On the 5th and 6th July 2022, Worldline held its 13th edition of the TechForum. It was the first in a hybrid mode, meaning that it had both onsite and online attendees. In addition to that, it was also a first for us Ibrahim, Sylvain and Yassine to work together as the organizing team.
This article provides some highlights of this event. First, we will present the event. Then, we will give more details about its hybrid transformation. Finally, we will mention some notable talks and end with our conclusion.
Presentation of the TechForum
The TechForum is the annual internal conference organized by Worldliners for Worldliners. It gives the opportunity for colleagues to gather, discuss and share their ideas and works. It is organized in a similar manner as a developers conference; with CFP + review + invitation to register for all employees of the company. On the networking side, there is a BBQ party during the evening of the first day, with games, food and drinks.
This year, more than 48 conferences and 13 demos were accepted. After two years of remote editions, there were strong expectations from Worldliners to see each other again. So this year, the TechForum was back to a face-to-face event with live streaming for online attendees. How did this transformation happen?
Transformation of the TechForum into a hybrid event
The COVID pandemic brought lots of changes in our lives and the way we work. Regarding the TechForum, when the lockdowns took place in 2020, the organizing team did not cancel the event but instead found a way to make it happen online.
Since the speakers were stuck at home and the videoconferencing platforms were not ready yet for such a big event, they were asked to pre-record videos of their talks and they were played during the whole month of October. That was called the TeX Show 2020.
Although we were glad and proud to have found a way for Worldliners to share what they learned and worked on in 2020, we knew this could not been called a TechForum. That’s why the organization team had a new challenge for 2021: make a real TechForum experience, but online.
The Virtual Hall
Translating the TechForum into a fully remote event was a challenge that required new tools and platforms. That’s why we built the TechForum Virtual Hall in 2021: a whole new platform, internally developed at GRS (the division providing tools and services to the developers’ community), whose goal was to bring back this ability to share and discover, even when stuck at home. We wanted to do more than just live streaming talks: we wanted the audience to be able to see each other, to interact with each other, to react to the content and make these reactions visible, audible. Ultimately we wanted the audience to be actors and not only spectators.
Of course, we were not the only event organizers having to adapt to this situation. Almost everyone was shifting to online events at that time, and it was clear Zoom calls were not enough. We got inspired by several initiatives such as the Google IO Adventure or Gather. It was also fun to see that we shared many ideas in common with these new platforms, and implemented them in slightly different ways. It gave us confidence that we were going in the right direction.
Despite all the technical challenges, bugs and snags, we received great positive feedback from TechForum 2021 online speakers and attendees. Given the unprecedented nature of our mode of organization, having to organize simultaneous live streams from our bedrooms or living rooms, we were relieved that it went so well. The time and resources invested in the Virtual Hall and all the organization around, the resulting success and overall positive feedback, implied that we were going to continue to deliver an online experience for future editions of the TechForum.
But in 2021, attendees were very clear in their feedback: everyone really wanted to return to a face-to-face format as well. That’s why the TechForum 2022 brought another challenge: be the first hybrid in person and remote edition of the TechForum.
The hybrid format is quite scary for events’ organizers, because it sounds like double trouble. We have to manage both the constraints and the challenges of a physical event and a remote event, at the same time, with the same team. Additionally, the recurrent changes in COVID-related health rules for physical meetings was a true roller coaster for our team. Organizing a physical TechForum takes about 6 months, so we started in January. At that time, it was impossible to predict the state of the pandemic constraints 6 months later, so we add to adapt our organization to be flexible. We initially planned to only invite the speakers, since it was the only way to fully respect the social distancing and other safety measures in force in January on Worldline’s campus in Seclin. Then when the constraints started to lighten, we progressively invited more people, and we ended with more than 300 people registered in June.
While, with hindsight, we are glad we came to this format with enough people on site to find the familiar atmosphere of a real TechForum, we knew we also had a large audience online that we should not disappoint.
Our main objective with this hybrid format is that we wanted to narrow the boundary between on site and online experience. We definitely did not want the online experience to be perceived as a second-class one, because that would not have been fair to people who had no other choice than follow the event online.
To achieve this, we worked on several tasks:
- share the same content online and onsite: while we did not find a way to digitalize the sausages of the BBQ, all the talks were live-streamed and all the demos were available in videos (actually there were more demos available online than in the Showroom in Seclin)
- share the atmosphere: in addition to the virtual crowd reactions and digital goods to pimp your avatar, we installed a camera that filmed the hall and conference rooms during the two days, to catch the ambience. The video stream could be watched from the virtual hall, so online attendees could see the event as if they were there.
- make the online audience visible on site: something new appeared on the timer screens of the speakers: this year, they could also see the virtual crowd of online attendees watching their talk live! Reactions were also displayed, and a member of staff was in charge of forwarding the questions of the online audience to the speakers at the end of their talks.
We hope our efforts paid to make this new hybrid format enjoyable for everyone. We already have several ideas to even improve this format for next editions: a bigger screen for the online audience to be seen by everyone, new ways to interact between online and on site attendees, more live broadcasts in other countries… Everything remains to be invented. We are also aware of the technical problems experienced by the online audience, in particular untimely disconnections. These were due to a problem in our production server infrastructure, that will be changed and fixed for the next editions.
This journey to hybrid goes further than the scope of the TechForum. We saw our way of working radically changed since the pandemic, and so are your meetings and work habits.
Behind the scenes view of the event
The live streaming of the event
Previous editions of Techforum sessions were recorded but without providing a full live experience. Behind the scenes of the Virtual Hall 2022, we enabled & professionalized the capture of the event.
