prior to that incident.

    As a result, I refrain from recreational drugs today despite the fact I can drink or smoke — it’s just hard for me to justify it given my health history.

    I’ve always chose apple juice or a Shirley Temple if I ever felt I was pressured to drink in order to have a non-awkward conversation with a group of speakers or fellow attendees at a conference.

    I deliberately waited till I was of drinking age to even consider going physically to conferences knowing somewhat of a “drinking culture” involved with web conferences; I primarily attended online conferences accordingly as I worked hard to understand the web industry from afar until I graduated from college this May.

    When it comes to drinking after meet-ups, conferences, and similar events; I’ve merely seen it as something that adults just do, just like the binge drinking and borderline insane drinking games (and other pregame activities) my college peers subject themselves to every weekend. It always seemed to me that bar-going and conferences go hand-in-hand.

    But then again, just because that’s the way things are today doesn’t mean it ought to be that way. Well, that’s what I understood from Rachel’s article.

  42. I’m sure the bar tradition can perhaps be awkward for students and those like me who have reasons to be in an environment that sometimes urges you to drink, but the majority of full-price, paying attendees don’t mind having post-conference events being limited to such activities and most go.

    Whether organizers will care to shake things up a bit remains to be seen.

  43. @David Yarde- I totally agree! I see developers in startups have a list and a kegerator is almost always on that list. There are other things that have the same pattern of a cool new toy to have fun with. There should be more of an emphasis on productivity but i guess this has to do with the attitude of that discipline, at least for the majority.

  44. I can’t help but notice that the alternatives the author suggests are all walking activities. But just as not not everyone can drink, not everyone can take even an easy stroll around the neighborhood, much less a 5k. I’m not talking about just the obvious disabilities, but about invisible ones like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, and about just simple physical problems that don’t reach the level of disability. I’m not physically disabled, but my knees are so bad that a “social” walk is just not much of an option. And I can’t drink much, either.

    I wouldn’t suggest a restaurant for a meetup, given then numbers problem, but it’s certainly an option for social events at conferences. Or a catered event in a hospitality suite. Change the focus to food (even just nibbles) instead of booze. And meetups can be held in coffee houses quite easily, and ones centered around other topics often are. Just consult the baristas ahead of time, especially if you mean to make it a regular one.

    There are all kinds of social events that can be held that don’t involve drinking. Just look at what other industries do, and more social conventions. It’s not difficult.

  45. I totally agree with you. I lately attended at the WordCamp Europe and there was a party between the two days. It took place in a disco and every attendee was given 5 coupons. Unfortunately, the music was so loud, the only thing you could do is drinking, as networking was nearly impossible.

    I really liked you story about the running through the Tiergarten. Too bad our WP Camp in Berlin is only one day. I would otherwise try to find some attendees to go running with me 😉

  46. I like changing timing, so events in the morning (e.g. Lean Coffee) or at lunch time / during the day. That tends to change the dynamic in other ways as well.

    Currently for evening events, I mostly use spaces offered by companies.

  47. Coming late to the party here (ba-dum-tish).

    A great article, which I will respectfully disagree with for two reasons.

    First, take the unique nature of our industry into account. Most of us work alone, remotely, and at random hours. We only know each other through avatars and status updates. We may never meet the colleague who helps us get through a tough project in real life.

    By contrast my husband works a regular shift in a factory with hundreds of colleagues. They will often go out for a pint after work on Friday, play five-a-side football in a work team in the evenings, or go to gigs. They also enjoy each others’ company and conversation during the day. 

    What he takes for granted is alien to a home-based freelancer working with Twitter and Spotify for company. For the web community, conferences might be the one time per year someone can enjoy industry social contact or be invited to a night out. It might be the first and only time you will be in the physical company of the people that have your back. And if you make the most of that one time out per year, so what? It doesn’t make your life into a Victorian engraving about the dangers of gin.

    The second reason I disagree is a sad observation that I made in a city-wide, non-industry networking group. One individual in that group has a serious drinking problem. I didn’t connect the dots until they randomly phoned me at home one night, while I was giving my kid a bath, extremely drunk and sobbing hysterically over something I had tweeted earlier in the day. They bore no recollection of the call the next day. After that, the person’s behaviour – always being first at the bar, tweeting things Iike “train’s delayed – hurrah for the drinks trolley!”, and even contracting to the drinks industry (paid partially in kind!) made sad sense. 

    I realised that as a professional alcoholic, that person uses the convivality and social nature of the networking group as a cover to hide their drinking in plain sight. The networking group organisers clearly don’t see it, as they openly celebrate the person’s faithful commitment to never missing a networking event. Their “Yay networking because networking is great!” mentality (which the web community is refreshingly free of) is enabling an alcoholic and they’re too lost in their own PR to see it.

    Industries and networking groups don’t have drinking problems – people do. And if one of our industry members fell into that category, who will be the one who connects the dots? You will be, on a night out during a conference. 

  48. This article is long overdue. This industry celebrates a lifestyle that cannot be sustained…long hours in a sedentary position (even if using the faddish stand-up desks, you’re still immobile), with copious amounts of junk food, caffeine and beer are the surest recipe for a health disaster.

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