Interview with O’Reilly Strategic Content Director: Rachel Roumeliotis

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O'Reilly Media is, without a doubt, the premier publisher of educational books in our industry.  When you see a tech book with an illustrated animal on the cover, it's a safe bet that book is the highest in content quality.  The same can be said about conferences:  O'Reilly Media hosts several of the key web tech conferences throughout the world like OSCON, Velocity, and Fluent Conference, and they're all top class.

Since the tech landscape changes so quickly, I wanted to talk to O'Reilly's Strategic Content Director and Chair of OSCON, Rachel Roumeliotis, about how she keeps content fresh and up to speed with O'Reilly's conferences!

1.  How do you balance providing great content and speakers for both a beginner in the audience as well as an expert-level developer?

Magic. No, but seriously it is difficult, a some art and science is used to consider the OSCON community. As you infer we have a wide audience with different job roles and experience so we want to have something for everyone, but we also want each type of audience member to have a rich experience, so what you'll find is content from intro level to advance with a large sweet spot of content in the middle that is accessible to a wide audience. And, even if you are an expert-level developer you aren't an expert in everything and that is one of the reasons we see people come to OSCON for the first time and return again and again.

2.  Technology moves so quickly these days.  How does O'Reilly stay ahead of the tech curve?

Woo, that is a difficult one as well. I guess if I was to really boil it down it is a combination of being immersed in different communities, listen to all sorts of folks from those communities, researching trends, and using our keen curatorial and publishing senses that we've built up over the years to turn all of that into content that helps our audience actually accomplish tasks today and get ready for what is coming up on the horizon.

3.  What challenges do you face when organizing conferences in different locations through out the world?  Are there content adjustments that need to be made based on location?

What I like to do with my fellow chairs is to make sure that we have a core idea around which we assemble that year's content that doesn't depend on location. Then, I tease that concept out when considering the location. For instance, we had an OSCON in London last fall so we had a bit of a highlight on performance for the financial crowd. For Austin, we have content on how to utilize open source from start-up to enterprise, Austin has a lot of start-ups as you may know, so we want to make sure that we cater to that audience, however, they have some long-time enterprise folks like Dell, IBM, and NVidia, as well as, satellite offices for Google and Apple.

4.  Digital content continues to grow in the developer education space.  What is O'Reilly currently offering for those that prefer to learn at home?

We are offering a wide variety of live (in person and online) content as well as on demand content through conferences like OSCON, of course, and via our platform at People learn in a variety of ways, some thrive in a live environment which is why we have online events and in person events, I know that is how I learn, but others might not have the time or opportunity, or just want to go at their own pace so we have LOTS of content that is digestible whenever you need it. They key here is context, we don't just want a person at home or office having to wade through content, whether live or on demand we are working on presenting content to our audience in ways that will be helpful. One way we've done that is by creating learning paths that by their very existence suggest that it is a topic that you should take a look at and are created to deliver on a learning promise, you will know how to do something at the end of this journey.

5.  How have O'Reilly conferences grown and changed over the years?

I can highlight this in how OSCON has evolved over near 20 years. It started as a Perl conference because that is what was needed to nurture that community and grow an important tool for developers, then it became an open source conference sculpted around multiple open source languages that came along with the advent of the open source movement. Now, with open source saturating software development, it really has become a software development conference with a focus on the tools, techniques, and workflows shaping this industry. Our conferences grow with a community, I'd like to think sometimes we help lead the way, in other cases we provide a spot for innovators to come together with a larger community and we walk that path with them. We need to provide everyday value to our attendees that they can take back with them to use immediately whether that be to improve a current project or ideate a new one.

6.  When someone attends an O'Reilly conference, what can they expect to leave with? (i.e. knowledge, networking, etc.)

Hopefully, inspiration backed by new knowledge and questions. We want the excitement that people have during the conference to spill over into their work, we want to charge people up! And, we want to put that inspiration to work with actual knowledge that they have gained at our conferences. That knowledge certainly comes from our sessions and speakers but it also comes from mingling in the hallway track. Our conferences should be a recharge for your brain and heart!

A big thanks to Rachel for taking the time to let me pick her brain.  Attending conferences is one of the quick, fun, and more effective ways to learn, network, and join different communities.  If you ever look to attend an O'Reilly conference, stop by the blog where you can get a 20% discount with code PC20DWALSH!

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