I am heading home from my first PyCon (PyCon 2016 in Portland) and thought I would throw together a quick post on strategies I learned on getting the most out of a programming conference.
Start networking on social media with other people going to the conference, a few weeks before it starts.
If possible, plan to meetup with some of the people you network with.
Developers seem to love Twitter, so bite the bullet and get yourself a Twitter account. Put up a normal photo of yourself and use a twitter handle that is relevant. I just use my name @TimothyBramlett, but then again, I am very boring.
I didn't do this and I really regret it. Everyone I talked to said that volunteering is the best way to meet people and a way to quickly get involved in the community.
I am definitely going to be doing this next year.
Avoid talks in favor more interactive formats.
So, this may be a bit contraversial but I didn't get a lot out of the talks at PyCon. At least not the ones that I watched in person!
I don't like sitting in an umcomfortable chair listening to various programming topics that I may or may not care about. Besides, those are uploaded to YouTube within a few hours anyway.
Instead, I chose to start simply going to what PyCon called Open Spaces. They were basically just rooms where anyone could signup and host their own little meet-up about whatever topic interested them. These were SO much more valuable to me than any of the talks!
I spent most of my time at PyCon in these rooms are learned about so many frameworks I had never heard of met so many cool people!
If possible try to attend any tutorial that are offered. PyCon had all the tutorials before the main conference and I wish I had made the business case to attend these. I spoke to several people and they said they were very valuable.
Attend any Sprints
Once again, I didn't sprint this year but will definitely be doing so next year. The way I understand it, a sprint is bascially a way for programming teams who are normally distributed accross the globe to get together in person and knock out some code.
I have been told the best way to get involved is to find out what teams are sprinting and then ask if there is any simple tasks they can assign to you so you can get your feet wet.
Get away from your normal co-workers/friends
Hopefully none of my co-workers will take offense to this, although I doubt they are ever bored enough to read my blog, but I think its important to actually get off on your own at these conferences.
The whole point of these conferences is to meet people and to exchange ideas. If you are hanging around with people you know and are comfortable with, you will be much less likely to talk to someone new.
Instead, be that guy/girl who intiates conversations with others. The funny thing is that people will probably be relieved that you did. People don't go to conferences if they don't want to be talked to. Usually.
Get the contact info of everyone you meet.
This is super important. You need to have some way of looking up and connecting with people later. I often find out if people have a twitter account, and if so let them type their name into my Twitter app so I can connected with them. Sometimes I would also just take a quick pict of their conference badge.
Talk to everyone you can.
Set goals for yourself that you are going to talk to one new person every hour. Great developers are great communicators. This is the time to come out of your shell and force yourself to talk to people. You will be surprised at how easy it becomes!