What really grinds my gears at conferences

Duane OdumYes, it is that type of blog post.  I have been attending conferences for almost 20 years now in varying industries and for the most part, I truly enjoy the experience. However, there are a couple things that simply infuriate me that I keep noticing more and more frequently.

The most avoidable thing is many folks don’t have any plan.  You might be asking yourself “How does that impact you or why should you care what someone else is doing at a conference?”.  I’m glad you asked.  Quite a few conferences I attend have pre-compiler sessions. These sessions are typically more hands-on, longer and require an initial setup of your system. These are by far my favorite sessions as I typically get more out of them than the shorter sessions.  In one session I saw at least 20 people on their machines downloading the prerequisites for the session I was in and who knows how many others were doing the same thing in other sessions.  These prerequisites are almost always posted well in advance of the conference (CodeMash Pre-Compiler Prerequisites) and some of them are significant in size, such as the ones in the session I was sitting in.  As a result, there were issues with the internet connectivity early that morning that impacted everyone.

The network issue actually serves as a good segue into my next gripe…it seems like more and more folks are criticizing.  I hear quite a few people complaining about various aspects of the conferences I attend.  I’ll be honest here…I am not really shy about vocalizing criticism myself (see: this blog post). I am sure there are some folks in both my work and personal life that will gladly attest to this fact, but they will also tell you I don’t complain. I “constructively criticize”.  I realize the squeaky wheel gets the grease metaphor holds true in most situations and conference organizers have to know there is a problem to address it but if you are going to be the one making the noise, you better bring some oil.  In my mind, that is the difference between complaining and constructive criticism…be willing to offer up some ideas to resolve the issue.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out my own faux pas when it comes to conferences.  To quote Elsa, I really need to “let it go” when it comes to focusing on work at conferences.  I typically do plan out my conference attendance well in advance and let clients know that I will be out, but will respond to phone calls and emails in the evening.  Essentially by letting folks know I will be responding in the evening, I leave the door open to burn the candle at both ends by pulling 16 – 18 hour days. I try to be cordial and leave the session quietly when I get calls or emails that I feel like I have to answer, but I really need to just shut it down and take everything in.

Which conveniently leads to my biggest personal fault at conferences…especially Codemash – I want to know everything.  I did an all-day pre-compiler session on React this year.  I had “tinkered” with React on a very small SharePoint project quite some time ago, but hadn’t touched it since.  The night before, I went through the entire Building Applications with React and Redux in ES6 course by Cory House on Pluralsight (highly recommend that course if you have some basic understanding of React and ES6) and after the session I spent another 4 hours holed up in my hotel room playing with the code we created during the session.  Last year it was Azure, a couple years ago it was Ruby, the year before that it was Angular and so on.  In doing this I definitely got a good understanding and added more tools to my tool belt, but I am missing out on one of the most important parts of conferences – the social interactions.  Like everything else in life a successful conference experience is about finding balance and I need to do a better job of finding mine.  You can only drink so much caffeine in a 4-day period – you do eventually need to sleep at some point.

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