Nov 18, 2019 - Technology

Tech companies use huge conferences to battle for developer attention


Photo: Salesforce

As giant tech firms fight for the attention of their industry, they're putting more money and effort into transforming their conferences into mindshare-grabbing shows.

Why it matters: Tech firms use these events to woo business partners, inspire users, reward loyal developers and attract programming talent. For a wildly profitable industry, they're also becoming a new arena of excess.

Driving the news: Salesforce's Dreamforce, which runs this week in San Francisco, features former President Obama, soccer star Megan Rapinoe and Apple CEO Tim Cook, among many, many other people not known for their CRM software expertise.

  • It's not just Dreamforce, though. Splunk paid for Obama to appear at its conference earlier this year, while everyone from Adobe to Zoom uses celebrities to fill seats and boost buzz at their events.

What they're saying: "Every year we look at the previous year's Dreamforce and think 'How can we go bigger and better?' Somehow every year we raise the bar," Brigitte Donner, Salesforce's Dreamforce chair, told Axios.

New this year:

  • More monks: 30 monastics will travel from Plum Village, a monastic community in France, to lead over 6,000 people in mindfulness practices, with a keynote on Friday.
  • Where's the beef? Not at Dreamforce. Organizers say going beef-free at this year's conference will save at least 9 million gallons of water.

By the numbers: Dreamforce is the biggest of the company events, drawing 170,000 people to San Francisco's Moscone Center and snarling traffic downtown.

  • "We love hosting 170,000 of our closest friends, but it does bring some logistical challenges," Donner acknowledges.

Perks: In addition to providing a roster of celebrities during the day, it's common for these conferences to throw a gigantic attendee party at a big stadium, concert venue or amusement park. I've been to...

  • Microsoft events at Universal Studios
  • San Francisco's baseball stadium rented out by Oracle
  • I've also heard everyone from Pat Benatar to Metallica to Maroon 5 play for a crowd of developers. (Fleetwood Mac is playing at Dreamfest this year.)

Yes, but: Developer conferences can also cost a couple thousand dollars to attend. That's fine if your employer foots the bill, but can be quite a burden for freelancers and the self-employed.

The bottom line: Corporate decision makers wield a lot of purchasing power and tech companies are spending freely for their attention.

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