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How to lure programmers to your confere…

How to lure programmers to your conference booth?

Dec 12 2023

In this article, I will share some thoughts on what a booth staffer actually does, what types of activities visitors prefer, and how to keep the booth busy.


Have you come to a conference but don't yet understand how to draw attention to your painstakingly built booth? Here are some of my insights. Brightly colored booths with glowing signs and smiling people are a mecca for merch hunters at any conference. It may seem like a no-brainer to lure conference attendees. Just bring something colourful (and make sure it's plenty), and people will flock to you like moths to a flame. You can also encourage your visitors to earn some reward points that can be spent on anything they want: tote bags, t-shirts, thermoses, bottles, stickers, socks, phone stands, phone cases — in other words, the whole kit and caboodle. But what if you want to attract someone to your booth for more than 24 seconds and buy time to engage them in a productive communication?

Big secret 1

I'll tell you right away — programmers love puzzles. These are logic puzzles of different nature, from simple Tetris puzzles to complex web quizzes. Logic puzzles, in my opinion, are meat and drink to developers (but they won't turn down meat and drink either).

I saw proof of my observation in the office when I first thought about what makes people want to rack their brains. One of my teammates found a fun maze online and drew it on our whiteboard. We paused for a moment to think and giggle about it. But within 7 minutes, a group of guys thoughtfully scratching their beards gathered around the maze. Every developer who headed for the kitchen was mesmerised by the sight of the unsolved riddle. Collectively, we solved the puzzle in about 15 minutes, and I was left wondering if I should bring this maze game to our conference booth. Actually, all our puzzles, cherished and handed down over generations of event managers, are logic-based challenges. So, it didn't draw me to new conclusions, but it did confirm my assumptions.


Developers' love of puzzles is nothing new, not only to me, but to the whole dev community as well. On Reddit, coding is often compared to jigsaws. Roughly speaking, you look for the right element, or you take an element and try to find a place for it, switching to the bigger picture so that all these actions make some sense in the end. Unfortunately, few developers care about the neatness of the end result. That's why some pieces of our puzzle can sometimes be left vertical. The person was only told to find a place for the piece in the frame, not to place them in the same plane. I think this was my first encounter with the magical world of workarounds.


People always enjoy find-error-in-code puzzles at our booth. They always do, and even when we're running out of the merch at the end of the conference, we still have people hanging around and solving our puzzles just out of interest.


That's why we always bring puzzle cards with us, no matter what programming language the conference is focused on. The puzzle cards are divided by difficulty level, making it easier to convince someone to give it a try, "why not, after all, it only has one star!"

At the OFFzone conference, we once witnessed a curious situation: a council gathered on a bench near one of the halls, sharing advice on solving very familiar blue-capped puzzle cards. So nice to see it!

If you got interested what find-error-in-code puzzles I am talking about, you may compete with the analyzer and search for errors yourself. Challenge yourself here!

Big secret 2

Let me reveal it right away once again — programmers love rivalry! Currently, I bring only one board game where players play against each other — Pylos. There, you need to anticipate the other player's moves to beat your opponent, almost like chess. It's not that difficult, but to play as equals, you have to get used to the rules and have an eye for the game. So, be ready to lose a few games to me! Few people play carefully the first time. The rules may seem simple and give the impression that you don't have to think hard. But not this time! As a result, after losing a few games to me, people can set their sights on beating me at all costs. They come to our booth in between conference talks, they come at every opportunity to snatch victory — and they do it not for the gifts but for the feeling of victory. Often the collective mind plays against me because those who want to crack this game are sure to bring friends, colleagues and spouses and think of every ball placed on the board in twos (or even threes). I enjoy playing board games with our visitors, for the sake of one-on-one interaction and the sense of connection that occurs between me and a player. But to be honest, I didn't expect the competitive spirit to be so strong and to have teams of friends playing against me. Now I'd like to test this game on people of other occupations to see if it's really the developers' thing to obsess over a task until you "defeat" it, or if this rivalistic desire is a common trait of all mankind.


We are not the first to come to this conclusion; our colleagues from other booths also engage attendees in games where they need to outsmart someone else. Frankly, I also have a thing for games like this and get stuck on them until I prove I'm the brightest person ever (or until I catch the game's host getting tired).

Fun fact: at conferences for team leaders, such things attract less attention. It seems like people who manage teams are also used to managing their time as efficiently as possible and are not so eager to spend 15–20 minutes solving tasks for a treat.

I'm creating a board game that also involves direct competition. It can be played by three, four or even six — just right for those who enjoy bringing friends! For now, we are only thinking up some humorous captions and drawing funny illustrations, but our brainchild will soon be waiting for you at the PVS-Studio booth. Seek us out at the major conferences coming up!

Now it's your turn to share your experience

If you're a conference veteran or even if you've only taken a peek, please share what games were the most exciting and kept you coming back for more. I'll take this to heart and will definitely try to please the booth guests! See you at the game board!

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