The live streaming was made possible thanks to the intense partnership between GECA and the Worldline Studio team. The latter is responsible of the newly created digital center in Paris and already streaming corporate events such as CxO communications, the e-Payment challenge, the sales convention and so many more!
In order to provide the best possible live streaming experience for online attendees, we organized ourselves as followed:
- Define the event conditions: the location, number of rooms & attendees, speaker remote, slides & videos setup (speaker laptop or not…).
- Precise measurement of the space: Mapping is key for that to find the best control rooms, camera & speakers, speaker positioning…
- Hardware inventory: Based on the event conditions we try to validate the accurate hardware for each room.
- Network definition: Streaming inside a company office requires in most cases authorizations for special network openings.
- Architecture & constraint definition of the installations: we put on a map the validated installations.
- Scenes & and conductor creation: We used VMix / NDI® based architecture for streaming our sessions on the Vimeo platform. We work hard with the internal Worldline Plus communication agency to define all the scenes that would appear on the screen of online viewers. The conductor is also a master piece of the streaming project. It is a document that describes the planning of all the actions and streams in a second per second basis.
- Shipment & logistic: delivery and setup of the furniture and logistics was planned and achieved with the help of the logistic & housing team of Seclin. We thank them for making that possible.
- Rehearsal the previous day: test all defined event conditions and make sure it works. Fix the install at the end of the day and secure the rooms!
There is a lot more to say about this amazing experience (delivering the videos of each talk within 24h, dismantling …) but as a last feedback, streaming a multi-room event is a collaborative and exciting mission!
Next year will be for sure a next step for spreading the hybrid culture for all Worldline people and events.
Handling technical issues
As expected from a conference type event, various technical and material issues must be expected. In order to guarantee a smooth experience for the attendees, these issues must be fixed and prevented as soon as possible.
We anticipated beforehand the potential problems that could occur, such as:
- Provide laptops to speakers that are configured and ready to use and thus not having to use the speaker’s computer. This prevents the situation where the speaker’s computer malfunctions or is not compatible with our streaming setup. We had also planned additional backup laptops in case the used one would break or have any problem, which was the case during the event.
- Retrieve the presentations of each talk in advance: with the experience of previous years, some speakers’ presentations were simply not viewable on D-Day. To avoid this, we took the initiative to ask for the presentations of each talk in advance and to warn in case of last minute modifications.
- For the online experience we carried out test sessions on the Virtual Hall to prevent possible problems and fix them before the event.
When the event was running, all the staff members of the organizing team helped fix any issue that occurred. In a hybrid event with the same team managing both the on site and online audiences, it was a complicated task to find time to solve the issues on the Virtual Hall. Indeed, we had to deal with some issues with the online audience that needed to be pushed to production as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, the event went very well and we noted many points of improvement for the next editions. We also managed to record all the talks with a very good quality without any issue. Here is a selection of talks.
A selection of talks
There was a wide variety of topics through the different talks and demos: metaverse, PayTech, security, software development (mobile, web, server) and AI to name a few. The metaverse and PayTech topics are new and trending, and they were well represented as expected from such an event as the TechForum.
To give an overview of the talks, some of them are mentioned in the remainder of this section. You will be able to view the recording of the presentation whenever there is a link on its title. So, now let’s unfold the event.
The unfolding of the event
The event started with the Founders’ usual words from François Hochedé and Denis Faivre to kick-off the conference. The first day of the event was the day to watch the conference of Guillaume Lefebvre, Frédéric Vieren and Johan Maes about demystifying the metaverse or the conference of Thomas Hoberg entitled The Personal Computer turns 40- is the rebel still valuable, among many other interesting talks.
During breaks between conferences or at lunch time, attendees were happy to cruise between demos in showroom and in the Atrium, where our sponsor AWS had a booth with goodies. Indeed, there is no way such an event like TechForum could exist without the partners who support us.
To close the first day of the event, we invited Horacio Gonzales, DevRel Leader at OVHCloud, on stage to speak about his return of experience on the DevRel job. Since Worldline is creating a DevRel team called the “TechSquad”, we were very curious to get some insight from an experienced and talented person. Horacio’s conversation with the TechForum organizer Yassine Benabbas was really inspiring and increased our confidence and motivation toward the importance of the TechSquad.
During the evening’s BBQ, three awards were given. The first one was for the best teaser from onsite votes. The second one was for the best teaser from online votes. The last one was given to the best demo.
The second day and closing of the event
After a good night’s rest, the second day started with a keynote from our sponsor AWS. Sébastien Stormack, Developer Advocate showed how AWS contributes to the application modernization and innovation in Digital Era.
Many talks related to security were put forward during the second day. For example, Jurjen Bos and Slim Bettaieb presented an update on post quantum cryptography. We also had talks related to payment as this is important in a PayTech company. To presntation entitled Payment in Conversational Commerce from Joan Vicent Orenga Serisuelo, Ricard Sala and Santi Ristol illustrates this.
In addition to conferences, many demo stands were available through the duration of the event. As an example, the picture below shows a colleague experiencing the metaverse demo and the next one shows the stand of the Kazan team which provides Worldline a development-to-production platform.
I hope that this excerpt of conferences and demos gave you a better overview of the event.
This first TechForum hybrid edition was a success. More than 250 Worldliners were gathered on site and more than 550 attended the event online. The talks and demos were very diverse and interesting.
We would like to take the opportunity to thank all the people who helped make this event a success: Cecile Robet, Amandine Fourdrignier, Maud Gallet, Jean-Baptiste Drucker, Quentin Carpentier, Olivier Buhendwa, Julie Jouault, the speakers, the attendees, AWS, the local events organizers and anyone else who contributed to this event.
You can watch the aftermovie of the event here:
Here is a selection of some pictures taken during the event:
We are really excited about the TechForum 2023! See you next year.