As a self-taught junior dev, a semi-introverted person, and a woman, I can’t help but perceive tech conferences as a somewhat hostile, jungle-like environment :scream:. Lots of “10X” developers flexing their muscles and making bold statements about the future of the Internet, people furiously answering their emails and avoiding eye contact, niche washed out t-shirts and inside jokes that you don’t understand…It’s really easy to start feeling intimidated and like you don’t belong there.

In my somewhat limited experience of going to tech conferences and, you know, life, I came up with the following blueprint, designed not only to survive but thrive next time you suit up that shiny new lanyard 💪.

1. Pick your conferences carefully 🔬

In a desire to know a little bit about everything, I once made the mistake of attending a conference all about mainframe development. It wasn’t particularly fun.

Before you commit yourself, make sure the conference is worth your time and:

  1. covers a topic that you are interested in or will find useful
  2. has that amazing speaker/leader/role model that you’ve always wanted to see live
  3. is organized somewhere sunny and nice. (Legit reason) 🏖️

I prefer smaller conferences with 100-500 people. Bigger than that and you’ll get lost in the crowds. Like me, you might find it easier to concentrate if you can see the speaker properly. Make sure to arrive early so that you can sit at the front!

Big no-nos:

  • no code of conduct (alarm bells)
  • exclusively or mostly SWaMP* speaker lineup
  • extra minus points if the organizers defend their SWaMP lineup by saying that they are going “quality-first”, and there just aren’t enough speakers with diverse backgrounds. Ugh. Avoid. 😒

If the conference offers live captioning, you are required by law to love them because that’s just being awesome!

*Straight White Male Person (and yes I did just invent it for the purpose of this blog post)

Gatsby days London Conference Pass

2. Know what you want to learn (get) 🤔

Yes, there’s stickers and other swag, but why not learn something since you’re there?

Look at the agenda before going for crying out loud! Don’t expect to go to all of the sessions. Pick what you want to learn and skip the rest. Use the time between sessions for bathroom breaks (normally dead easy, if you are a woman, because no queues), chatting with people, or just staring aimlessly through the window to get some of that energy back.

Workshops and unconferences (round table discussions) are cool! They will provide a smaller and more manageable setting and a chance to actually learn some names.

Some people take really pretty notes, so you don't have to! (shoutout to @Mappletons)

Some people take really pretty notes, so you don't have to! (shoutout to @Mappletons)

3. Plan who you want to meet 🕵️‍

Yes, it’s more difficult going to a conference if you don’t know anyone, but it’s not impossible. Check out the conference agenda to get more details about the speakers, and go on Twitter to see who else is going.

Know that it’s likely that other people are just as awkward as you, step up to them and introduce yourself. I use a variation of this following line that has never failed (to produce a reaction):

Hey, {insert person name}, I know you from the Internets! (If you have pets, have your favorite pictures of your car/dog/fish/pet lizard at the ready.) 🐈

Conference speakers, organizers and workshop facilitators love hearing feedback about their talk. Go over to them and offer some constructive feedback!

Also, it’s okay to suck at small talk - most people are really bad at it too!👍

In conclusion 🏆

You are here to network, listen and learn, so stop checking your Slack and replying to those company emails. Have some more of that “delicious” coffee, smile and step up to some unsuspecting stranger!