Seize The Opportunities
Whether you are a job seeker or a hiring manager, new-to-tech or a seasoned developer, conferences can make you a stronger thinker, business person, and developer.
To begin with, conferences are a great way to meet other people who are interested in topics that you are interested in as well as learn more about other organizations or products related to your interests. When people come together around their passions, there’s a kind of energy in the air. There’s no way to predict exactly who you are going to meet or what new valuable tidbit will come your way.
A conference’s primary goal is knowledge transfer. Aim for events that have speakers and topics that you find interesting, but make sure there’s a few of them that you don’t know anything about yet. Expanding our reference points and our awareness of what is being created can be as important as solidifying a skillset in a training workshop.
Taking a curious approach is a great way to enjoy and maximize the value of a conference. This is a great time to learn about technologies, companies, types of jobs, or even new cities. If you head into the event to collect information, not just “land a job,” you’ll likely gain more insights than you expected to. This is the kind of knowledge that may have show a short term gain, but it might also be the information that saves your bacon in a couple of months or years.
This is the kind of knowledge that may have show a short term gain, but it might also be the information that saves your bacon in a couple of months or years.
Conferences provide a valuable environment for you practice telling your story at a time that is lower risk. You’re not actively interviewing for a job, pitching for investors, or trying to sell a product. Instead, you get the chance to figure out how you want to tell those stories over and over again throughout the event and seeing how people react. What questions do they ask or not ask? Do they understand what you wanted them to understand? Are you able to interpret their motivations and easily answer their questions? What stories, projects, or topics do people engage with? Which ones tend to slow a conversation down? These are all valuable lessons that will help you in other professional environments.
Here are 7 of our top tips to help you navigate the scene:
- If you are a student or a job seeker, look for discounted registration rates or scholarships. Some events have ticket costs that feel heavy to those not currently working in tech, but many of those same conferences are still seeking to be inclusive and welcoming. Reach out and ask about discounts, even if it’s not listed on the website; there’s no way to know what they have lurking in the corners of their budget if you don’t. If it is a national conference, ask about travel scholarships too.
- Consider volunteering - ESPECIALLY if you hate networking.
Volunteering is a fast way to meet people - especially because it gives you an automatic reason to engage. Regardless of the role, think of yourself as host to the event and aim to help others have a great time. (They’ll be more likely to remember you.) Another bonus? By just donating a few hours of time, you often get the inside scoop on some of the coolest speakers and workshops. You'll likely meet some fascinating people while volunteering.
- Review the schedule in advance.
Many folks try to “wing it when they get there” and end up wishing they hadn’t. Take a look at the schedule in advance to at least determine the handful of things that you just can’t stand to miss. Many conferences are designed with multiple branches of events or concurrent sessions, so you probably won’t be able to attend every single thing. Looking at the schedule in advance will help you manage your time and your energy. Some folks like to print it out and highlight what’s most important. Others will add appointments to their digital calendar. Many attendees just put a star on the schedule they receive at check in. Whatever tool works for you is what will work — just make sure to dedicate some mental time to it.
- Be prepared to talk about yourself and your projects.
Come ready to talk about projects you're working on. It might feel a bit uncomfortable, but put your sales hat on for a while. Let your passion out and make other people as excited about it as you are. Before you go, spend a little time cleaning up your GitHub READMEs so that when people look up that exciting project you sold them on, they stay excited about it.
- Make conversation with the people around you.
Share your story and ask them theirs. A few effective openers are, “What made you decide to come to this event?” or “What talks have you been to so far?” followed by “What did you think of them?” From there, you will likely discover other topics to chat about. Be mindful of how long you are chatting and allow folks to move on to their next conversation or event.
- Bring business (or contact) cards.
When you meet someone you want to follow up with, you’ll be glad you had a convenient way to trade information. No business cards? Use Vista Print or a similar service to print up some clean, simple, contact cards with your name, email, and Twitter or GitHub handles for under $15. You might hand out a couple, or you might hand out a ton. The numbers are not the goal — genuine connections are.
- Don’t expect anyone to hand you a job.
While a few folks will go to events when they have a vacancy, it isn’t really how most companies find their immediate hires. You are building relationships that will hopefully make you a better professional — and they often pan out into opportunities, but that is likely later on down the line. Take the pressure off yourself and seek to engage authentically with the people around you, rather than thinking about what you can get from them.
Take the pressure off yourself and seek to engage authentically with the people around you
Another bit of good news is that opportunities to engage are around every corner. Here are a few of the Portland area go-tos that you should know about:
- Open Source Bridge: the Conference for Open Source Citizens
- ACT-W: where talented women and individuals can build skills, grow their community, and accelerate their career path
- AlterConf: a traveling conference series that provides safe opportunities for marginalized people and those who support them in the tech and gaming industries
- Latin@ TechFest: Hosted by Hispanicpros, this event gathers technology companies and members of the Hispanic professional community
- Devsigner: celebrating the cross-overs, the multi-disciplinarians, the coders who paint and the designers who send pull requests — and those who want to develop some new left-right brain skills.
- PyCon: the largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language.
If you choose well, you’ll be walking away with more than just the ability to say you were there. You’ll walk away enriched and more invigorated about the work that you are doing.
By Kari Fass, LaunchCode Portland's Company Relations Manager