Niklas Lochschmidt

Co-Organizing SoCraTes Conference 2023

It is Sunday, and I am on the train, heading back home from SoCraTes 2023. I left in a bit of a hurry, but there was still time for some speed-hugging as I made my way out of the beautiful venue that is the Hotel Park Soltau.

This had been my third time at the conference, having attended for the first time in 2018 and returning after the pandemic in 2022. However, this time was even more special for me, because I co-organized the conference.

Understanding SoCraTes

In order to grasp the concept of organizing SoCraTes, it's essential to comprehend what SoCraTes actually is. The complete title of the conference is the "International Conference for Software Craft and Testing." Approximately 220 people (limited by the hotel's size) come together to share their experiences, teach, and learn all about constructing better software.

This year, the conference consisted of three parts: We began with a training day on Thursday, featuring pre-arranged speakers and sessions. Friday and Saturday were dedicated to an Open Space event with 12 conference rooms accommodating anywhere between 20 to 250 people. Lastly, Sunday marked the workshop day, featuring longer sessions that provide a deeper dive into topics. While everyone stays from Thursday to Saturday, some individuals opt to extend their stay from Wednesday all the way to Monday morning.

Opening session in a large room with ~200 people. The facilitator stands in front of the group. Behind the facilitator, the board for the Open Space marketplace is visible

However, the defining characteristic about SoCraTes are the main conference days where we use Open Space Technology to create the complete schedule for what is happening. We had expert facilitation by our wonderful facilitator Juke, who was opening, holding and closing the space, but within that space, "whatever happens is, the only thing that could have".

Self-Organization Through and Through

Equipped with this understanding, it likely comes as no surprise that everything else before, during, and after the conference also operates on principles of self-organization. If you were to ask anyone on the organizer team (referred to as organizers from here on) who is in charge, the response would typically be something like "For what?". There simply isn't a single person in charge for the conference.

And indeed, there's a great deal of work involved in making SoCraTes function: Maintaining the website, managing participant registrations, finding speakers for the training day, securing a facilitator, obtaining sponsors, organizing childcare, booking hotel and conference rooms, negotiating meal plans ahead of time, ordering T-shirts, kudos cards, post-its, large paper sheets, COVID tests, masks, printing badges... preparing for check-in, managing last-minute cancellations and changes, putting up signs, translating food labels and noting allergies, being available for attendees' needs, and the list goes on.

It's quite a lot!

What the organizers don't have is a project manager. There isn't anyone pushing people (figuratively), ensuring that nothing is overlooked, or creating a timeline for when tasks should be completed. These responsibilities are distributed among everyone, or sometimes, in fact, they might be overlooked entirely.

My Experience as an Organizer

"Whoever comes is the right people"

When I decided to join as an organizer in 2022, I had heard people discussing their experiences of co-organizing SoCraTes. In a nutshell, they described it as a challenge in delayed gratification. You invest a lot of effort over several months that culminate in the joy of actually being at the conference.

In the months leading up to the conference, you might have a sense of how things are progressing, but you never truly know the extent of the progress made or what other tasks might come your way. In this sense, you must "blindly" trust in the people and in self-organization, believing that everything will eventually fall into place (as it has since 2011).

I won't go into detail about everything that occurred in the months before the conference, as that would likely result in very tedious reading. Also, if you're reading this to learn about organizing SoCraTes, remember that just because we handled things a certain way for 2023 doesn't mean the same approach will be taken for 2024. In fact, it's more likely to evolve and differ rather than remain the same.

The Kick-Off Session

Chalk markings by kids on the walkways in the garden around the hotel. You can see the word "Start" and circles with consecutive numbers snaking away from it A highly significant moment in organizing SoCraTes 2023 was the Kick-Off session. During this session, everyone involved in organizing SoCraTes gathered remotely to document all the tasks that needed to be accomplished before, during, and after the conference.

The Kick-Off followed a structure roughly resembling that of an EventStorming workshop. We silently wrote down sticky notes and placed them in a rough timeline sequence. Eventually, we paused to group, reorder, rearrange, and eliminate items on the board.

In hindsight, I realize how much knowledge about organizing SoCraTes is (only) present in the minds of past organizers. They are the experts who contribute their insights to establish the process that leads to a successful SoCraTes conference. With the magic of hindsight, I can estimate that approximately 90% of the tasks required before, during and after the conference became visible to everyone that way.

Challenges as a Newcomer

However it's not all sunshine and roses. For example, I'm someone who prefers to briefly look things up before asking others for more details on how to accomplish a task. If I need to ask about half the time or less, that's no issue for me. However, if I have to ask for details constantly and for every single item, then I become frustrated rather quickly. And this was my experience at the beginning.

People often mentioned that things get better the second time around. But that doesn't provide much comfort when it's your first time organizing SoCraTes and it takes a whole year to get to the second round. For nearly three months, I held back from committing to tasks and instead focused on listening during the weekly calls, asking questions whenever things weren't clear to me, and wondering what the heck I am doing here.

At times, I felt quite ineffective to say the least and even contemplated withdrawing, but remember that people mentioned the entire experience was a challenge in delayed gratification? I talked about it with some current and past organizers and decided to stay.

What Did I Actually Do?

Probably an incomplete list

Before the conference:

During the conference:

And now that the conference is over, I'll also assist in ensuring accurate invoices are sent to the attendees.


As I reflect on the experience, I find myself contemplating whether I will sign up for organizing next year. I mean, after all, they say the second time is easier, but I can't help but wonder if this is a comforting lie seasoned organizers tell themselves 😜

If you're reading this and considering joining the organizers, I sincerely hope you're not doing it solely for the guaranteed seat. There are much easier ways to secure a spot at the conference, such as finding a roommate to share one of the few double rooms or having your employer sponsor the conference to access one of the sponsor seats.

However, if you've already experienced SoCraTes, have a passion for recreating it, thrive in self-organization, and can manage delayed gratification, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to join up and give it a go.

So, has it been worth it for me? Absolutely!

Regardless of whether I'll participate in organizing SoCraTes again, I am already looking forward to the next one and sincerely hope to see you there.


In about an hour, I'll be back home, and I'm eagerly anticipating it. Yet, it feels like a small part of me remains in that magical place we crafted within this beautiful conference hotel in Soltau, Germany. I take immense pride that I could contribute to making it a reality this year.

I would like to thank my current employer enode for supporting me, and paying for my ticket and travel costs 🙏🏻. We are hiring.

Also, for lots of pictures check out the #SoCraTes2023 hashtag on the Fediverse.