The benefits of going to conferences

March 12, 2016

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Yesterday I was on the @modernwebui podcast talking about a range of topics. At one point we started talking about our favorite conference topics and IOT kept coming up.

It seems like so many people love talks that aren’t directly related to what they do for their day jobs. Few of us get to write JavaScript that controls drones for our day job but wow is it fun to watch people do at a conference.

This lead to a discussion about why employers should pay to send their employees to a conference. Especially if the talks don’t provide direct value.

For me, this prompted an even bigger question:

What are the benefits of attending a conference?

Benefits for you. Benefits for your employer. Benefits of being a speaker. Simply put, why conferences?

For me, there are 3 main reasons why I find conferences valuable.

  1. Networking (The hallway track)
  2. Inspiration (Love what you do)
  3. Sneak Peek (What are other companies doing?)

Networking

This is perhaps the most valuable thing for attendees at a conference. People sometimes refer to the time between talks as the “hallway track”. That time provides you with a great opportunity to meet other people and socialize.

This can be good for a lot of reasons. It’s nice to make business relationships with people working at similar companies. It’s a good chance to try and recruit top talent (or for top talent to try and recruit you!). It’s also nice to chat with people solving similar problems. Sometimes you can even get help from people who created the technology you’re using at work!

Example:

I’ve met so many great people at conferences over the years. It’s difficult for me to think of just one example. One memory that comes with mind is two years ago at EmpireJS I met Myles Borins. We had a fantastic time together at the conference and a few weeks later he invited me to speak at jQuerySF.

Speaking at that conference was one of the best experiences of my life and Myles and I continue to be friends!

Inspiration

Here is where, for me, the “JavaScript on robots” thing becomes fair game. Tech companies invest in team building activities to keep you feeling inspired and energized. Tech conferences, especially fun ones, can provide that same value.

It’s great to see creative uses of the technology you already know. It’s also great to have a fun reason for wanting to learn something new. After a good conference, I come home inspired and can’t wait to bring something back to work.

Example:

JavaScript on robots was actually how I got my first taste of Node.js. I was at JSConf and Tessel had a booth. I bought one of their starter packs and had so much fun.

Sneak Peek

Getting to see what your competitors are up to provides direct value to your company. I don’t mean this in a sneaky or dishonest way. I just mean it’s important to talk to other companies in your field and see what challenges they are facing.

For me, it’s always great to see what companies like Facebook and Netflix are coming up with. It’s cool to see what big bets they are making and what technologies they are investing heavily in.

Example:

For years, I’ve been keeping an eye on what technologies the big players are investing in. When I saw Facebook unveil React I knew it was going to be the next big thing. I’m not advocating you chase trends, but conferences can show you what’s coming next!

Conclusion

I’m sure there are a ton of valuable takeaways from conferences that I forgot to mention! Let me know what your favorites are in the comments.

I think all in all conferences provide immense value for those interested in going. If you and I ever end up at the same conference, come find me in the hallway track and say hi!