MonktoberFest-smallOver the course of two days this week, the basement of the Portland Public Library will be occupied by a small cadre of technologists and software developers from across the country, and Europe, who have traveled to Portland to talk shop and drink good beer.

The 5th annual Monktoberfest quietly got underway Thursday. The exclusive event — only 125 tickets are sold each year — flies under the radar, but has a dedicated following among developers from big-name companies like IBM, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, and Etsy.

The conference is the brainchild of Stephen O’Grady, a Portland-area developer who co-founded RedMonk, a research and analysis firm focused on software and its developers. He held the first Monktoberfest in Portland in 2011 after he got the idea to combine his interest in technology with his love of craft beer. It was a gamble, but one that paid off.

Today, the tickets sell out long before the conference begins. O’Grady guesses he could sell twice as many tickets as he does, but wants to keep the crowd small to maintain the conference’s intimacy.

“Keeping it small facilitates a camaraderie and level of energy that you don’t get at large conferences,” O’Grady said.

While Monktoberfest’s sessions offer a diverse range of topics, from online gaming to the nitty gritty of coding, the overarching theme of the conference is how social media has changed technology, and how technology has changed the way we socialize, according to O’Grady.

Of the 125 attendees, only a small handful are local.

“I was sitting at Duckfat at dinner last night and I don’t think there was a single person from the same state,” said Alan Fitzgerald, a local software developer. “There was a person from the UK and another from Lithuania, I think. They’ve come from all over. It’s pretty amazing.”

This is Fitzgerald’s second Monktoberfest. One of the reasons he loves the event is it offers him a chance to share all the cool things going on in Portland’s startup community with the developers he meets from around the world.

“People are interested to know what’s going on in the area and are asking those questions,” said Fitzgerald, who also mentors startups enrolled in the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun accelerator program. “It’s cool to be able to mention Maine Startup and Create Week and the Steve Case thing to them.”

The 125 people attending the event have a direct impact on the local economy. O’Grady estimates the direct spending in the community by conference organizers and its attendees is in the $250,000 to $300,000 range.

But Portland will arguably experience a greater long-term impact from exposure to a wide array of software developers from influential tech companies, said Justin Steele, a local software architect who works for Westbrook-based Idexx Laboratories.

“Remote work is going to be a big part of Portland’s continued success,” said Steele, who worked remotely in Portland for a New York-based company before joining Idexx. “I think the conference is a good way to get people interested in Maine.”

And they come for the beer. This year, Allagash Brewing, Oxbow Brewing, Maine Beer Co., and Bissell Brothers Brewing are all involved in the two-day event. During the break for lunch on Thursday, people were milling about with cans of Heady Topper, a hard-to-find IPA from Vermont, and small tulip-shaped glasses full of Farm to Face, one of Allagash’s limited edition sour ales.

The focus might be on technology, but enjoying a good brew is evidently the takeaway.

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