(Originally published on LinkedIn)
So far in 2016 I’ve been to LinuxConf, PyConAU and Compose, and if it hadn’t been the same weekend as PyCon I’d have gone to DDD as well. I’ve also been along to plenty of smaller meetups including MelbDjango and BuzzConf Nights. So why all this relentless conferencing?
Well, for starters, I enjoy sharing the stuff I’m working on with others, whether that’s as an official talk or a BoF session or just chatting in the “hallway track” or coming up with bad ideas in bars. It’s always tempting to hide your ideas away until they’re “ready”, but getting them out and in front of people is a great way to put them to the test and see what other people think. And even if what you’re doing isn’t really breaking new ground, it’s great to share what you’ve learnt about what works for you and give that back to the community.
Obviously, there’s also networking – conferences are a great way to meet people and get to know what’s going on in the industry. There’s no point going along with the attitude that this is your chance to make that connection and make it big … that’s not really how it works. But making friends “In Real Life” is a great way to feel part of a community and avoid feeling isolated and besieged by trolls: also a great way to remind yourself not to become one! And you never know … sometimes very cool opportunities do come up!
It’s not just about talking though: you’ve also got to listen. There’s always a huge variety of things on offer at these conferences, which means they add up to more than the sum of their parts: I find myself making connections between seemingly unrelated talks and who knows: some day one of those connections may turn out to be fruitful! Computing in particular has a long tradition of recycling: there is little that is startlingly original but instead a slow iterative evolution of ideas. The more you expose yourself to new stuff, the more chance you have to be part of that evolution! Having a wide range of ideas to draw upon is a great asset as a consultant.
But I think the most valuable presentations are those which are alien to you. There’s always a risk of becoming an “expert beginner”, especially as a consultant or a contractor. Learning about something outside your experience is a great way to remind yourself of the value of the “Beginner’s Mind”, to knock yourself out of a mental rut and remind yourself that it is okay to not know everything, or to understand everything the first time.
So yes: I go to a lot of these things! It’s a big investment of time (especially if you’re talking), but it is also a great opportunity to talk, listen, and grow as a professional.