Code Pray Love: Interview with Oli Makhasoeva

Denis OleynikovOli Makhasoeva
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

By now, we all have learned to work with Zoom, GMeet, and other online tools. But what’s going on in the event industry? How do organizers attract speakers and grow their audience for online events? I interviewed Oli Makhasoeva – the main organizer of the biggest Haskell online event, Haskell Love Conference, in which our developer Vlad had a chance to participate in.

We talk about their experience organizing Haskell Love, how they kept it accessible for developers of all levels, and what things one should definitely keep in mind when organizing an online conference.

Interview with Oli Makhasoeva

– Hi Oli, first of all, thank you for organizing the biggest Haskell online event! How did it go from your point of view?

Thank you! We were relatively lucky; no major incidents, although we had some technical challenges. On the first day, we were unable to use our remote desktop, but we were fortunate enough to have a backup. Otherwise, the conference went amazing: a lot of participation from the audience, endless chats; the statistics say we had more than 2000 unique attendees. Many people reached out directly and thanked us for the event – the Haskell community is truly friendly and welcoming. We were happy to see people having conversations during the event at the Hallway track: not only about Haskell, but also about technology and life in general.

– Tell us about your team of organizers. How did you decide to work together and create the Haskell Love Conference?

I am proud to say it’s a women organized conference! Most of us know each other for quite a while, from university times. We have Elena who is responsible for planning, Ida who held communications, Margarita worked with sponsors. All of them are professionals, and I am happy to have them. What’s also important, our volunteers had a wide variety of skills and did an amazing job staffing the conference and inspiring others.

The idea to organize Haskell Love came after we organized the Scala Love conference together. We thought – why not spread the love further to other communities? To achieve this goal, we started a company called Konfy. Our motto is “Konfy - make your conference comfortable”. Our conferences will always be virtual and free to attend. <3 Oli Makhasoeva

– The website says that the conference accepts people with monad-o-phobia. ;) How do you make Haskell events exciting and accessible for everyone, no matter the level of experience the audience has?

Our program committee worked hard on making sure we included talks of different levels. However, we did not properly promote the level of the talks. We should have tagged all the talks and let people know the levels of the sessions. Action item for the next conference is created! We know how to make it better :)

– What are the main pros and cons of online conferences vs. offline ones? Are there any specific things you did to make the online conference feel more like the offline one?

Unlike offline ones, online conferences are accessible from everywhere to anyone with the internet (we even provided a low res streaming option because it was requested by someone with a weak internet connection). You can cover multiple time zones! No dietary restriction problems! Zero CO2 footprint! And a bigger audience for sponsors! :) These are the advantages of virtual events.

At an offline event, we gather people in a conference room. You go to a closed place, focus on a speaker, and emerge with new insights. In the case of online events, you think: “I’ll watch a talk and do my other stuff so I don’t lose time.” But let’s be honest, it is harder to concentrate on an FP-oriented talk when you do something simultaneously. To help people to focus and to make our conference feel more like the offline one, we are trying to create an interactive and engaging environment at everyone’s home. That is, we are trying to immerse the person into the atmosphere of the conference with Q&A rooms, the Hallway track, and the Twitter live stream. According to the feedback we got, we didn’t fail, but there is room for improvement.

– The conference featured many impressive names such as Philip Wadler, Simon Peyton Jones, and others. How did you gather so many bright minds in one place?

The Haskell community is full of enthusiasts who are willing to spend their time on a free conference and help the community. Speakers were awesome and supported our desire to gather Haskellers from around the world (also, they wanted to get our avatar 😉).

– What is the most challenging thing in organizing an event like that?

Building a flow for attendees: Q&A sessions, the Hallway track, announcements, participation, how to move between them, and where to find information about each activity. We still need to improve that part a lot: people were confused by time zones, it wasn’t easy for them to keep track of so many places, etc.

– To finish it up: what would be one piece of advice you would give to all who want to organize their own FP event?

Indeed, it was challenging, and we had to scramble, so we’d like to share what we learned in order to help others who are thinking about whether and how to host large events in the coming months: facilitation is the key. Investing in tools to make the sessions as interactive as possible, call-outs for questions before/during, live polls, etc. Don’t let people be silent and just watch a video, make an experience where many people get the feel of a community. If you need help with organizing an online event, reach out to us at info@konfy.care!

Many thanks to all who participated in this conference, we enjoyed it a lot and will come back next year! Follow us on Twitter to be up to date with our plans. And don’t be upset if you missed the event, the videos are already out on our Youtube channel.

Code Pray Love: Interview with Oli Makhasoeva
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