I attended my first RailsConf a couple weeks ago, and I’m just getting around to putting my thoughts down. Overall it was a fantastic trip, and well worth the time spent. Here’s a quick rundown of my top tips for those considering going to their first coding convention.
Be aware of Imposter Syndrome, and go anyway
Luckily in the Rails community, [Imposter Syndrome] is a well-known and often-discussed topic. The fact that it’s “out there” and in-the-open makes talking and dealing with this mental tendency much easier. Especially when senior developers admit to their own cases of Imposter Syndrome.
So…don’t let your thoughts of ‘I’m not really a developer” or “I’m way out of my league” stop you from going! Fight through them, and get your butt in that seat for the presentations! Remember, everyone else is having the same thoughts. And everyone else is too wrapped up in their own thoughts to worry much about you.
Look for Allies
Usually conferences as big as RailsConf will be hugely publicized within the community. Use that to your advantage. Take your favorite social network and find out who you know that will be there with you. Start a quick conversation with them: “Hey, are you going to RailsConf as well?” You’ll be surprised how many other people are looking for someone to hang-out with at lunch or other breaks. So follow hashtags for the conference (ex: #RailsConf) and see who you know that’s talking about it.
I knew a few of the [^CodeNewbies](http://www.codenewbie.org/) were going to be in town. And meeting them at Lunch and throughout the conference made a huge difference in feeling like a part of the conference crowd, and not an outsider.
One final tip – see if you can volunteer for the conference. It provides two immediate benefits
1) You might get a ticket for free or much-reduced price
2) You’ll automatically get to meet a small group of people you’ll be working with. These can be your “conference allies” throughout the event.
But if not…focus on helping others as a way to meet people
One of my favorite [conference tips for the introverted] among us who don’t exactly look forward to meeting new people – stop making it about you. Make it about helping someone else.
For example, approaching someone with an attitude of “Oh man, what do I say. I hate small talk. This probably isn’t a good idea..” is obviously self-defeating.
Instead, flip it around by ref-framing it as looking to help others. “I’m going to just say hi to this guy and see how he likes the conference so far. Maybe he can use some help figuring out which talk to attend next.” That subtle reframing makes approaching people more accessible and more like you are doing a favor to your fellow conference goers.
Hang out by the announcement/job board
There are lots of random announcements that get posted in conference info boards. It’s a great example of old-school whiteboards being a fantastic social gathering space. One which digital formats would have a hard time replacing.
So even if you’re not looking for a job, go stop by the board. You’ll be surprised how much interesting information is flowing over at that watering hole. I heard about great after-hours parties, new Ruby gems, and a whole lot of other stuff just by stopping by and listening to the groups hanging out there.
Go to some of the after-parties
And speaking of after-parties, make sure you attend some. Yes, I know, you’re tired. You want to recharge. But realize, one of the main points of the conference is to network. And the parties are where a LOT of networking take place. You don’t need to stay all night. But make it a goal to attend one or two during the conference.
Study the speaking styles and consider presenting in the future
Finally, this one may be a little advanced, but don’t write it off just yet. During the conference, you’ll have the opportunity to witness dozens of speakers presenting technical and non-technical material. Study them. How did his slides work out? Was their timing fast or slow? How did she pull in the audience? How would you, in a constructive manner, improve their presentations.
I know public speaking is a big fear for many. I was the same way for a long time. And I still get nervous before speaking. In fact, I volunteered for a “lightning Talk” at RailsConf, and yes, I was nervous beforehand.
But fortunately, I was in a career that I had to give or receive public briefings just about every day. And so I was lucky enough to get fairly decent at it. My point – public speaking is a skill. No more, no less. And just like any other skill, it can be improved with little steps along the way. For example – I know that I always get nervous before speaking, no matter how much I’m prepared. And because I expect it, it really doesn’t bother me that much anymore. It’s just the “normal” feeling that I get before speaking. I just accept that fact, and move on. Many others have similar techniques, so don’t feel like the polished, smooth-talkers up there don’t feel nervous. Many, if not most, do. It’s just that they deal with it and press on.
So try to pick up on some of the things you liked and some of the things you didn’t. Then make a goal to do a quick talk at you local Ruby meet-up. Much has been written about public speaking before. But many people continue to underestimate it’s value.
Get out there and attend
RailsConf was a great event. Try to find a conference you like and make it a goal to attend and meet some others in the community. You’ll be really glad you did.