Thursday, October 6, 2011

Attending Conferences and making most of it

The last couple of months have been exciting for me as i got to attend and participate in quite a few Conferences involved in both Attending and Presenting at various forums. I think Conferences are an important means to connect with like-minded professionals, network and learn from them.

I wanted to share some of my learnings around attending and participating in the conferences. Before that, please take some time to go through one of the lessons (Lesson# 251) in the book- Lessons Learned in Software Testing. The lesson is titled- Conferences are for conferring

When you attend a conference on software testing or software development, don’t just sit in the sessions and listen to the speakers. Do a lot (or at least some) of that. But spend a lot of time meeting with other people at the conference to discuss what was presented or what is happening in the field.
If you don’t know many people at the conference, meet some. When you go to lunch, sit with people you don’t know, listen and identify people who are interesting and knowledgeable. Take opportunities to identify interesting people. When you meet them, ask them about what they do and about sessions that they’ve been to. What have they found interesting ? Over time (it takes more than one conference), you’ll make a group of friends whom you meet mainly at conferences, whom you keep up-to-date with via Net, whom you attend sessions with, and maybe whom you’ll write papers and present panels with. This is how three of us met (authors of this book).
Not everyone gets sent to conferences by their company. Tell your manager well before the conference that you want to attend a specific conference. Better notice will increase your chance of attending. After you have attended a conference or two, apply to be a speaker. If you’re accepted, your company will me more likely to send you, and (assuming you do a good job) you’ll gain respect and goodwill within and outside your company.

I have taken the liberty to remove a couple of lines which were not suitable for the purpose of this post but nevertheless the above sums up what you could look forward to when attending any Conference.
Some more of my thoughts below-

• More often we go to conferences thinking of it as similar to a series of training sessions that would give us a sort of silver bullet that would help us solve the current problems that we face at work.
So, first of the things is that not to go into conference believing it would provide the best solution (though it may). In all, there are always multiple different ways to solve a given problem. Interacting with people in conferences may just provide a perspective you may be lacking in your current knowledge. So, always keep your eyes and ears to gain that elusive perspective. It is not that you would become expert in the conference theme immediately after the conference ends but that would certainly make you richer in the topic.

• Secondly, as stated in the excerpt above, I have found in my experience as well that real value of conference comes in not necessarily from the sessions but how well do we take care of time in between sessions. The breaks are usually called “Networking breaks” literally for a reason. From the time I participated in my first conference till now, the external relationships developed during the conferences has helped quite a bit shape my current knowledge and perspective. So, its advisable to hang around with participants, speakers asking questions, sharing your knowledge. Its not easy first time and may require you to go beyond the comfort zone to network with professionals around, but believe me its worth it.

• Thirdly, if the topic you are undergoing is completely new to you, learn as much as possible. If you are already aware of the topic then its best to go with the blank mind (without your knowledge bias) and gather as much as possible and then evaluate. The practices and processes shared are usually context dependent (may work for them but not us depending on the situation) but its important to develop that reasoning that can help sort these contextual differences.

Would really love to hear your experiences on "How to attend the conferences?" and also on "How not to attend the conferences?"


Ajay Balamurugadas said...

I created a mindmap and maybe this acts as a quick guide:

Anuj Magazine said...

Thanks for sharing, Ajay. Seems useful.

Rubina Gonsalves said...

thanks for sharing this Anuj. I used to be a person expecting a lot from conferences. After reading how we need to adjust our expectations, i saw the benefit of doing so when i attended a conference yesterday. I went with an open mind and was ready for the information to glide in. I couldnt believe the amount of information i absorbed just by changing my mindset. There was one topic I have used in my projects before, earlier my thinking would have been - oh i know this..whats new? However this time around i gave myself a chance to seek something new and thats when i learnt there are so many variations and good add-ons to that approach.

Anuj Magazine said...

Hi Rubina,
Thank you for sharing your learning. Glad you find it useful.