Scott Hanselman

Suggestions and Tips for attending your first tech conference

May 17, 2017 Comment on this post [13] Posted in Musings | Open Source
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This last week Joseph Phillips tweeted that he was going to his first big tech conference and wanted some tips and suggestions. I have a TON of tips, but I know YOU have more, so I retweeted his request and prompted folks to reply. This was well timed as I had just gotten back from OSCON and BUILD, two great conferences.

The resulting thread was fantastic, so I've pulled some of the best recommendations out. As per usual, the Community has some great ideas and you should check them out!

  • @saraford - Whenever you get a biz card write down why you met them or what convo was about. It might seem obvious at time but you wont remember at home
  • @arcdigg - Meet people and speakers. Tech is part of your success, but growing your network matters too. Conf can give you both or not. Up to you!
  • @marypcbuk - if approaching people is hard for you, just ask 'what do you work on?'
  • @ohhoe - don't be afraid to introduce yrself to people! let them know its yr first conference, often people will introduce you to other people too :)
  • @IrishSQL - connect with a few attendees/speakers online prior to event, and bring plenty of business cards. When u get one, write details on back
  • @arcdigg - Backpack and sneakers beat cute laptop bag and heels (ed: dress comfortably)
  • @scribblingon - You might feel left out & think everyone knows everyone else. Don't be afraid to approach people & talk even if seems random sometimes :) If you liked someone's talk, strike a convo & tell them that!!
  • @arcdigg - Plan session attendance in advance, have a backup in case the session is full.
  • @jesslynnrose - Reach out to some other folks who are using the hashtag before you get there, events can be cliquey, say hi and make friends before you go!
  • @thelarkinn - Never feel afraid to say hi to maintainers, and speakers!!!! Especially if you want to help!
  • @everettharper - Pick 3 ppl you want to meet. Prep 1 Q for each. Go early, find person #1 in the 1st hr before crowds. 1/3 done = momentum for rest of day!
  • @jorriss - Meet people. Skip sessions. You'll get more from meeting and talking with people then sitting in the sessions. #hallwaytrack
  • @stabbycutyou - Leave room in your schedule, Meet people, Eavesdrop on hallway convos, Take notes, Present on them at your job
  • @patrickfoley - Don't forget to sleep. Evidence that long-term memories get "written" then
  • @david_t_macknet - Drinking will not help you remember it better or have a better time mingling. Most of us are just as introverted & the awkwardness fades.
  • @carlowahlstedt - Don't feel like you have to go to EVERY session.
  • @davidpine7 - Try your best to NOT be an introvert -- in our industry that can be challenging, but if you put yourself out will not regret it!
  • @frontvu - Don't rely on the conference wifi
  • @shepherddad - Put snacks in your bag or pocket.
  • @sod1102 - Find out if there will be slides (and even better!) video available post conference, then don't worry about missing stuff and relax & enjoy
  • @rnelson0 - Take notes. Live tweet, carry a notebook, jot it all down at 1am before sleeping, whatever method helps you remember what you did.
  • @hoyto - Sit [at] meal tables with random people and introduce yourself.
  • @_s_hari - Ask speaker when *not* to use product/methodology that they're speaking on. If they cannot explain that, then it's just a marketing session
  • @EricFishor - Don't be afraid to discreetly leave or enter an on going session. It's up to you to seek out sessions that interest you.
  • @texmandie - If you get to meet and talk to your heroes, don't freak out - they're normal people who happen to do cool stuff
  • @wilbers_ke - Greatest connections happen in the hallways, coffee queue and places with animated humans. Minimize seated conference halls
  • @CJohnsonO365 - CLEAR YOUR SCHEDULE. Don’t try to get “regular” work done during the conference— you’ll end up missing something important!
  • @g33konaut - Tweet with the conf hashtag to ask if people wanna meet and talk or hangout after the conference, also follow the hashtag tweets to find ppl. Don't sweat missing a talk, meeting people and talking to them is always better than than seeing a talk. Also the talks are often recorded
  • @foxdeploy - Who cares about swag, it's all about connections. Meet the people who've helped you over the years and say thanks.
  • @jfletch - Ask people which after parties they are attending. Great way to find out about smaller/more interesting events and get yourself invited!
  • @marxculture - The Law of Two Feet - if you aren't enjoying a session then leave. Go to at least one thing outside your normal sphere.
  • @joshkodroff - Bring work business cards if you're not looking for a job, personal business cards if you are.
  • @benjimawoo - Go to sessions that cover tehnologies you wouldn't otherwise encounter day to day. Techs you don't use in your day job.

