I have been to a lot of conferences. I have been a speaker at some of them. I have even helped organize a few. I like going to conferences. I also think that going to the most of the conferences is a waste of time.

I have been thinking about conferences a lot lately. I was leading a session at a recent Testival conference about not going to conferences. I also gave a lightning talk about it at a recent Testival meetup. While writing this post, I did some research. I was surprised how many was already written on the topic. For now, this post is a collection of my rough notes. I will revisit it from time to time, as I get feedback.

Why people go to conferences?

  • Networking.
  • Growing your professional network.
  • Company has sent them.
  • Team building.
  • To learn something new.
  • To give a talk.
  • To see old friends and/or colleagues.
  • Sightseeing.
  • To talk with people in the same or a similar situation.

Why you shouldn’t go to conferences?

  • Lack of good content. The conference programme looks great, but the talks are not good.
  • You can spend your time more wisely. You could be working or spending time with your family or friends.
  • You can spend your (or your company’s) money more wisely. Conferences can cost a lot: travel, hotel, ticket, food, drinks…
  • On a conference, if the talk you are listening to is not interesting, sometimes you can go to another talk, but sometimes you can not. At home, you could just start another video, read another blog post… At a conference, you are stuck for 30 or 60 minutes.

Alternatives

  • Meetups. Great for learning new things and networking.
  • Social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook…). Great for learning new things and networking.
  • Online conferences. (I have never attended a virtual conference, but I did attend live online presentations).
  • Online courses.
  • Videos.
  • Blog posts.
  • Podcasts.
  • Books.
  • Creating something yourself. Remember that dusty GitHub account you did not use for years?
  • Spend a day or two at home reading a book or watching talks recorded at a conference. You could learn way more that you could if you went to a conference. I have thought about that a lot, but never done it. I am not sure why.

If you go to a conferences, how to get the most of it?

  • Give a talk. Speaking at a conference (even just a 5 minute lightning talk) would probably be the best thing to do. At most conferences speakers are invited to a speakers’ dinner. In my experience, that is a great networking opportunity.
  • Go to talks.
  • Take notes.
  • Take a few photos.
  • Write a blog post.
  • Talk to people. Not just the people you know. It is really hard to me to start talking with people I do not know, but when the other person starts the conversation, it is usually an interesting one. I have experimented with starting the conversation myself and to my surprise, I can do it too. It’s just hard.
  • Bring plenty of business cards.
  • Go to workshops. Listening to a talk can be interesting, but learning something new and using it immediately is when you actually learn something.
  • Keep in mind that some conferences will be a disappointment, no matter how much you have prepared.

Conclusion

  • There are good conferences.
  • There are bad conferences.
  • There are good talks are bad conferences.
  • There are bad talks at good conferences.
  • All the above is true for alternatives. The good thing about alternatives is that less time and/or money is lost if you are at a bad meetup, or watching a bad video.

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