Thoughts on attending conferences

Since 2016 I have attended five developer conferences in my area. With a few conferences behind me, I thought I would share my thoughts and advice for someone looking to attend a conference for the first time. This article is just my experience, and I am no expert. So, your experiences may vary.

Why attend a conference?

If you have never gone to a conference, you may be wondering why you would want to. Today a lot of conferences record their sessions and post them on YouTube, but to me watching a video online doesn’t have the same impact.

  • Learn something new. This is the reason most people think of first. Conferences are a great place to get introduced to new technologies. The sessions aren’t the place to fully learn a technology, but they are a good place to determine which technologies you should be learning.
  • Meet new people. Conferences are a great place to network and meet new people working in technology and learn from them. Where else will you find so many people with similar interests all in one place?
  • Be inspired. A nice side effect of attending a conference is a boost in motivation to learn a new technology or to work on side projects.

How do I get ready for the conference?

Conference session schedules are usually available online at least a few weeks in advance. Look over the schedule and try to narrow down which talks you are most interested in during each time slot. Doing this in advance really helps you know where you need to go next.

On the day of the conference, I usually try to keep the items I carry with me to a minimum. Carrying around a heavy bag all day is a good way to make the event less enjoyable. So, what do I typically bring with me to a conference?

  • A backpack. To me, a backpack of some kind is essential when I am going to be walking around a conference center all day. I have a full sized backpack as well as a smaller “sling” type bag that is easier to carry. I generally only take the larger bag if I am bringing a laptop, or for the first day of a conference if I know they will be giving out t-shirts, etc. at registration.
  • Phone charger/battery pack. This one is pretty obvious, you don’t want to run out of power half-way through the day.
  • Notebook and pens. I still prefer taking notes on paper. I feel like I can write faster and remember the information better this way. Also, the notebook doesn’t provide any distractions that a laptop or tablet would.
  • A snack, hard candy, chewing gum. I always pack a few snack items just in case I get hungry. Also, mints and chewing gum are good for making sure you don’t have bad breath after lunch.
  • My laptop. I usually only take a laptop with me if I know there is going to be an interactive “workshop” type session. Carrying around the laptop all day can be tiring, and it can be too tempting to sit down and focus on the screen and not what is going on around me.

I’m at a conference, now what?

  • Talk to people. This one is really hard for someone like me who is naturally introverted. Meeting new people with similar interests is one of the most valuable parts of a conference. Try introducing yourself to someone in the hallway, or at lunch. You never know who you might meet.

  • Branch out. Don’t stick to only sessions that are directly applicable to your work. I have started trying to go to at least one or two sessions just because they sound interesting. For example, at a recent conference, I went to a talk on machine learning. It isn’t a technology I see myself using anytime soon, but it was enlightening anyway.

I hope this has been interesting or helpful to someone. The most important thing is to go and both have fun and come back feeling like you have gained something from being there.

If you want to read more about the conferences I have attended, click here to view the summary posts about them.