Tech conference strategy

As I'm progressing further in my tech career I'm trying to make a point to continue developing my skills and knowledge as my free time to do so keeps diminishing. As part of that I'm attending more tech conferences, attempting to go to at least one a year.

Last year I went to Visual Studio Live in Washington DC which was my first real developer conference. It was a mostly positive experience, though it did feel like it tended towards introductory level sessions, such as "hey! you should do unit testing!" It was a very Microsoft/.NET-centric conference but almost all of the speakers were passionate and informed, not bad as a first dev conference experience.

Next week I'll be attending Anglebrackets in Las Vegas and this time around I'm going to go in with more of a strategy. It's easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to walk away from a session with new-found mastery over the topic. A better philosophy is to use sessions to decide if a particular strategy, technology, or practice is worth a more in-depth look once you get home and the post-conference glow has faded. Consider a conference to be a rapid succession of possible future investments of your time, where each session is making a pitch of that topic's value.

Choosing which conferences to go to is also tricky. Anglebrackets is trying to position itself as a more grassroots-style "open source" conference but it's still hitched to the bigger, Microsoft-sponsored DEVintersection. I picked it since it offers some longer workshops that look like an opportunity to get more hands-on and in-depth with topics that I'm interested in like software architecture and security, plus I've followed some of the speakers for awhile online and look forward to hearing them in-person.

For my next conference I'm going to try to make it to a more grassroots conference, maybe CascadiaJS or CodeMash. There is the danger of getting locked into the .NET bubble of conferences and seeing the same faces and hearing the same voices, whereas the community-driven conferences seem to draw in much more of a diverse speaker set. These conferences also seem to be more willing (so far) to draw on the spirit of open communication pioneered by conferences like XOXO (which would also be cool to attend sometime!). There are certainly a lot of missed opportunities in harnessing the expertise of the attendees of a conference, often locked away when everybody's focusing on the presenter or on taking meticulous notes on every droplet of knowledge dispensed.