While writing this, I have just finished day one of my favorite conference: ReactRally. ReactRally was the first “Tech Conference” I ever went to. Since that first conference, I have been to many conferences of various sizes. I have learned a few things about how to maximize my experience and get the most out of the conferences that I attend. Looking back I can see how helpful it would have been to have known these things.
Thinking about that, I felt I would write a blog post to “my younger self” sharing all the things I have learned. Hopefully, by writing this down I can not just help myself, but other’s who would like to make the most out of theses unique conferences.
Take Notes, But Only Important Ones
Taking notes is a simple, yet powerful way to keep a record of what you have learned. It may be simple, but don’t discount the power of taking notes during talks. That said, you are not in school. There is no pop quiz that you studying for and no final. So how do you know what to take notes on?
Write down the author’s name and other information such as twitter, blog, and/or Github details. Many speakers will post copies of their slides and links to any GitHub repos on twitter or other social media shortly after so you are likely to be able to get information there on particular subjects. Write notes of any websites that are mentioned that you would like to look at more. Then make notes of any ways that these individuals solved solutions in unique ways.
It is also important to note that not all talks will have information that you want or need to write down. This is ok. Conference speakers are chosen for their large variety of topics which will mean topics are undoubtedly going to be more useful to some than others. Sit back and listen and if you don’t find anything worth writing down to look more into later that is perfectly fine.
Don’t Be Afraid To Leave A Talk
Some talks are better than others. If you feel a talk is not worth your time than it is ok to “leave”. What I mean by “leave” depends on the type of conference.
Conferences typically fall in two types, single track or multi-track. Multi-track conferences have multiple speakers presenting at the same time. As a conference attendee, you can decide which talk is of most interest to you and attend that one. No two people will have the same conference experience, because a conference attendee picks their own schedule of talks based on their interest. Singletrack conferences, on the other hand, only offer one schedule of speakers and all conference attendees hear the same presentations.
If you are at a multi-track conference, it is usually useful to be aware of the other talks being offered at the same time. If you find your talk is not worth your time than go to another talk. Do not do this excessively. You probably can only do this once and still be able to get something of worth from the other talk. Jumping to a third talk will not likely be of any benefit to you.
If you are at a single-track conference or you are at a multi-track conference but don’t have any other talk of interest, then it’s ok if you “leave” either mentally or physically. This might be a good time to make the rounds and talk with some of the sponsors of the event (and pick up some of their free swag if they have it). If not, you can go and do your own learning. Read an article or book that you have wanted to read, but can never find the time to read. Or watch a youtube video on a topic that is of interest to you. Worst-case scenario, catch up on work, emails, slack, or just go take a nap for a session.
Talk To The Speakers
It can be really easy to think of speakers as celebrities. Often times these speakers are thought leaders in certain subjects and it may seem weird to just go up and start talking with them. This is the wrong way to think. Even if all you have to say is that you enjoyed their talk, do it. These are humans who are more nervous than you realize and that affirmation that you found value in their talk helps them as well.
Chances are you will find that these individuals are very approachable and you are very likely able to learn even more from them. For example, Glen Maddern gave a talk on Front-end Application Bundles at React Rally this year(2019). I came up and asked him about how it would work with Kubernetes clusters and not only did he answer my question, he brought up some details and went more in-depth on how one can deploy a Create React App Application in Kubernetes using these FABs. And he was more than happy to help me. If I didn’t ask him, I would never have gotten that detail.
Share The Knowledge
Maybe you are at the conference alone or maybe you are not. Ultimately, your experience will never be the same as someone else. Certain things are going to stand out more to certain individuals than others. Make sure you schedule some time where you share the knowledge you gained with your team and organization. Talk about what action items you want to take based on what you learned. If you don’t have action items, then your experience at the conference was a waste of your time and money.
Conferences are a great opportunity to expand your knowledge and help you learn more about your profession. It is important for you to maximize your time there and share your knowledge with others when you come back.