Last week, I had the opportunity to attend two conferences back to back: Open Source Developer’s Conference 2013 in Auckland, and Web Directions South 2013 in Sydney. Being in a profession where I am sitting in front of a desk all day, going on the road for a week mixed things up quite a bit. Plus, preparing to talk at one added to the stress, and to the lack of sleep.
What a great experience though, I have been put through an accelerated learning curve on a diverse range of topics. They ranged from the very technical, such as dissecting the GPU’s role in rendering CSS using layers; to the more fun, such as how to generate a choose-you-own-adventure game in pastebin; to the unexpected such as a crash course on 3D modelling using Blendr.
This was my first time in New Zealand. I had a great time exploring Waiheke island on Sunday - a couple of days before my presentation - while running through the presentation in my head. It was pretty much a picture postcard view every couple of minutes along the coastline. At some point in this rather nice walk, inspiration struck on qryq. That culminated in these code snippets, and was the basis for re-jigging about half my presentation.
It was a great experience attending what felt like the biggest tech conference in Australia. It was also great to see a few familiar faces presenting: Mark Dalgleish, Ryan Seddon, and Glen Maddern. The talks here were grouped into two streams, code and design - which made it easier to select which ones to attend.
OSDC focussed a lot more on programming; and its scope was very broad, covering many different technologies, and languages. Web Directions South focussed a lot more on design; and its scope was more specific, covering only technologies in the web stack. Worth mentioning that Web Directions has a sister conference, Web Directions Code which is more focussed on programming, but still focussed on technologies on the web stack.
This being the first time I have attended large tech conferences, I have learnt much not just about the subject matter of the talks given, but also much about the other aspects of them. When attending them, one wears different hats - traveller, attendee, and speaker - and here are a few things I took away about maximising the time spent at them.
Travelling to a conference is not a lot different to travelling for other reasons. The main thing to remember is that being on conference is like going to work, and thus not very relaxing. Pro-tip: Do not book a hectic flight schedule!
Attending a conference is mostly about sitting down and listening to someone speak. Making the most of this experience is a balancing act. Listen to the speaker; watch the screen projection; take notes; follow the twitter feed; reflecting about how what you have just taken in can be applied to your own work. Juggling all of that can be tricky.
I found that the easiest thing to do is to leave out the twitter feed, except for right at the beginning, and right at the end of the talk. Save reflections and developing ideas for application till after the talk, and just jot the ideas down quickly when you have them. Most importantly, take notes; and when doing so, avoid writing down anything that is on the slides, and instead what the speaker is saying, as usually you can find the slides afterwards anyway.
One thing about conferences is that they often run multiple concurrent tracks. OSDC had three, and WDS had two. While it is great that you get to pick your favourite ones to attend, sometimes there are two that you would like to attend that happen to run at the same time, and a tough choice needs to be made. What I learnt here was that it pays to do your homework - research the topic presented, and what the presenter has written about it prior.
While attending the presentations are what you will spend most of your time doing, it is important not to neglect the other parts. In between the presentations, there will be time to mingle, and that should be used well. Spend it talking to the presenters and the other attendees; usually they are looking to do the same themselves!
Oh yes. Make sure to remember to bring an extra long power cord!
Speaking is hard, mostly because of the need to prepare. Once at the conference, prepare to completely rework your slide deck, because new ideas will occur; as will last minute feel-the-need-for-improvement frenzies. In fact, I redid half of my presentation the day before I spoke.
On my first day in Auckland, I was a little lost walking around the city, and asked for directions from a stranger, who was happy to walk with me as he was going in the same general direction. Turned out he was a budding web developer, and I told him about OSDC - he had not heard of it - and he bought a single day ticket, and came to see my talk.
Something that I thought I did quite well (if I do not say so myself) was to use the breaks in between presentations, and other opportunities, to talk to other attendees, and mention what I was going to talk about to the other attendees and speakers. That gathered quite a bit of interest, and resulted in a full house during my talk, and even had some expressions of interest in using and porting qryq.
Another thing, which I have learnt from one of the other speakers was to bring marketing materials. He handed out one page print-outs of the software he was speaking about. I thought that that was a brilliant idea - so much better than just a name card - keep that in mind for the next time.
More to come on OSDC2013 and WDS2013 soon.
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