You’ve decided to attend a technical conference this year. You’ve reviewed the options and have selected the perfect conference for yourself. Congrats!
But it’s difficult to take time out of your schedule and money out of your budget to attend a technical conference. Even if your employer provides you with a learning budget, you’ll likely need to convince them of the value of sending you to the conference that you’re interested in attending.
So, is attending a technical conference time and money well spent?
Technical conferences can be enriching and rewarding experiences for developers of all types. But just attending a conference doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get enough value for your time and money. It takes effort. And it helps to have a plan before you get to the conference.
Here are some suggestions on how to get the most out of the experience of attending a technical conference.
1. Review the schedule ahead of time
If the conference is a single track conference (everyone is in the same room all the time), this is less important from a planning perspective. You mostly just need to know when and where to be for registration and the start of the conference.
If the conference has multiple tracks, you’ll need to decide what talks you’ll attend for each time slot in the schedule. This can be more difficult than it sounds, as each slot will likely have more than one talk that’ll sound interesting to you.
2. Research the speakers and topics
Taking time to familiarize yourself with the speakers and the topics that they’re presenting will help you with deciding which talks you’ll attend. Also, it’ll help ensure that you don’t overlook an opportunity to see a well-known presenter (that might not be well known to you) or an interesting topic that you might be less familiar with.
Don’t be afraid to take chances. Most conferences record all of the talks and make them available online to attendees after the conference has concluded.
3. Attend a variety of talks
This is all about getting out of your comfort zone. Attend a talk about something you know nothing about or a language or technology that doesn’t immediately seem applicable to your current work or project. Getting a fresh perspective can help you to see your preferred technologies and processes in a new light—even those that you know well.
4. Meet new people
Conferences are inherently social events. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference) defines a conference as “a meeting of people who ‘confer’ about a topic”. Over the years, I’ve found that meeting new people (often from all over the world) is one of the main benefits of attending a conference.
Developers are—sometimes—not the most social people. I generally fall into that category, though I’ve managed to improve over the years (pro tip: just like anything, it takes practice). Luckily, there are simple things you can do that’ll help. Sit next to someone at breakfast, lunch, or dinner that you don’t know. Introduce yourself to the people you sit next to during sessions.
When you meet someone new, ask them questions. Here are some suggestions:
- Where are you from?
- Do you work or are you a student?
- Where do you work/go to school?
- What kind of work do you do?
- What are you currently studying/learning?
- What talks have you seen so far?
- What talks are you planning on seeing?
- How did you get started in our industry?
5. Be an active listener
Avoid the urge to check your email or messages during talks. Sometimes it helps to take notes, either handwritten or in a text editor. Having something to refer back to later will help you with recalling key information after the conference is over.
6. Give presenters feedback
When you see or hear something interesting or learn something new, let the presenter know! It takes a lot of work to write, create, and produce a talk; not to mention a fair amount of nerve to get up in front of a roomful of other developers and present a talk. You can help repay that effort by giving the presenter feedback.
Let them know your thoughts, either in person or online afterward via social media. Only offer criticism through private channels, preferably in person. If in doubt, think about how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end of the feedback.
7. Share what you learn with others
After the conference is over and you’ve returned to your normal routine, take the time to share your experience or something that you learned. This could take the form of a presentation that you give to your teammates or a blog post. Best of all, going through the process of sharing information with others will help your own understanding and retention.
8. Don’t forget to have fun
Developing websites or applications day in and day out is hard work. It’s easy to get burned out. Attending a conference will give you a break from your normal routine. Use that time to reconnect with your “why”.
Have you attended a technical conference? What was your experience like? What did you find helpful to do while you were at the conference? And after?
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