Fantastic stuff. You'll get more out of a conference if you say hello, include the "hallway track" in your planning, stay off your phone and laptop, and check out sessions and tech you don't usually work on.

What are YOUR suggestions? Sound off in the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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May 18, 2017 0:34
Don't forget a powerbank! All that tweeting and taking notes will drain your smartphone / tablets batteries.
May 18, 2017 0:37
And if you don't have work business cards, MAKE personal ones to give out. Often, you share interests with people other than what you work on for a living.
May 18, 2017 3:47
Take notes. Take photos. When you get home, review the views/slides of the really interesting parts again to help reinforce the really interesting stuff. Create some projects, try some new features (I created my first core service after Build!)

Don't forget that (nearly) everyone is overwhelmed and feels a little (or a lot) behind...
May 18, 2017 16:07
When designing business cards, don't print on both sides with glossy finish; the flipside is important to be blank and pen-writable. For this exact reason ;-)
May 19, 2017 0:59
As I've gone to more conferences, more and more I find interacting with the vendors/product teams a lot more useful than the sessions, typically. Nowadays, with most stuff being open source, there probably won't be any surprises at the sessions, especially if you keep up with tech.

I do wish tech conferences made more of an effort to get the attendees to interact. I've never seen a group of people more reluctant to speak to each other than the attendees at tech conferences.

I'll also point out that I find it strange that the high-level executives never seem to take any time to actually talk to the attendees at their own conferences. A big reason these giant companies are so out of touch, in my opinion.
May 19, 2017 4:42
I envy you guys. I've never worked at a place which sends people to tech conferences. There is zero chance I can make the business case to send a developer (usually just seen as a tradesman) to a conference. I just pick up the scraps from the Internet. I live vicariously through you guys!
May 19, 2017 13:11
After the session is over, go immediately to the speaker to listen/ask questions. Some of the highest quality info comes from smarties asking post-session questions.
May 22, 2017 11:27
All are excellent advice... Spend time networking is my number one tip. My last two jobs were directly due to people who I met at conferences.
May 22, 2017 11:29
I will be going to GDG DevFest tomorrow morning. Should I stay all day? Should I try to participate in everything? What can I do to help my networking skills?
May 23, 2017 0:19
I'm at my first conference. DEVintersection 2017. And I've quickly learned that you should sit near the door in case you find out the talk is far too basic for your current knowledge level.

And if any presenters are looking here:

  1. Figure out how to work the screen magnifier *before* the session starts

  2. Figure out if it's even necessary to magnify the screen by taking a quick walk to the room *before the session starts*

  3. If you gauge your audience's knowledge level via a show of hands and find out they're beyond the talk you're giving, have a fallback prepared to discuss more advanced things. Explaining how to set up a build in VSTS is probably not necessary in a room of .NET developers

  4. If your presentation/demos depend on the Internet, do not depend on hotel WiFi. Have a fallback, such as tethering or a portable hot spot
May 26, 2017 3:07
Any insights on the differences between a Session, Workshop and a Hands-on lab? Looking at the VSLive conference this year, and trying to pick the day-pass plan that works for me.
May 29, 2017 2:39
Visit the sponsor tables, ask them about their product/service, and thank them for supporting the event.
May 29, 2017 9:50
How do you guys convince your company to pay for a conference? Or do you attend on your money and vacation time?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.